Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests
Vajnai v. Hungary
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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that one year’s detention pending trial and a three year suspended prison sentence for involvement in a protest against Russia’s President Putin constituted a violation of Yevgeniya Vladimirovna Taranenko’s rights under Articles 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of peaceful assembly) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Additionally, the length of Taranenko’s detention violated her Article 5 right to liberty and security of person.
Taranenko was part of a large group of protestors who forced their way through identity and security checks into President Putin’s administration building and locked themselves in one of its offices. They proceeded to peacefully distribute leaflets from the windows and display signs with messages of protest. Taranenko was arrested at the protest and charged with participation in mass disorder. She was remanded into custody for one year and then convicted as charged and sentenced to three years in prison, which was suspended for three years.
Taranenko and the other protestors disapproved of President Putin’s expansion of the powers of Russia’s executive branch. They believed that Putin had abused his presidential powers and wished to draw the attention of the public to this abuse. As such, the purpose of the protest was a topic of public interest, and the protest itself contributed to the public debate regarding Putin’s exercise of presidential powers.
By forcing their way into the administrative building, however, the protesters failed to comply with the established procedure for lodging complaints therein. “Instead, they stormed into the building, pushed one of the guards aside, jumped over furniture and eventually locked themselves in a vacant office.” This behavior, the ECtHR decided, could have caused public unrest and disruption. Under these circumstances, the actions of the police (arresting Taranenko and other protestors) may have been justified by the government’s legitimate interest in protecting public order.
Nevertheless, the question remained whether the length of Taranenko’s detention matched the degree of her offense, and, more specifically, whether the length of detention arose from Taranenko’s political views. Notably, she was accused of “‘throwing anti-[Putin] leaflets’ and ‘issuing an unlawful ultimatum by calling for the President’s resignation.’”
The ECtHR considered the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the ECHR “in the light of” the Article 11 right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and determined that the arrest, detention, and conviction of Taranenko constituted an interference with her right to freedom of expression. The ECtHR considered that the circumstances of Taranenko’s case presented no justification for her being remanded into custody for a year or for her being given a three year suspended prison sentence. Taranenko had not been violent during the protest, and the purpose of the protest had not been to engage in violence, as demonstrated by the fact that all of the protesters had come unarmed.
Taranenko’s unusually severe sanction likely imposed a “chilling effect” on Taranenko and others taking part in future protest actions, and this chilling effect constituted an indirect “interference” with Taranenko’s Article 10 and Article 11 rights. Moreover, the interference in question could not be considered “necessary in a democratic society.” Accordingly, in a unanimous decision, the ECtHR found violations of Article 10 and Article 11 of the ECHR. The ECtHR also found a violation of the Article 5 right to liberty and security of person because the authorities had extended Taranenko’s detention on grounds, which, though relevant, could not be regarded as sufficient.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
In its unanimous decision, the ECtHR sent a clear message to ECHR States Parties that placing a chilling effect on an ECHR right is the same as violating the right directly. This expands the freedoms enshrined in the ECHR beyond its black letter text. This fits into line with a growing body of ECtHR jurisprudence that protects individuals from “indirect” violations of the ECHR as well as “direct” ones.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The ECtHR held that even if the detention of an individual is legitimately initiated, if the length of detention is disproportionate to the offense, serves a political purpose, or otherwise places a chilling effect on the behavior of the detainee, the detainee’s ECHR rights have been violated.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.