(Application no. 11751/03)
8 October 2009
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Romanenko and Others v. Russia,
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Sverre Erik Jebens,
Giorgio Malinverni, judges,
and André Wampach, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 17 September 2009,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
A. The first article and the department's defamation action
“All these irregularities have clearly been on the rise since the town's police department (timber purchasing quota of 4,500 cubic metres) and the courts' management department of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation (timber purchasing quota of 3,000 cubic metres) became the forest operators.”
The quotation was bold-faced and the source was clearly identified. The letter had been signed by seventeen individuals, including the head of the Dalnerechensk municipal council and his first deputy, the deputy head of the town police, the deputy head of the local department of the Federal Security Service, the deputy head of the tax police, a senior State tax inspector, the deputy head of the department for environmental resources, two directors of regional forest operators, and others. The letter had been sent on behalf of the Dalnerechensk municipal council to the Presidential Envoy in the Far Eastern Federal Region and also made public at a press-conference held on the premises of the Press Development Institute.
B. Publication of a refutation and Mr Shulga's defamation action
“It is certainly easier for the head of the Department, Mr V.A. Shulga, who lodged the [defamation] action, to tell who[se department], in addition to its principal functions, has been a forest operator and whose professional reputation has been impaired when a newspaper brought this fact into the limelight...
This is why the editor's office decided not to wait for a court decision and considered it necessary to refute conjectures that readers might have made about the Department of the Primorskiy Region. Having regard to potential adverse consequences of the publication, we officially announce -
THAT WE DID NOT MEAN THE COURTS' MANAGEMENT DEPARTMENT OF THE PRIMORSKIY REGION.”
C. Judgments in Mr Shulga's defamation action
D. Judgments in the department's defamation action
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
A. Constitution of the Russian Federation
B. Civil Code of the Russian Federation
C. Resolution of the Plenary Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, no. 11 of 18 August 1992 (amended on 25 April 1995)
D. The Mass-Media Act (Federal Law no. 2124-I of 27 December 1991)
III. RELEVANT COUNCIL OF EUROPE DOCUMENTS
389. We are concerned by the current defamation legislation and its application by the Russian judiciary and executive powers. Journalists are often prosecuted through libel suits (approximately 8-10,000 lawsuits a year)...
392. Also the legislation concerned should not grant any special protection against criticism to public officials... Finally, the possibility of filing lawsuits against media and journalists by public authorities should be abolished as the latter per se cannot possess any dignity, honour, or reputation.
393. Therefore, we urge the Russian authorities to reform its defamation legislation, inter alia: ... to introduce a clear ban on public bodies to institute civil proceedings in order to protect their 'reputation' (without hindrance to the right of public officials to litigate in their private capacity), to clearly establish that no one should be liable under defamation law for the expression of an opinion ('value judgements')...”
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 10 OF THE CONVENTION
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority...
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
A. Submissions by the parties
1. The applicants
2. The Government
3. The third parties
B. The Court's assessment
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”
A. Pecuniary damage
B. Non-pecuniary damage
C. Costs and expenses
D. Default interest
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
(a) that the respondent State is to pay, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, the following amounts, to be converted into Russian roubles at the rate applicable at the date of settlement:
(i) EUR 860 (eight hundred and sixty euros) to each applicant in respect of pecuniary damage, plus any tax that may be chargeable on that amount;
(ii) EUR 1,000 (one thousand euros) to each applicant in respect of non-pecuniary damage, plus any tax that may be chargeable on that amount;
(iii) EUR 1,400 (one thousand four hundred euros) to the applicants jointly in respect of costs and expenses, plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicants on that amount;
(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
Done in English, and notified in writing on 8 October 2009, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
André Wampach Nina Vajić
Deputy Registrar President
In accordance with Article 45 § 2 of the Convention and Rule 74 § 2 of the Rules of Court, the joint concurring opinion of Judges Spielmann and Malinverni is annexed to the judgment.
JOINT CONCURRING OPINION OF JUDGES SPIELMAN AND MALINVERNI