The ECHR judgment of July 11, 2019 in the case of Abdalov and Others v. Azerbaijan (applications N 28508/11 and others).
In 2011, the applicants were assisted in preparing applications. Subsequently, the applications were consolidated and communicated to Azerbaijan.
In the case, applications about the lack of time for the election campaign due to the delay in the registration of candidates in the parliamentary elections after the initial arbitrary refusal to register them and the length of court proceedings were successfully considered. The case has violated the requirements of Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention.
Circumstances of the case
The applicants who nominated themselves for the 2010 parliamentary elections were registered late due to the allegedly arbitrary initial decisions to refuse to register them as candidates and to consider the applicants' subsequent complaints, which left them little time to conduct their election campaigns. The first applicant had only one full day for the campaign, the second three full days, and the third applicant had almost no time.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
Regarding compliance with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention. The applicants' cases differed from those in which the main issue concerned the alleged different treatment of candidates during election campaigns or the inequality of opportunity during the election campaign. The applicants' ability to conduct the campaign was limited by the lack of time associated with the delay in registering them. Thus, the main problem was not any difference in treatment or opportunities during the campaign itself, but whether the delay in registering the applicants had a negative effect on their individual right to freely and effectively stand for election.
The timely registration of candidates was especially important in order to ensure that they were known to voters and able to voice their political agenda during the election campaign in an attempt to win votes and win the election. The free choice of the electorate depended, among other things, on the availability of information by voters about all candidates who could be elected, and on their receipt of such information at the right time in order to form their opinion and express it on election day.
The applicants ’specific situation should be evaluated in the general context of some systemic problems identified during the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan in 2010 and related to the lack of sufficient guarantees to prevent denial of registration of candidates based on arbitrary conclusions about falsification of signatures submitted in support of them. Despite the fact that, after a series of complaints, the applicants were registered, taking into account the case file, it should be noted that the refusals to register the applicants as candidates and subsequent proceedings up to the time of the adoption of the relevant decisions to satisfy the applicants' complaints indicated procedural violations, which were found by the European Court in its leading judgment in the case of “Tahirov v. Azerbaijan” (Tahirov v. Azerbaijan) dated June 11, 2015, complaint No. 31953/11.
The legislation of Azerbaijan provided for a maximum three-day period for filing complaints on electoral issues and a maximum three-day period for consideration of complaints by election commissions and courts. At the level of election commissions, this three-day term could be extended more than once. If there were three levels of appeal against the decision of the election commissions, complaints proceedings in cases concerning the refusal to register candidates could theoretically last up to 18 days (and sometimes longer if the deadline for filing a complaint was extended or when the case was sent to a lower court). Since the decision to refuse registration could be made even on the eve of the date of the official start of the election campaign, consideration of complaints about this decision could take place after the start of the election campaign, which happened in the applicants' case. Thus, within the framework of the legal system of Azerbaijan, the period of consideration of complaints about the refusal of registration and the period of the election campaign (equal to 22 days) could overlap. Consequently, given the possibility of overlapping between the periods allotted for these stages of the electoral process and the short term of the election campaign, it was especially important to complete the complaints procedure in a timely manner to ensure that, if the complaint was satisfied, its submitter had sufficient time to conduct its election campaign before election dates.
In the present case, during the proceedings, a number of delays were made due to the fault of election commissions and courts, which made decisions several times late, sometimes in violation of the three-day period established by law. The delays in registering applicants were not negligible. The applicants were registered so late and shortly before election day that they did not have reasonable time to conduct a successful election campaign. Registration delays were related to the lack of guarantees against arbitrariness during the registration process of candidates and delays in the consideration of applicants' complaints by election commissions and courts. In such circumstances, the applicants ’individual suffrage was limited to a degree that substantially diminished their effectiveness.
In the case there was a violation of the requirements of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention (adopted unanimously).
The Court also found that there had been a violation of Article 34 of the Convention in connection with the seizure of the second and third applicants' materials from their representative's office.
In application of Article 41 of the Convention. The Court awarded each of the applicants EUR 7,500 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.