Alexei Navalny evacuated to Germany: European Court of Human Rights orders interim measures against Russia

24 August 2020 by

 Alexei Navalny, in an isolation pod, being lifted out of an air ambulance in Berlin. Photograph: Michael Kappeler/AP. Source: The Guardian

On Saturday morning, Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny was flown, in a coma, from a hospital in Siberia to Berlin for medical treatment. On Friday, the European Court of Human Rights had granted interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, requiring Russia to grant access to the patient in order to assess his fitness for transport. The Court also ordered the Russian government to inform the Court of the medical treatment Mr Navalny is receiving by noon on Saturday (22 August), and to submit a copy of Mr Navalny’s medical file by 2 p.m. on Monday 24 August.

Mr Navalny fell ill on a plane flight last Thursday, with suspected symptoms of poisoning. The plane made an emergency landing and Mr Navalny was taken to be treated at a hospital in Omsk, Siberia, where doctors said on Friday that he was too ill to be transported elsewhere. Permission for Mr Navalny’s transfer to Berlin came after increased international pressure (from France and Germany in particular), an appeal to President Putin by Mr Navalny’s wife and supporters, and an application to the European Court. Mr Navalny’s family asked the European Court for permission to transport him to the Charité hospital in Berlin for treatment, as otherwise he faced a risk to his life or health, in violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AP. Source: The Guardian

The Court uses its powers under Rule 39 only where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm. Most often this will be the case in circumstances involving Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition against torture or inhuman or degrading treatment). It is most regularly invoked in extradition or deportation proceedings, to prevent a person being returned to their home country where doing so could lead to them being tortured or killed. Mr Navalny’s case is somewhat more unusual: the Court has taken steps to assist Mr Navalny in leaving his own country to avoid a potential threat to his life.

It is not the first time that the Court has granted interim measures in relation to medical decisions: in 2014 in the case of Lambert and Others v France (application no. 46043/14), the Court granted a stay of an order of the French court, which otherwise would have led to the applicant having his life support withdrawn. That case was covered on this blog here, following the Grand Chamber’s decision in 2015 that Article 2 would not, in fact, be breached by the withdrawal of life support.

As for Mr Navalny, he currently remains in a state of unconsciousness. At the time of writing, the European Court’s website contains only the press release regarding the interim measures ordered: no text of the decision itself, or of Mr Navalny’s application, is available at present. Although some of the Court’s requirements have now been met and indeed exceeded, Russia is still required to submit Mr Navalny’s medical file to the Court. The Court’s ongoing involvement will likely depend on the content of that file and the outcome of Mr Navalny’s treatment in Berlin.

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