Strasbourg Court Dismisses Russian Opposition Claim Over 2003 Polls

The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed a complaint filed by representatives of Russia’s opposition Yabloko and Communist parties over the televised coverage of a 2003 parliamentary election campaign, which they said was biased in favor of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.

The Yabloko and Communist representatives said in their complaint, which was supported by several Russian journalists and opposition politicians, that Russian television broadcasts during the election campaign created a negative image of political forces other than United Russia.

They also accused Russian courts, which have dismissed their lawsuits calling for the cancellation of the elections results, as being biased, and asked the Strasbourg Court to declare that their rights to free elections guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights and its Additional Protocol No 1 have been violated.

But the Strasbourg Court said in a statement published on its website on Tuesday that it found “no violation” of the laws by Russian authorities during the elections in question.

“The Court found that laws and procedures existing at the relevant time guaranteed the opposition minimum access to TV as well as provided for the neutrality of the

State-controlled media,” the ruling said, adding: “While equality in TV coverage had not in reality been achieved during the 2003 elections, that had not been sufficient to find that the elections were not ‘free’ within the meaning of the Convention.”


United Russia won 37 percent of the vote in the elections, securing 224 seats in the 450-strong legislature; the Communists grabbed 52 seats, forming the second biggest group in the State Duma, while Yabloko failed to make it into parliament.


In December 2004, the Russian Supreme Court dismissed the claim filed by the applicants over the alleged violations as it found “no violation of the electoral law capable of undermining the genuine will of voters had occurred,” the document reads. An appeal against the ruling has also been dismissed.


The Strasbourg Court noted in its statement that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized the 2003 parliamentary elections for unequal access of the candidates to the media, and so did a Moscow-based research affiliate of Transparency International in 2004.


The court concluded, however, that “Russia had taken measures which guaranteed some visibility of opposition parties on Russian TV and ensured editorial independence and neutrality of the media.” It added that “while equality among all political forces during those elections might not have been achieved, the State… had not failed to meet its obligation to ensure free elections.”


The court stressed that its ruling was not final and could be appealed within three months.


United Russia representatives welcomed the ruling, while those of the opposition said it was political.


Irina Yarovaya, a senior United Russia member and State Duma lawmaker said opposition politicians were “discrediting themselves” by making “ungrounded claims” against their country.


“Representatives of opposition parties should begin working with Russian voters rather than raise doubts about the choice of the majority of the voters,” she said.


Another senior United Russia lawmaker, Dmitry Vyatkin, said the Strasbourg Court’s ruling was “yet more proof that the so-called opposition does not want to participate in an equal and free political struggle in line with existing laws, trying to find an excuse for its helplessness and unpopularity.”


Communist Party Secretary Vadim Solovyov told RIA Novosti that the Strasbourg Court’s ruling was “political” rather than “legal” and ran against the opinion of international observers.


“This decision was not unexpected, given that eight years have passed since the elections… As I understand, Europeans do not want to spoil relations with the current regime in Russia given the economic situation that they are facing and that they need our oil and gas,” he said.


He added he believed the only way to achieve success for the Russian opposition was to work actively to involve citizens in a broad protest movement for free and fair elections.


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