The European court of human rights has told Russia to free Alexei Navalny, prompting a new standoff between Europe and Moscow over the fate of Vladimir Putin’s staunchest critic.
Russia has said it will ignore the ruling despite a requirement to comply as a member of the Council of Europe, calling the court’s decision “blatant and gross interference in the judicial affairs of a sovereign state”.
In a ruling published on Wednesday, the Strasbourg-based court granted Navalny a temporary release from jail because it said the government “could not provide sufficient safeguards for his life and health”.
Navalny was the victim in August of a suspected FSB poisoning, which he claims was ordered by Putin, and has said his life is in danger in custody. He has been sentenced to spend the next two and a half years in prison for violating parole from a 2014 sentence and is facing further jail time as the government presses new charges.
The decision was made regarding the terms of Navalny’s confinement, the court noted, and was not a reversal of the 2014 embezzlement conviction against Navalny, which was widely seen as politically motivated. He is due in court to appeal against the decision this week.
A copy of the judgment posted online said Navalny should be released “with immediate effect”.
Russia’s justice minister, Konstantin Chuychenko, called the ruling “unenforceable”, saying there was “no legal basis to free this person from custody”.
Russia adopted new constitutional amendments last year that said Moscow had the right to ignore international legal decisions that violate its sovereignty.
It has ignored key ECHR decisions in the past, including a July 2014 order to pay €1.9bn in compensation to shareholders of the Yukos oil empire assembled by the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky was jailed for nearly a decade on tax evasion and fraud charges and the company was broken up and sold to state-controlled firms.
Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996. Under Putin it has increasingly clashed with the body and threatened to leave. Moscow lost its voting rights in the plenary assembly of the council in 2014 over its invasion of Ukraine, and regained them, controversially, in 2019.