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Russian Federation: Constitutional Court Says Movement Restrictions during Pandemic Are Legal

(Jan. 27, 2021) On December 25, 2020, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation reviewed a case against the governor of the Moscow Region regarding freedom of movement during the COVID-19 pandemic. The case was submitted by an individual who in April 2020 was fined by local authorities for disobeying the governor’s “stay at home” order when he left his residence and visited public places in the town where he lives. (Ruling of the RF Constitutional Court No. 49-P of December 25, 2000, Rossiiskaia Gazeta, Jan. 15, 2021.)

Following the governor’s order, the provincial government limited street traffic, closed public spaces for visitors, imposed limits on how far a person can walk from his or her residence, and encouraged local businesses to implement telework for their employees. The petitioner claimed that because the emergency situation had not been declared by that time, the governor’s order constituted an abuse of power and violated his constitutional right to freedom of movement.

The court stated that while it recognizes the freedom of individuals to move, people should demonstrate reasonable restraint when using this right in accordance with the needs of the situation. The court noted that the restriction on freedom of movement had been introduced during the extraordinary situation of the COVID-19 epidemic and was constitutional because it was imposed temporarily with the purpose to protect the life and health of citizens. It further stated that government actions must establish a fair balance between the need to protect the life and health of people and freedom of movement. (Ruling §§ 2, 4.)

In the opinion of the court, the restrictions were justified by the need to respond to the “unprecedented threat” of spreading the virus and were aimed at protecting all persons, including those who happened to end up in isolation. Moreover, the restrictions appeared to be in line with the World Health Organization’s recommendations to limit social interactions and introduce quarantine measures. (§ 3.2.) Even though under current Russian legislation regional restrictive measures can be established after an emergency situation is declared by the federal government, the court concluded that it would be legal for the head of the region to introduce additional preventive measures for enhanced protection of the population, and such measures must not be seen as an unusual burden placed on citizens. (§ 3.1.)

The court specifically addressed exemptions from the walking ban allowed by the governor’s order—namely, that people could leave the house for medical reasons, go to work, take out the trash, walk pets within 100 yards from the house, and make necessary purchases in the shopping place nearest the house. The court ruled that these exemptions were not discriminatory and took into consideration basic human needs. At the same time, the court concluded that the listed exemptions are not exhaustive and that law enforcement authorities must consider other justifiable reasons for people to go outside even if they constitute a violation of the established rules. (§ 4.1.)