1. The case originated in an application (no. 44230/06) against the Republic of Latvia lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a “permanently resident non-citizen” of the Republic of Latvia, Mr Jurijs Petropavlovskis (“the applicant”), on 10 October 2006.
2. The applicant was represented by Mr A. Dimitrovs, a lawyer practising in Brussels. The Latvian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agents, Mrs I. Reine and, subsequently, Mrs K. Līce.
3. The applicant complained under Articles 10, 11 and 13 of the Convention that the allegedly arbitrary refusal of Latvian citizenship through naturalisation was a punitive measure imposed on him because he had imparted ideas and exercised his right of peaceful assembly in order to criticise the Government’s position.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
6. The applicant was born in 1955 and lives in Riga.
7. Before 29 October 1998, when the Latvian Parliament (Saeima) enacted the Education Law, education in State and municipal schools continued to be conducted in Latvian and Russian, a practice which was inherited from Soviet times. The Education Law, which took effect on 1 June 1999, provided that the only language of instruction in all State and municipal schools in the Republic of Latvia would be the State language, that is, Latvian. It also provided that the language of instruction might be different in private schools, in State and municipal schools implementing national minority curricula and in other educational establishments as provided by law. As regards the State and municipal schools implementing national minority curricula, it was for the Ministry of Education to set out specific subjects to be taught in the State language (section 9(1) and (2)) and the Minister for Education was to ensure that the relevant regulations were submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers by 1 September 1999 (transitional provisions, paragraph 3). It was also established that everyone should learn the State language and take the State language proficiency test in order to obtain primary and secondary education (section 9(3)).
8. Between 2003 and 2004 the applicant was actively involved in protests against the education reform. He was one of the main leaders of a movement named “Headquarters for the Protection of Russian Schools” (“Krievu skolu aizstāvības štābs” in Latvian), which was involved in promoting and advocating protests against the education reform. He participated in meetings and demonstrations against the education reform and made public statements advocating ideas concerning the Russian-speaking community’s rights to education in Russian and the preservation of the State-financed schools with Russian as the sole language of instruction. The Government provided the Court with evidence of media coverage of these protests in the period from 28 June 2003 to 23 September 2005, including news reports by the Latvian news agency LETA and articles in the daily newspapers Diena and Lauku Avīze and in the regional newspaper Novaja Gazeta (in Russian). There were thirteen news reports and articles in total.
9. After several sizable meetings and demonstrations, Parliament adopted amendments to the Education Law on 5 February 2004. The new text provided that from 1 September 2004 all secondary State and municipal schools implementing national minority curricula had to ensure instruction in the State language in not less than 60% of the study curriculum, including foreign languages, in respect of pupils commencing their studies in the tenth grade. These schools also had to ensure that the curriculum relating to minority language, identity and culture was taught in the minority language (transitional provisions, paragraph 3).
10. In November 2003 the applicant applied to the Naturalisation Board (Naturalizācijas Pārvalde) seeking to acquire Latvian citizenship through naturalisation. On 1 December 2003 he passed the naturalisation exams (see paragraph 29 below).
11. The Naturalisation Board examined the documents submitted by the applicant and, finding that he met the requirements of Articles 11 and 12 of the Citizenship Law, included his name in the list of candidates applying for citizenship. The list was attached to the draft decision on granting citizenship and transferred to the Cabinet of Ministers (Ministru kabinets) for the final decision.
12. On 16 November 2004 the Cabinet of Ministers decided to strike the applicant’s name out of the list, thus refusing his application for naturalisation.
46. The applicant complained under Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention that the allegedly arbitrary denial of Latvian citizenship through naturalisation was a punitive measure imposed on him because he had imparted ideas and exercised his right of assembly in order to criticise the Government’s position. He further complained that the aforementioned infringements of his rights, contrary to the requirements of Article 10 § 2 and Article 11 § 2 of the Convention, were not prescribed by law, did not pursue a legitimate aim and were disproportionate and not necessary in a democratic society. Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention read as follows:
Article 10 (freedom of expression)
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent states from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association)
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the state.”
47. The Government denied that there had been a violation of these Articles.
B. The Court’s assessment
2. Application of those principles to the present case
79. Furthermore, the applicant himself admitted that he had never been subjected to a criminal sanction for expressing his opinion or for participating in a demonstration. It appears that he had received one warning for participating in a protest; however, he did not specify any further details in this regard – date, place or context.
85. The Court notes that the assessment of loyalty for the purposes of the naturalisation decision in the present case does not refer to loyalty to the government in power, but rather to the State and its Constitution. The Court considers that a democratic State is entitled to require persons who wish to acquire its citizenship to be loyal to the State and, in particular, to the constitutional principles on which it is founded. The applicant did not contest this. The Court agrees with the applicant that, in exercising his freedom of expression and assembly, he is free to disagree with government policies for as long as that critique takes place in accordance with the law; it is also true that the limits of permissible criticism are wider with regard to the government than in relation to a private citizen or even a politician. However, this is an entirely different matter from the issue of the criteria set for naturalisation and its procedure, which are both determined by domestic law. The requirement of loyalty to the State and its Constitution cannot be considered as a punitive measure capable of interfering with the freedom of expression and assembly. Rather, it is a criterion which has to be fulfilled by any person seeking to obtain the Latvian citizenship through naturalisation.
86. The Court does not see in what manner the applicant has been prevented from expressing his disagreement with government policy on the issue of interest to him. Nor can the Court discern any facts which would indicate that he was prevented from participating in any meetings or movements.
87. Consequently, Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention are not applicable in the circumstances of the present case and the Court upholds the Government’s objection.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
1. Holds that Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention are not applicable;
Document data: adopted on 13.01.2015, application No. 44230/06 Link: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-150232 Summaries are also available in Latvian at http://at.gov.lv/downloadetclawfile/628 and in Russian at http://base.consultant.ru/cons/cgi/online.cgi?req=doc;base=ARB;n=427592;dst=0;ts=1B466ED521A16F607151FB08902BCCC1;rnd=0.7517423152457923
Publisher’s note: for an outside academic comment on the judgment, see https://strasbourgobservers.com/2015/01/28/the-fourth-sections-curious-take-on-article-10-in-petropavlovskis-v-latvia-two-comments/