Global Freedom of Expression

The Case of Ilya Goryachev

On Appeal Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    July 24, 2015
  • Outcome
    Monetary Damages / Fines, Imprisonment
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Russian Federation, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Violence Against Speakers / Impunity

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Ilya Goryachev, the leader of the Militant Russian Nationalists Organization (BORN) was convicted of having ordered and planned the murders of several persons between 2008 and 2011, including Anastasyaa Baburova, Novaya Gazeta‘s journalist, and Stanislav Markelov, a prominent human rights lawyer.

Some of the information in this report was derived from secondary sources.



Ilya Goryachev was the co-creator and leader of the Militant Russian Nationalists Organization, known in Russia as “BORN.”

Goryachev was a prominent journalist and conservative activist in Russia from the early 2000s. Between 2000 and 2002, Goryachev met Nikolay Tikhonov, a football hooligan and nationalist, with whom he created a radical rightist movement “Russian Image.” The movement produced a magazine and organized rallies, including the infamous 2009 nationalist rally in Bolotnoe. According to the prosecutors, Goryachev an Tikhonov formed BORN in 2008.

On January 19, 2009, BORN murdered Stanislav Merkelov and Anastasiya Baburova.

Merkelov was a lawyer who rose to prominence for representing non-ethnic Russians, specifically for the case where he represented the family of a Chechen girl who was raped and killed by a high ranking officer in the Russian army. Anastasya Baburova was a young journalists at Novaya Gazeta¸ an independent newspaper, whose stories concerned nationalism in Russia. BORN claimed that her murder was not planned, rather that she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Anastasia Baburova was a journalist for Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper in Russia. She rose to prominence for covering stories about nationalists and neo-nazis and neo-fascists in Russia.

In late 2009, the police interviewed Goryachev about the murders, during which he stated that Nikita Tikhonov and Evgeniya Khasiss, Tikhonov’s wife, were the murderers. Soon after, in 2010, Goryachev fled to Serbia. From there he sent a notarized letter in which he rejected the statements incriminating his BORN comrades.

In 2011, Tikhonov and Baburova were convicted for having belonged to an extremist group and committed several murders. The conviction and its supporting evidence was then used to build a case against Goryachev. Russia launched an international search for Goryachev and in 2013, he was arrested in an airport in Belgrade, Serbia, for violating the visa regime. He was then extradited to Russia, under the condition that Russia does not submit him to the death penalty.

The prosecutor brought charges against Goryachev for the following crimes:

  • Russ., Crim. Code, art. 282.1, para.1, creating an extremist organization
  • Russ., Crim. Code, art. 209, para. 1, creating an criminal group and participating in its crimes
  • Russ., Crim. Code, art. 105, para. 2, murder of two or more persons by a criminal group motivated by ideological or national hatred
    • Specifically, the murders of the three anti-fascist activists, the Thai-boxing world champion as well as being the one who ordered the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Nikita Tikhonov
  • Russ., Crim. Code, art. 222, para. 3, illegal purchase, transfer, storage, shipment or carry of weapons by a criminal group

The family of one of BORN’s victims also requested to be paid RUB 5 million in compensation for emotional harm.

Decision Overview

On July 14, 2015, a jury unanimously found Goryachev guilty of creating an armed extremists organization, creating a criminal organization and participating in its crimes, the murder of two or more persons by a criminal group motivated by ideological hatred, the illegal purchase and storage of weapons. The jury also voted that leniency should not apply to Goryachev in the judge’s ruling on punishment.

Following the jury’s decision, on July 24, 2015, the Moscow City court convicted Goryachev to life imprisonment. His defense lawyers filed an appeal on July 28, arguing that his sentence should be reduced to 24 years of incarceration. The defense’s argument was that extradition laws mandated that Serbian criminal law should have set the maximum limits Goryachev’s punishment, which would not have exceeded 24 years.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The case sets a strong precedent in Russia against impunity and extremist violence targeting counter-speech activists, journalists and lawyers.

Goryachev also received a higher sentence than most of BORN’s trigger-men, hopefully, serving as a warning that the masterminds behind such activities will be punished just as much as those who execute the attacked, if not more severely.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

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