(Application no. 15469/04)
3 December 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 Aleksandr Krutov v. Russia,
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Sverre Erik Jebens,
George Nicolaou, judges,
and Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 12 November 2009,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
“Probably, only this [the political union between the town hall and the regional prosecutor’s office] can account for the regional prosecutor’s office’s perseverance in instigating criminal proceedings against members of the regional government..., while at the same time shielding the serving officials of the town hall and the town legislature from criminal prosecution. For example, in the corruption-ridden case of the “Town Charity Fund for Health Care Support”, charges had been brought against only one member of the town legislature, Mr K[.], but shortly thereafter he was acquitted. And the mayor’s close circle, headed by Mr A[.] in person, was spared responsibility. In gratitude for support the town hall started supplying the prosecutor’s offices with ‘gifts’ in the form of foreign-made cars and furniture. As to the regional prosecutor Mr B[.], the town hall allocated to him under a 49-year lease agreement (!) a plot of land in the courtyard of the block of flats where he lives (allegedly for development).”
“Taking into account the factual circumstances of the case, the court considers that in the [applicant’s article] the plaintiff Mr B. cannot be viewed as a private individual because in the public perception – having regard to the fact that the plaintiff is a public figure – the plaintiff is Mr B., the citizen who holds the office of the Saratov Regional Prosecutor and must observe higher standards in his personal and professional image and his daily actions.
The court further considers that the term ‘prosecutor’s offices’ employed in the article also referred to the plaintiff because, by virtue of his office, he is responsible for the operation of all the prosecutor’s offices in the entire Saratov region.
Having regard to the above, the court considers that the excerpt from the article at issue is nothing but statements (сведения) disseminated about the plaintiff that are damaging to his honour, dignity and professional reputation...
The court does not consider proven the defendants’ argument that they disseminated a journalist’s opinion based on facts, because the author’s opinion must not only be founded on specific statements, but must also not damage the plaintiff’s reputation or honour and must not contain statements about the plaintiff’s unlawful conduct.
Since the purpose of expressing an opinion is to convey it to third parties, the form of its expression must exclude the possibility of misleading a reasonable third party as to whether such information is an opinion or a statement of fact.
The court considers that in the present case the defendants have failed to meet these requirements and the statements contained in the article are statements of fact amenable to proof in judicial proceedings...”
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW AND PRACTICE
A. Constitution of the Russian Federation
B. Civil Code of the Russian Federation of 30 November 1994
C. Resolution no. 11 of the Plenary Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of 18 August 1992 (amended on 25 April 1995)
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 and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
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.”
1. The parties’ submissions
2. The Court’s assessment
“(i) Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self-fulfilment. Subject to paragraph 2 of Article 10, it is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no ‘democratic society’. As set forth in Article 10, this freedom is subject to exceptions, which ... must, however, be construed strictly, and the need for any restrictions must be established convincingly ...
(ii) The adjective ‘necessary’, within the meaning of Article 10 § 2, implies the existence of a ‘pressing social need’. The Contracting States have a certain margin of appreciation in assessing whether such a need exists, but it goes hand in hand with European supervision, embracing both the legislation and the decisions applying it, even those given by an independent court. The Court is therefore empowered to give the final ruling on whether a ‘restriction’ is reconcilable with freedom of expression as protected by Article 10.
(iii) The Court’s task, in exercising its supervisory jurisdiction, is not to take the place of the competent national authorities but rather to review under Article 10 the decisions they delivered pursuant to their power of appreciation. This does not mean that the supervision is limited to ascertaining whether the respondent State exercised its discretion reasonably, carefully and in good faith; what the Court has to do is to look at the interference complained of in the light of the case as a whole and determine whether it was ‘proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued’ and whether the reasons adduced by the national authorities to justify it are ‘relevant and sufficient’ ... In doing so, the Court has to satisfy itself that the national authorities applied standards which were in conformity with the principles embodied in Article 10 and, moreover, that they relied on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts ...”
II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 OF THE CONVENTION
III. 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.”
B. Costs and expenses
C. Default interest
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, 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 150 (one hundred and fifty euros) in respect of pecuniary damage;
(ii) EUR 1,000 (one thousand euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage;
(iii) any tax that may be chargeable to the applicant on the above amounts;
(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 3 December 2009, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Søren Nielsen Christos Rozakis