25 July 2012
Source: Open Information News Agency
On 25 July Samara’s October district court heard the civil action brought by Samara region police against the publisher and editors of the newspaper Pul’s Povozh’ya, the author of the article ‘At the rally in Samara, police detained women and children’ Saiyara Dvortsova, and the chair of the Samara branch of the electoral rights organization Golos, Ludmila Kuzmina.
Human rights defender Ludmila Kuzmina.
Photo © Golos Association
The court dismissed the civil action in full. In its judgment the court pointed to the lack of foundation for all the demands made by the senior police officers, a correspondent for the Open Information News Agency reports.
Witnesses who gave evidence at the court hearing were a police officer and two participants in the rally who were unlawfully detained. The fact of their unlawful detention had been subsequently confirmed by a court judgment: the cases against the defendants were halted because the participants in the rally had committed no crime.
On 25 July the lawyer representing the human rights defender, Damir Gainutdinov of the Agora Human Rights Association, put forward in court objections to the civil action brought by senior police officials. He said the demands by Samara police had no basis in law and asked the court to dismiss in full the claims for compensation. The lawyer pointed to the fact that the claimants had not shown that Ludmila Kuzmina had distributed the statements in question, nor that the statements were defamatory in nature.
‘The publication in question does not contain affirmations that the claimants violated current law, and there is no assessment of the lawfulness of the actions of police officers. There is just a description of how the author relates to some of those detained,’ Damir Gainutdinov said.
The lawyer underlined that the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the European Court of Human Rights have said that it is necessary to distinguish between assertions of fact and expressions of opinion, to ‘draw a careful line between facts and evaluative judgments’. In particular, the European Court of Human Rights has on a number of occasions said that ‘the existence of facts can be proven, while the truthfulness of evaluative judgments cannot be shown. It is impossible to demand that the truth of an evaluative judgment be shown, and it infringes on the very freedom of belief.’
The ruling by the Plenum of the Supreme Court of 24 February 2005 states: ‘In considering defamation cases courts should distinguish between assertions of fact, the correspondence to reality of which can be checked, and evaluative judgments, opinions, convictions, which cannot be the subject of a court ruling … since, being the expression of the subjective opinion and views of the defendant, they cannot be tested with regard to correspondence to reality.’
In this way, the positions taken by the European Court and by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation are unambiguous: proof can be demanded only in relation to the assertion of a fact, but not with regard to a personal opinion (an evaluative judgment).
Lawyer for the defence Damir Gainutdinov drew the attention of Judge Inga Rapidova to the fact that the European Court of Human Rights ‘has regularly underlined the importance of freedom of expression and the demand that each instance of limitation on freedom of expression be convincingly founded, and has also pointed to the fact that protection is granted not only to the content of a statement, but also to its form, and in particular this concerns the discussion of questions that are in the public interest.’
‘The discussion and evaluation of the actions of the police during the breaking up of a public event dedicated to violations during parliamentary elections are undoubtedly of considerable public interest,’ Damir Gainutdinov said. ‘In this way, in deciding whether the authors of the publications in question should be held to account under civil law it is necessary to establish the existence of an urgent public need to limit the constitutional rights of citizens to express their opinions on socially significant issues in favour of the right of the police to protect their reputation. We would point out that the claimants have not produced any arguments in favour of the existence of any such urgent need.’
Damir Gainutdinov also petitioned the court to add the results of independent linguistic analysis, conducted at the initiative of Agora, to the case materials. Experts from the Nizhny Novgorod State University stated that the material posted in the blog by Ludmila Kuzmina was ‘information about the actions of a series of police officers taking part in events related to the rally, expressed as evaluative judgment and supposition,’ and also that ‘no evidence that the material defamed the character of the Samara police department, including assertions that current law had been violated by the persons in question, had been found.’ These were the conclusions drawn by Elizaveta Koltunova, PhD in philology, assistant professor of the philological faculty of Lobachevsky Nizhny Novgorod State University and professor of the International Slavic Academy with 35 years’ academic work experience; and of Timur Radbil, doctor of philology, professor in the department of contemporary Russian language of Nizhny Novogord State University with more than 25 years’ academic work experience.
Samara region police officers and the deputy head of Samara police department Igor Sizokov in person, who was acting as a third person in the action, had alleged that the text ‘At the rally in Samara, police detained women and children’ by Saiyara Dvortsova, a correspondent for the newspaper Pul’s Povolzh’ya, contained inaccurate information about the protest rally held in the city on 17 December 2011. In particular, the police authorities did not like the statement by human rights defender Ludmila Kuzmina that four ‘boy police cadets’ ‘dragged’ an elderly woman into a bus who was ‘hiding her face’ and ‘burning with shame’. This text was published by Pul’s Povolzh’ya, and in Ludmila Kuzmina’s personal blog. On 25 July the police had presented to the court a third variant of their demands in which they themselves completely withdrew their complaints about Ludmila Kuzmina and had sought to argue that the newspaper should publish a refutation, while Ludmila Kuzmina remained co-defendant in the case.