Case of European Court of Human Rights, November 26, 2019 (case SAVENKO (LIMONOV) v. RUSSIA)

Resolution Date:November 26, 2019

Violation of Article 10 - Freedom of expression-{general} (Article 10-1 - Freedom of expression)




(Application no. 29088/08)



26 November 2019

This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Savenko (Limonov) v. Russia,

The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:

Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque, President,Helen Keller,María Elósegui, judges,and Stephen Phillips, Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 5 November 2019,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:


  1. The case originated in an application (no. 29088/08) against the Russian Federation lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Russian national, Mr Eduard Veniaminovich Savenko (“the applicant”), on 2 June 2008.

  2. The applicant was represented by Mr D. Agranovskiy, a lawyer practising in the Moscow Region. The Russian Government (“the Government”) were represented initially by Mr G. Matyushkin, Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Court of Human Rights, and then by his successor in that office, Mr M. Galperin.

  3. The applicant alleged, in particular, a violation of his right to freedom of expression.

  4. On 27 May 2010 the Government were given notice of the above complaint.

  5. The Government objected to the examination of the application by a Committee. Having considered the Government’s objection, the Court has rejected it.


  6. The applicant was born in 1943 and lives in Moscow. He has published books and articles under the name of Eduard Limonov. At the material time he was a founding member of the National Bolshevik Party and one of the leaders of Another Russia («Другая Россия»), an umbrella coalition known for organising opposition rallies under the name of Dissenters’ March («Марш несогласных»).

  7. The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.

  8. On 4 April 2007 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) hosted a debate in the wake of the Moscow court’s decision upholding the Moscow Government’s refusal to authorise the Dissenters’ March in 2006. The applicant took part in the debate and stated:

    “We certainly expected that the Tverskoy court [in Moscow] would issue a negative decision. Moscow courts are controlled by [the Moscow mayor] Luzhkov. You cannot expect a miracle ... Generally speaking, Moscow courts have never ruled against Luzhkov. Anyone in our position would have insisted on a lawful decision, knowing full well that unlawfulness was to be expected.”

    The transcript of the debate was published on the station’s web-site.

  9. On 18 May 2007 the Moscow mayor lodged a defamation claim against the applicant and the RFE/RL station. He claimed that the sentence “Moscow courts are controlled by Luzhkov” was false and also damaging to his honour, dignity and the professional reputation, and sought 500,000 Russian roubles (RUB) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

  10. On 14 November 2007 the Babushkinsky District Court in Moscow granted the defamation claim in full. It heard counsel for the plaintiff and the defendants and took evidence from witnesses for the applicant who stated that they had had a personal experience of unsuccessful litigation against the Moscow Government in Moscow courts. The court found:

    “The defendant Savenko (Limonov) and his counsel did not produce any evidence showing the truth of the statement [that Moscow courts were controlled by Mayor Luzhkov].

    The expert ... from the Vinogradov Russian Language Institute ... explained that for the average man – rather than for a specialist – the statement meant that courts were actually controlled by Mayor Luzhkov, that they were not independent and watched carefully for his reaction, that any application to the courts was meaningless because they would never find against Luzhkov. The expert’s position finds corroboration in the testimony of citizens who had spontaneously appeared in court and were listed as witnesses for the defendants. They actually believed that the courts in Moscow were controlled by the Moscow Government and by Mayor Luzhkov and they gave testimony to that effect ...

    [Mr Savenko (Limonov)] did not accept the claim ... and stated that the amount claimed was a significant one, that he did not have that kind of money because he was the father of a small child ... As regards compensation in respect of non-pecuniary damage, the court finds that the claim should be granted in full because the defendant Savenko (Limonov) did not produce his income statement, whereas the defendant RFE/RL submitted that it had an amount of RUB 58,656.35 in its current account ...”

    The District Court ordered that the applicant and the radio station broadcast a rectification and publish it on the web-site, and pay RUB 500,000 each to the Moscow mayor.

  11. On 7 February 2008 the Moscow City Court rejected the appeals by the applicant and the radio station and upheld the District Court’s judgment. It pointed out in particular that –

    “... in determining the amount of award in respect of non-pecuniary damage, the court had regard to the extent of liability of each defendant, the nature of the statement, the manner and extent of its dissemination, and the nature of moral suffering caused to the plaintiff. In particular, the court found that the disseminated information about the plaintiff undermined public confidence in the authorities ... that the information had been disseminated on the radio and in the internet ... and that the ... information unlawfully and undeservedly discredited the plaintiff in the eyes of a large audience as the head of the executive branch in the city of Moscow and caused him moral suffering which was immesurably greater than the ordinary (нравственные страдания, которые несоизмеримо выше обычных)”.

  12. On 25 April 2008 the court bailiffs opened enforcement proceedings against the applicant and asked him to pay the entire amount within three days. On 26 August 2008 the bailiffs searched his flat and removed his personal belongings, including a typewriter, chairs...

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