MOSCOW -- The European Court of Human Rights has ruled Russia was wrong to fire a judge who made public allegations of political interference in the justice system.
Rights activists say Russian officials routinely pressure judges, and the justice system has come under renewed scrutiny since a Moscow court last week acquitted multiple defendants
accused of helping murder Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya.
Judges in the Strasbourg-based court voted by four to three to rule that Russia was wrong to dismiss Olga Kudeshkina in 2004, after she had served 18 years as a judge. The court also ordered Russia to pay a 10,000 euro ($12,730) fine.
Kudeshkina had publicly accused senior judicial officials of pressuring her over a high-profile criminal case.
In the ruling published by the court, it said Kudeshkina's dismissal was "disproportionately severe."
"The penalty imposed, Ms. Kudeshkina's dismissal, had been capable of having a 'chilling effect' on judges wishing to participate in the public debate on the effectiveness of the judicial institutions," said a summary of the judgment.
"Even if Ms. Kudeshkina had allowed herself a certain degree of exaggeration and generalisation, the court found that her statements had to be regarded as a fair comment on a matter of great public importance," the summary said.
The dissenting judges were from Russia, Cyprus, and Romania.
A Russian jury last week acquitted three men accused of a role in the murder of Politkovskaya, in a case that shone a spotlight on failures in the judicial system.
On February 25, the U.S. State Department issued a report critical of Russia's human rights record and spoke out against weaknesses in the legal system.
"The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judicial branch did not consistently act as an effective counterweight to other branches of the government," it said.
"Judicial observers alleged that the executive's role in approving and reconfirming judges ensured an increasingly pro-government judiciary."
In 2003, Kudeshkina oversaw a case concerning allegations of abuse of power by a police investigator who was accused of carrying out unlawful searches. Kudeshkina was removed from the case later that year.