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ECHR fines Russia for branding human rights groups as 'foreign agents'

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By Cameron Hill
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Exterior shots of the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France
Exterior shots of the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France   -   Copyright  cl/AP2011

The European Court of Human Rights has instructed Russia to pay compensation to human rights groups which had been labelled "foreign agents" by the Kremlin.

At a hearing in Strasbourg on Tuesday, the court ruled that Moscow's laws allowing authorities to describe non-profit organisations as "foreign agents" violated the European Convention on Human Rights by denying them freedom of assembly and association.

The laws permitted Vladimir Putin's government to silence opposition by suppressing NGOs, media outlets, and other dissenting voices. 

Adopted in 2012, these laws have been adjusted to include journalists, activists, and non-profit organisations.

Complaints were filed by 73 Russian groups relating to cases between 2013 and 2018. 

The plaintiffs criticized the host of bureaucratic obstacles and heavy fines they incurred as a result of being labelled foreign agents.

ECHR judges found in favour of the human rights group, ruling that "the interference with the applicant organizations' rights had been neither prescribed by law nor 'necessary in a democratic society".

Addtionally, the court ruled that the use of "political activity" as grounds for designating parties as foreign agents produced "incoherent results and engendered uncertainty among NGOs wishing to engage in civil society activities relating to, in particular, human rights or the protection of the environment or charity work".

The ECHR ordered Russia to pay €1.02 million in damages to the applicants, as well as €119,000 for expenses.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the decision, as Russian lawmakers passed legislation last week which ended the ECHR's jurisdiction in the country. 

The measure states that Russia will not carry out any rulings made after March 15, the day Moscow said it would withdraw from the Council of Europe.