INTERNATIONAL NEWS - Russia violated the human rights of anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, a leading opponent of President Vladimir Putin, by holding him under house arrest for a lengthy spell in 2014, Europe's top rights court said Tuesday.
The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court was welcomed as a victory by Navalny, who has sought to expose top-level graft in Russia, but was denounced by the Kremlin.
It is the second time the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has condemned Russia over Navalny, and comes as questions grow over whether Moscow will remain subject to the decisions of the institution.
"The restrictions on him, including tight limits on his communicating, had been out of proportion to the criminal charges he had faced," the ECHR said, ruling that Russia had violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
"It was also apparent that he had been treated in that way in order to curtail his public activities," it added.
Russia was ordered to pay Navalny 20,000 euros ($22,550) in damages and 2,665 euros ($3,000) in costs and expenses.
Navalny hailed the decision as a "victory" in a message on his Instagram account.
"I am sure that the decision will have important consequences for those in Russia who are subject to such lawlessness all the time," Navalny wrote.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "It's quite unexpected."
"We cannot really agree with it (the ruling). But we have a justice ministry, it is their prerogative to deal with these issues," he added.
The ECHR is part of the Council of Europe, a pan-European rights body, and issues binding decisions for its 47 member states.
After Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the council's Parliamentary Assembly deprived the Russian delegation of voting and other rights.
In retaliation, Russia has suspended its annual 33-million-euro ($37-million) payment to the Strasbourg-based council - about seven percent of its budget - and has not participated in parliamentary sessions.
After two years of non-payment of contributions - which would be in June this year - Russia could be suspended from the council or could opt to quit, in what some have dubbed a potential "Ruxit".
The latest ruling relates to almost a year that Navalny spent under house arrest starting in February 2014 after he was charged with fraud and money laundering along with his brother Oleg.
The pair were convicted in December 2014, with Alexei Navalny given a suspended sentence and his brother sent to prison. Both have denounced the charges as politically motivated.
'Suppression of pluralism'
The ECHR had already condemned Russia in November over a series of arrests of Navalny, saying seven arrests between 2012 and 2014 had violated his rights to security, a fair trial and the freedom of assembly.
The court said the restrictions on Navalny pursued the "same aim of the suppression of political pluralism" in Russia.
Over the last decade, Navalny has emerged as one of the key opponents of Putin, with his exposes of high-level corruption touching a nerve with many Russians especially in Moscow.
But his legal troubles have prevented him from taking on Putin at the ballot box, in what supporters argue is a brazen attempt by the Kremlin to keep a dangerous opponent from the stage.
Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996 under the presidency of its first post-Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin, as it signed the human rights convention and introduced a moratorium on the death penalty.