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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

TV Firing Case Gets to Europe's Court

For most of their lives, Tatyana Maslovskaya and Viktor Makarov have made television shows. Now they are aiming to make legal history.

Makarov and Maslovskaya, artistic directors for 26 years at St. Petersburg's Channel 5, have a longstanding beef with City Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who they say illegally orchestrated the takeover of the city's largest television station.

Now, in a potentially groundbreaking case, the husband-and-wife team has managed to take their complaint beyond the constraints of the Russian court system to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. That court has agreed to hear the first stages of an appeal filed by Maslovskaya alleging not only that Channel 5 was illegally sold off, but also that Russia's court system is biased in favor of the authorities.

"If the European Court recognizes our claim it would set a major precedent that could have far-reaching ramifications," said Maslovskaya's attorney, Sergei Yegorov, who will argue her case.

For those who have been continually thwarted in their efforts to seek redress in Russia's notoriously biased courts, the outcome of Maslovskaya's appeal could mean a new court of last resort.

"This case could mark the start of Russia's real participation in the Council of Europe," said local lawmaker Leonid Romankov, who has followed the Channel 5 case from the beginning.

When Russia was admitted to the Council of Europe in 1995, it was with the agreement that it would adhere to the decisions of the Strasbourg court, which was established by the European Human Rights Convention of 1950. Now, in order for a plaintiff to apply to the court, all appeals in the Russian court system must first be exhausted f a requirement Maslovskaya has fulfilled. Over the past year she has seen her case against Yakovlev dismissed by both local and federal courts. Last June, a city court dismissed the complaint, as did the Russian Supreme Court last September.

Makarov and Maslovskaya were among some 2,200 Channel 5 employees unceremoniously fired last spring after Yakovlev signed a decree "liquidating" the station and establishing in its place a new firm called Petersburg Television.

Behind closed doors, City Hall later sold a 49 percent stake in the station to three banks: Balt-Uneximbank; Promstroibank, or PSB; and Menatep-St. Petersburg. PSB and Menatep then relinquished their stakes, leaving Balt-Uneximbank f which financed Yakovlev's 1996 election campaign f as the sole private shareholder.

"We know this was illegal and are determined to see this case through to the end," said Maslovskaya, who, along with her husband, are among the city's most respected artistic directors. They were also at the forefront in breaking official taboos during perestroika, producing groundbreaking programs that poked fun at the country's communist elite.

Maslovskaya's appeal is based on Article 6 of the European Human Rights Convention, which guarantees the citizens of all member states the right to a fair and impartial hearing in court.

"Yakovlev has clearly bought the city's courts," said Maslovskaya. "In our country, the right to a fair court hearing simply doesn't exist."