ECHR judgment in the case Usmanov v. Russia (application no. 43936/18), December 22, 2020

Revoking Russian citizenship and expelling to Tajikistan breached the European Convention.

The case Usmanov v. Russia (application no. 43936/18) concerned a national of Tajikstan’s complaint about decisions to revoke his Russian citizenship and remove him from Russian territory. Mr Usmanov was granted Russian citizenship in 2008, but it was revoked ten years later when the authorities discovered that he had omitted the names of his brothers and sisters in his application. The decision to expel him had been taken after he refused to leave the country.

In today’s Chamber judgment (1) in the case the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

violations of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights as concerned both the revocation of the applicant’s Russian citizenship and the decision to expel him from Russian territory.

Overall, the Court considered that the authorities’ decisions in the applicant’s case had been overly formalistic, failing to duly balance the interests at stake. In particular, they had not shown why the applicant’s failure to submit information about some of his siblings had been so grave that it was justified to deprive him of his Russian citizenship so many years after he had obtained it. Nor had they taken into account the fact that he had been living in Russia for a considerable period of time with a Russian national, with whom he had four children, and that during his stay he had not committed any offences.

The Court also decided to continue to indicate to the Russian Government under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court not to expel the applicant until such time as this judgment became final or until further notice.

Principal facts

The applicant, Bakhtiyer Kasymzhanovich Usmanov, is a national of Tajikistan who was born in 1977.

Mr Usmanov moved to Russia in 2007, together with his wife and two children. He and his wife had two more children afterwards.

In 2008 he successfully applied for Russian citizenship. However, ten years later his citizenship was revoked because he had omitted some information (the names of his brothers and sisters) in his application. The domestic authorities dismissed his arguments that the missing information was not important and that he had strong ties with Russia. As a result, he was left without any valid identity documents.

In April 2018 the Federal Security Service decided to issue a 35-year ban on his entering Russia because he posed a threat to national security. He was supposed to leave the country before 17 August 2018. He was arrested in November 2018 and placed in a temporary detention centre for foreigners for failing to comply with the order for him to leave the country. The courts ordered his forcible removal from Russia.

He challenged the entry ban and his administrative removal in the courts, in vain. The courts ruled in particular that the entry ban had been issued by the competent authority and that, in any case, his family could follow him or stay in Russia and receive financial support from abroad. Furthermore, the courts found no evidence that Mr Usmanov’s removal would breach the European Convention.

Mr Usmanov’s removal was stayed in December 2018 pending the proceedings before the European Court, following its granting his request for interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court. He has since unsuccessfully appealed against his detention.

Complaints

Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), the applicant alleged that, in the decisions to revoke his Russian nationality and exclude him from Russia, the authorities had failed to duly take into account his family situation or to explain why he had posed a threat to national security.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 11 September 2018.

Decision of the Court

Firstly, the Court found that revoking the applicant’s citizenship had interfered with his rights under Article 8 of the Convention. He had been deprived of any legal status in Russia and left without any valid identity documents. The Court noted in particular that Russian citizens had to prove their identity unusually often in their everyday life, from buying a train ticket to more crucial needs such as finding employment or receiving medical care. The revocation of the applicant’s citizenship had moreover been a precondition for the decisions to impose the entry ban and to remove him from the State.

The Government agreed that there had been an interference with the applicant’s rights, but argued that the legislative rules had not left any discretion to the authorities in situations where a person had omitted information in their application for Russian citizenship. After it had been established that the information submitted by the applicant had been incomplete, the authorities had therefore had no choice but to annul the decision granting him Russian citizenship, irrespective of the time elapsed since the obtaining of citizenship, the strength of his ties with Russia, his family situation or other important factors.

The Court found that such an approach had been excessively formalistic. It had been fostered by the legal framework, as in force at the time, and had resulted in a failure to give the applicant adequate protection against arbitrary interference.

The Government had not therefore shown why the applicant’s failure to submit information about some of his siblings had been of such gravity that it had been justified to deprive him of his Russian citizenship many years after he had obtained it.

Indeed, the Court found that revoking the applicant’s citizenship for such an omission, without the authorities carrying out any kind of balancing exercise, had been grossly disproportionate. The Court therefore concluded that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention on account of the applicant’s Russian citizenship being revoked.

Similarly, neither in the proceedings concerning the ban on entering Russia nor in the proceedings concerning administrative removal had the domestic courts duly balanced the interests at stake.

Overall, in those two sets of proceedings it had not been convincingly established that the threat which the applicant had allegedly posed to national security had outweighed the fact that he had been living in Russia for a considerable period of time in a household with a Russian national, with whom he had four children, two of whom had been born in Russia. That was particularly relevant given that during his stay in Russia the applicant had not committed any offences.

Accordingly, there had been another violation of Article 8 of the Convention on account of the decision to remove the applicant from the country.

Given the above conclusions, the Court considered that it was not necessary to examine the applicant’s complaint under Article 8 of the Convention concerning the imposition of the entry ban on him.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

The Court held that Russia was to pay the applicant 162 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary damage, EUR 10,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 850 in respect of costs and expenses.

The judgment is available only in English.

Footnotes:

(1) Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day.

Once a judgment becomes final, it is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for supervision of its execution. Further information about the execution process can be found here: www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/execution.


Source: www.echr.coe-int