Objectives and Activities

Artyomov v Russia (decision), 7 December 2006 [ECtHR]

Case no 17582/05

The applicant complained about the domestic authorities’ refusal to grant registration to the political party “Russian All-Nation Union”. He relied, firstly, on Article 11 of the Convention ...

The Court observes at the outset that the domestic authorities’ decision directly affected the political party into which the public movement of the same name had decided to re-organise itself, rather than the applicant himself as an individual. It had no incidence on the autonomous existence or activity of that public movement or on the applicant’s leadership position within it (see, by contrast, Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria [GC], no. 30985/96, §§ 63-65, ECHR 2000‑XI). As the public movement pursuing essentially the same objectives has continued its activity, it does not appear that the refusal to register the political party deprived the applicant of a possibility of jointly or individually pursuing the aims which the movement and party had harboured and thus of exercising the right in question (see, by contrast, Sidiropoulos and Others v. Greece, judgment of 10 July 1998, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998‑IV, § 31). For the purposes of the following analysis, the Court will nevertheless assume that the refusal to register the political party amounted to an interference with the applicant’s right to freedom of association.

The interference was based on section 9 § 3 of the Political Parties Act, which introduced a prohibition on the establishment of political parties based, in particular, on religious or ethnic affiliation. The exact import of the term “based on... ethnic or religious affiliation” was clarified in the same legal provision and also extensively examined and interpreted by the domestic courts in the applicant’s case. The applicant did not dispute that that provision was formulated with sufficient precision enabling him to foresee the consequences which a given action might entail and to regulate his conduct accordingly (cf. Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others v. Turkey [GC], nos. 41340/98, 41342/98, 41343/98 and 41344/98, § 57, ECHR 2003-II, with further references). The Court is therefore satisfied that the interference was “prescribed by law”.

The Court further notes that the Russian Constitutional Court founded its decision on the conviction that the establishment of parties based on ethnic or religious affiliation would imperil the peaceful co-existence of nations and religions in the Russian Federation and would undermine the principles of a secular state and equality before the law. Having regard to the special features of the social and political situation prevailing in contemporary Russia as they were outlined by the Constitutional Court, the Court accepts that the interference pursued the legitimate aims of preventing disorder and protecting the rights and freedoms of others.

It remains to be determined whether the interference was “necessary in a democratic society”. The Court reiterates that freedom of association is not absolute, and it must be accepted that where an association, through its activities or the intentions it has expressly or implicitly declared in its programme, jeopardises the State’s institutions or the rights and freedoms of others, Article 11 does not deprive the State of the power to protect those institutions and persons. This follows both from paragraph 2 of Article 11 and from the State’s positive obligations under Article 1 of the Convention to secure the rights and freedoms of persons within its jurisdiction (see Refah Partisi, cited above, §§ 96-103). Nonetheless, this power must be used sparingly, as exceptions to the rule of freedom of association are to be construed strictly and only convincing and compelling reasons can justify restrictions on that freedom. It is in the first place for the national authorities to assess whether there is a “pressing social need” to impose a given restriction in the general interest. While the Convention leaves to those authorities a margin of appreciation in this connection, their assessment is subject to supervision by the Court. Its task, however, is not to substitute its own view for that of the national authorities, which are better placed to decide both on legislative policy and measures of implementation, but to review under Article 11 the decisions they delivered in the exercise of their discretion. It must 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” (see Sidiropoulos, cited above, § 40; Gorzelik and Others v. Poland [GC], no. 44158/98, §§ 94-96, 17 February 2004; and United Communist Party of Turkey and Others v. Turkey, judgment of 30 January 1998, Reports 1998‑I, §§ 46-47).

The Court will first consider whether there could be said to have been a “pressing social need” to take the impugned measure in order to achieve the legitimate aims pursued. In this context it reiterates that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness are amongst the hallmarks of a “democratic society”. Although individual interests must on occasion be subordinated to those of a group, democracy does not simply mean that the views of the majority must always prevail: a balance must be achieved which ensures the fair and proper treatment of minorities and avoids any abuse of a dominant position (see Gorzelik, cited above, § 90, with further references).

The applicant did not contest the finding by the domestic courts of general jurisdiction that the name of his political party advocated the promotion of the interests of a particular ethnic group, the Russians. The Court takes note of the applicant’s agreement on the accuracy of that finding.

In deciding on the applicant’s complaint, the Russian Constitutional Court has noted the special role of Russian political parties as the only actors in the political process capable of nominating candidates for election at all levels. Having regard to the importance of that role, the legislature banned discrimination in access to the membership of political parties, including, specifically, discrimination on the ground of race, religion and ethnic origin. When considering the legal consequences of registering political parties openly declaring their affiliation with a certain ethnic group or religion, the Constitutional Court evidently proceeded from the assumption that the establishment of such parties would be incompatible with the non-discrimination clause of the Political Parties Act. Indeed, it is hardly conceivable that a party standing for the furtherance of the interests of one ethnic group or religious denomination would be able to ensure the fair and proper representation of members of other ethnic groups or adherents of other faiths. Thus, the impugned measure, read together with the non-discrimination clause, served to implement the guarantee of equality enshrined in Article 19 of the Russian Constitution, as well as to ensure the fair treatment of minorities in the political process.

The Court, for its part, recalls that discrimination on account of one’s ethnic origin or religion is a form of racial discrimination, which is a particularly invidious kind of discrimination and, in view of its perilous consequences, requires from the authorities special vigilance and a vigorous reaction (see Timishev v. Russia, nos. 55762/00 and 55974/00, § 56, ECHR 2005‑...; and Nachova and Others v. Bulgaria, nos. 43577/98 and 43579/98, § 145, 26 February 2004). The Court accordingly accepts that the impugned measure was adopted in pursuance of “pressing social need”.

It remains for the Court to ascertain whether the refusal to register the political party bearing the name “Russian All-National Union” was proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued.

The Court, firstly, distinguishes the present case from the cases in which the refusal of registration prevented an association of citizens from even commencing its activities (see Sidiropoulos, § 46; Gorzelik, § 105; and United Communist Party of Turkey, § 51, all cited above). In the instant case the legal status or activities of the public movement “Russian All-National Union”, which took the decision to re-organise itself into a political party under the same name, have not been affected by the refusal to register that party. It has lawfully existed since 1998 and its activities or membership have not been restricted in any way.

Secondly, the Court notes that the prohibition against explicit ethnic or religious affiliation was of a limited remit: it applied solely to political parties but not to any other type of public associations. As the Court has had an opportunity to observe, political parties are a form of association essential to the proper functioning of democracy, but it is only natural that the participation of citizens in the democratic process is to a large extent achieved through belonging to associations in which they may integrate with each other and pursue common objectives collectively (see United Communist Party of Turkey, § 25; and Gorzelik, § 92, both cited above). As noted above, the applicant’s ability to lead a public association – whether based on ethnic affiliation as in the instant case, or otherwise – in the pursuit of that association’s objectives has been unhampered.

The Court concludes, therefore, that it was not the applicant’s freedom of association per se that was restricted by the State (cf. Gorzelik, cited above, § 106). What has been affected, though, is the ability of the association under his leadership to nominate candidates in elections. Had the political party “Russian All-Nation Union” obtained registration, it would have become eligible to stand for election, including election to the national Parliament. In this connection, the Court reiterates that, given the special role of political parties, States have considerable latitude to establish the criteria for participation in elections, which vary in accordance with the historical and political factors peculiar to each State (see Podkolzina v. Latvia, no. 46726/99, § 33, ECHR 2002‑II; and Gitonas and Others v. Greece, judgment of 1 July 1997, Reports 1997‑IV, pp. 1233-34, § 39). The Russian Constitutional ``````````````````````Court has expounded on the reasons which led it to conclude that in modern-day Russia it would be perilous to foster electoral competition between political parties based on ethnic or religious affiliation. Regard being had to the principle of respect for national specificity in electoral matters, the Court does not find that these reasons were arbitrary or unreasonable.

It follows that the authorities did not prevent the applicant from forming an association to express and promote the specific aims embraced by it, but from creating a legal entity which, following its registration, would have become entitled to stand for election. Given that the national authorities were entitled to consider that the contested interference met a “pressing social need” and given that the interference was not disproportionate to the legitimate aims pursued, the refusal to register the applicant’s political party can be regarded as having been “necessary in a democratic society” within the meaning of Article 11 § 2 of the Convention.

It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.

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