Court protects journalist for covering anti-globalism march at G8 summit


By Emil Weber

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has on 13 February 2018 issued a judgement defending the right of a Ukrainian journalist to cover a demonstration in St. Petersburg during a G8 Summit. 

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg (photo: Nicoleon, Cour européenne des droits de l'homme, CC BY-SA 4.0) The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg (photo: Nicoleon, Cour européenne des droits de l'homme, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Mr. Maksim Aleksandrovich Butkevich, who had volunteered to cover the summit for the Libertarian Information and News Collective (LINC), was photographing an “anti-globalism” march in Nevskiy Avenue in St. Petersburg on 16 July 2006. The demonstration was considered unlawful by the authorities as they had not been notified in advance.

Mr. Butkevich was ordered by the police to stop taking photographs of actions which were described in the police reports as “unlawful actions”.

Since according to the same reports Mr. Butkevich continued to take photographs and refused to go with the officers to the police station, he was arrested by the police and subsequently convicted and sentenced to three days detention. The sentence was reduced to two days on appeal.

The top European human rights court has ruled that the interference amounted to a violation of freedom of speech according to Article 10 of the European Convention. It has ordered Russia to pay Mr. Butkevich 9,000 Euros in non-pecuniary damages and costs.

Police action "must be subject to strict scrutiny"

The ECtHR said that any attempt to remove journalists from the scene of a demonstration, including for an alleged offence in relation to the demonstration, must be “subject to strict scrutiny”. On the contrary, it found that in this case the domestic justice did not “delve into whether [Mr. Butkevich’s] alleged actions were excusable or otherwise mitigated, given his argument that he had been acting as a journalist”.

Its judgement further said that the court found no “relevant and sufficient reasons justifying the orders given by the police to [Mr. Butkevich]” and pointed that the demonstration was not violent.

The ECtHR also said that “the unlawfulness of the demonstration did not directly influence the administrative arrest of the applicant and his ensuing prosecution for an offence”.   

Dirk Voorhoof, a professor of media law and member of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), said that in this case the European Court makes it clear that the gathering of information is an essential preparatory step in journalism, solidly protected as a part of press freedom.


Most importantly the Court recognises that the media fulfil an important task in a democratic society, when providing information on the authorities’ handling of public demonstrations and the containment of disorder. Therefore any attempt to remove journalists from the scene of demonstrations must be subject to ‘strict scrutiny’”

Professor Voorhoof added that based on the ruling “it is not required for journalists in such circumstances [demonstrations] to wear distinctive clothing or press badges”.

“Especially after the disappointing outcome in the case of Pentikainen v Finland, this judgment is an important support in protecting journalists covering public events, demonstrations and police actions”, he observed. “It is a pity however that the Court only focussed on the prosecution and conviction of the journalist and that after finding a violation of Article 10 relating these aspects, it considered that it did not need to make further findings concerning Butkevich’s removal from the scene of the demonstration”.

The ECtHR suggested in the judgement that in the Pentikäinen v. Finland case the interference had been substantiated.

A joint third-party submission was made to the Court by the Media Legal Defence Initiative, ARTICLE 19 and the Mass Media Defence Centre. See here

On March 24, 2017, the ECPMF and its partners organised a conference on the dialogue between the European Court of Human Rights and the media freedom community. The right to protest and the role of the media during protests was one of the topics discussed during the conference. The conference’s e-book with an introduction, presentations and conclusions is available here.

According to the judgement, Mr. Butkevich’s rights to liberty and to a fair trial according to articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention were also violated.

Case of Butkevich v. Russia, application no. 5865/07. 13 February 2018

Please click here for an analysis of this case by Dirk Voorhoof and Daniel Simons


Get in Contact

fact finding mission analysis