Information Note on the Court’s case-law No. 181
Petropavlovskis v. Latvia - 44230/06
Judgment 13.1.2015 [Section IV] See:  ECHR 4
Freedom of expression
Freedom of peaceful assembly
Refusal to grant citizenship to leader of protest movement against Government’s language policy: Articles 10 and 11 not applicable
Facts - The applicant was a “permanently resident non-citizen” of the Republic of Latvia, a legal status granted to citizens of the former Soviet Union who had lost their Soviet citizenship following the dissolution of the USSR but, while being so entitled, had not subsequently obtained any other nationality. The applicant was one of the leaders of a movement which protested against an education reform in Latvia in 2003 and 2004. In that capacity he made public statements advocating the Russian-speaking community’s rights to education in Russian and the preservation of State-financed schools with Russian as the sole language of instruction. In 2004 his application for Latvian citizenship was refused by the Cabinet of Ministers and his subsequent appeals were unsuccessful. In his application to the European Court he complained that this refusal was a punitive measure imposed because he had criticised the Government.
Law - Articles 10 and 11: The Court could not see how the refusal to grant Latvian citizenship to the applicant could have prevented him from expressing his disagreement with government policies or from participating in meetings or movements. The decision concerning his naturalisation could not be considered punishment for his opinions and it had not weakened his resolve to speak out and participate in debates on matters of public interest. On the contrary, his views on the education reform had been widely reported in the media and he had remained politically active even after his application for naturalisation was refused. He had never been criminally sanctioned for expressing his opinion or participating in a demonstration.
Furthermore, in accordance with international law, decisions on naturalisation were matters primarily falling within the domestic jurisdiction and were usually based on criteria aimed at establishing a link between the State and the person requesting naturalisation. Neither the European Convention nor international law in general provided a right to acquire a specific nationality. There was nothing in domestic law to indicate that the applicant had an unconditional right to Latvian citizenship or that the authorities’ decision could be seen as arbitrary.
In exercising his freedom of expression and assembly, the applicant was free to disagree with government policies for as long as that critique took place in accordance with the law. The limits of such criticism were wider with regard to a Government than to a private citizen or even a politician. However, this was an entirely different matter from the issue of the criteria and procedure for naturalisation, both of which were determined by domestic law. In many jurisdictions, acquisition of citizenship was accompanied by an oath of allegiance whereby the individual pledged loyalty to the State and its Constitution, as in the present case. Such a requirement - which had to be distinguished from a criterion requiring a pledge of loyalty to a particular Government - could not be considered a punitive measure capable of interfering with freedom of expression and of assembly. Rather, it was a criterion which had to be fulfilled by any person seeking to obtain Latvian citizenship through naturalisation.
Conclusion: Articles 10 and 11 not applicable (unanimously).
(See also Slivenko v. Latvia [GC], 48321/99, 9 October 2003, Information Note 57; Kolosovskiy v. Latvia (dec.), 50183/99, 29 January 2004, Information Note 60; Sisojeva and Others v. Latvia striking out [GC], 60654/00, 15 January 2007, Information Note 93; and Fehér and Dolník v. Slovakia (dec.), 14927/12 and 30415/12, 21 May 2013)
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This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.
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