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European Court Says Russians Can Call Their Police ‘Pigs’

News Brief

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered the Russian government to pay compensation to a Russian citizen who was given a prison sentence 10 years ago for derogatory comments he made about the police online.

It’s the first time that the Strasbourg, France-based court—to which Moscow is subject as a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights—has intervened in a case involving online freedom of expression in Russia.

This case dates back a decade, but the court’s decision comes amid a sharp rise in the number of Russians being prosecuted for their online activities.

Savva Terentyev was convicted of “inciting hatred and enmity” by a Russian court under the country’s so-called “anti-extremism” law for a post commenting on a surprise police raid on a newspaper in his home region of Komi.

The language he used was vicious, comparing the police to “pigs,” followed up by a recommendation for what he called “Auschwitz” ovens to be set up across the country, as “a first step to cleansing society of this cop-hoodlum filth.” The court sentenced him to a year in prison, which was suspended because he had no previous criminal record.

But while the Strasbourg judges said Terentyev’s language was “offensive” and “hostile” — singling out his reference to Auschwitz ovens — they ruled that his post did not amount to incitement and that his conviction had violated his rights to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European convention.

They also said that no one had complained or even noticed his post for at least a month after Terentyev wrote it — undermining the claims of the Russian authorities that it had affected or endangered police officers.

Terentyev first made his appeal to the European court in 2009. Nearly ten years later, the court ruled in his favor, ordering the Russian government to pay him 5,000 euros in compensation within three months. It’s not clear how the Russian authorities intend to respond, but it comes as the Kremlin has been mulling whether to withdraw from the European Convention altogether.