The «7x7» online journal filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights over a court decision on a fine for an interview with a politician Mikhail Svetov, in which he discusses the legalization of drugs. The lawyer of the Mass Media Defence Center Olga Voronova and the lawyer Tumas Misakyan, who then prepared the complaint to the ECHR, dealt with the case at the national level.
In June 2018, Syktyvkar court fined the «7x7» editorial for 800 thousand rubles and chief editor Sofia Krapotkina for 40 thousand rubles. According to the court, the post of the Tambov blogger Alexander Smoleev, who published an interview with a member of the federal committee of the Libertarian party, Mikhail Svetov, contained drug propaganda (Article 6.13 of the Administrative Offenses Code). The politician talked about the dangers of synthetic drugs and heroin. According to Roskomnadzor experts, the heroin "is exposed in a more attractive light." The editors of «7x7» challenged the decision in the Syktyvkar city court, but lost.
According to Tumas Misakyan, the controversial video was posted by a blogger via a hyperlink to the YouTube video hosting. So, the author is a third party blogger, and not a journalist of the media. Thus, the video is not the content of the editors, and the editors cannot affect its content or partially edit it, and the editors do not have the ability to track changes in the video in the future.
"The national courts did not take into account that this video from Svetov’s interview is still on YouTube and is freely available to all Internet users. Thus, the Russian courts did not distinguish between the data published by the editors and the blogger’s link to a third-party site. They also did not take into account the fact that the editors do not have the option of moderating data from the third-party site. In such circumstances, the authorities should not have punished the applicants for publications of other persons, since punishing journalists for facilitating the dissemination of statements made by another person during the interview could seriously prevent the media from contributing to the discussion of issues of public interest. Punishment should not be provided, with the exception of "particularly compelling reasons", as indicated in numerous decisions of the ECHR, where a violation of Article 10 of the Convention ["Freedom of expression"] was found. No "particularly compelling reasons" have been identified in this case," said Tumas Misakyan.
According to the practice of the ECHR on the application of Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights, the authorities should take into account the position of the journalist regarding the controversial opinions expressed by the interviewer. The national courts did not take into account the fact that the interviewer-blogger did not agree with Svetov’s opinion on the issue of drug legalization and, judging by the questions asked by him and his response remarks, he distanced himself from Svetov’s point of view.
The complaint states that the applicants were arbitrarily punished by the authorities for actions that in fact do not constitute the composition of the alleged offense. In an interview that lasts 28 minutes, the discussion on the issue of legalization of drugs takes about three minutes, while there is nothing in the statements that could be interpreted as "drug propaganda": there is Svetov’s personal opinion about the benefits of legalizing drugs. Рe believes that tough bans in this area do more harm to society and the state than good. Also, they did not talk about the benefits of the use of any drugs, did not name the place of purchase or methods of manufacture of any drugs. Mikhail Svetov has repeatedly stressed that he is against drug use and does not encourage anyone to take them.
"The issue of legalization of drugs is debatable, and there is no consensus on it in Europe. But in any case, free discussion of this topic in the media cannot be considered "propaganda of drugs" and punished in any way. The exclusion of this topic from the discussion, the prohibition to speak on this issue, significantly limits the freedom of public discussion on topics of concern to society and leads to an unreasonable restriction of the right to freedom of expression and dissemination of information," said a representative of the Mass Media Defence Center.
Now the ECHR should register the complaint and assign it a number. The next stage is the communication of the complaint, that is, the court must inform the authorities about the complaint and offer to answer a number of questions. After some time, the same thing to be done by the applicants. This procedure usually takes years.
"However, the last complaint filed by us to the ECHR in another case of «7x7» was communicated just six months after its submission. I hope that this complaint will also be communicated quickly. Of course, we expect that the ECHR will recognize a violation in this case of Article 10 of the Convention and will appoint fair compensation to the applicants," the lawyer added. "When dealing with cases involving such issues, Russian courts are quite formal in considering such texts as drug propaganda. It is difficult to agree with such an approach, and we consider it important to achieve justice and protect the ability of journalists and society to discuss complex topics, including topics that are painful for modern Russia. Hushing up the problem will not eliminate it — it will only give the appearance that there is no problem."
Online journal «7x7» collected 840 thousand rubles to pay a fine from Roskomnadzor within 24 hours after the decision of the Syktyvkar City Court.
Igor Sokolov, «7x7»