Europe’s top rights court said Tuesday condemned Russia for failing to properly investigate the 2020 poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny which the West says was an assassination bid.
The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said Russia had notably failed “to explore the allegations of a possible political motive for the attempted murder, as well as possible involvement of state agents,” unanimously finding Russia had violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
It said Russia had refused to open criminal proceedings into the poisoning, which led to Navalny falling into a coma and being put on life support.
The anti-corruption campaigner, seen by supporters as a potential political rival of President Vladimir Putin, fell ill while on a domestic flight from Siberia.
Navalny was later evacuated to Germany where he recovered. He has been behind bars since he returned to Moscow in early 2021.
The ECHR noted that tests by the German government had shown “definite proof” of the presence of the Soviet-era chemical nerve agent Novichok in Navalny’s system.
The court said the inquiry by Russia was not open to scrutiny and Navalny had not been allowed to participate.
The investigation was not “capable of leading to the establishment of the relevant facts and the identification and, if appropriate, punishment of those responsible,” it said.
“It (the probe) therefore could not be considered adequate.”
Russia was ordered to pay Navalny $43,000 in damages.
The ECHR is part of the pan-European rights body the Council of Europe from which Russia was expelled in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine last year.
It still has a backlog of cases filed by Russian nationals before then and is continuing to issue verdicts.
The ECHR says Russia has a binding legal obligation to implement its judgements concerning Moscow’s actions or violations up until 16 September 2022.
Russia joined the Council of Europe under the presidency of president Boris Yeltsin, when the country was mired in post-Soviet chaos but also amid some optimism over its future within Europe.
One of the crucial consequences of its bid for membership was that Russia imposed a moratorium on use of the death penalty which remains in place to this day.
Navalny and his supporters say he was poisoned by a hit squad from the FSB security service sent by the Kremlin to eliminate him.
While recuperating in Germany, Navalny even called up one of the men he alleges was sent to poison him, a scene memorably captured in the Oscar-winning documentary “Navalny” about his case.
Navalny, 47, is currently held in the IK-6 penal colony in the Vladimir region of Russia, with concerns growing over his health.
He has been repeatedly sent by the prison authorities into a punishment cell known by its acronym of SHIZO.
He serving a nine-year prison sentence on embezzlement and other charges that supporters say were fabricated in retaliation for him daring to organize protests against Putin and allege corruption by the president and his inner circle.
Navalny is soon set to go on trial in a new “extremism” case, and faces a further 35 years in prison.
In a message for his 47th birthday this month, Navalny insisted he was in a “good mood” despite living in a “hellhole” and missing his family.
“Life works in such a way that social progress and a better future can only be achieved if a certain number of people are willing to pay the price for their right to have beliefs,” he said.