Application no. 27227/17 Donald Jay OSSEWAARDE against Russia
HRWF (02.08.2017) – On 30 March 2017, Donald Jay Ossewaarde lodged a complaint against Russia and on 6 July, the European Court communicated questions to the parties.
Statement of facts
The applicant, Mr Donald Jay Ossewaarde, is a citizen of the United States of America (USA) who was born in 1960 and who has been living in Oryol, Russia, since 2005 on the basis of renewable residence permits. He is represented before the Court by Ms T. Glushkova, Ms T. Chernikova, Mr D. Shvedov, and Mr K. Koroteyev, lawyers practising in Moscow.
The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarized as follows. The applicant is a Baptist Christian. Since moving to Oryol in Russia, he and his wife have regularly gathered people at their home for prayer and Bible reading. The applicant personally invited people to those meetings or put invitations in people’s mailboxes.
On Sunday, 14 August 2016, as the applicant was holding a Bible-reading meeting in his home, the police officers walked in through the
door that was not locked. The police waited for the end of the service to ask questions and take statements from the applicant and the participants. At about 1 p.m. they took the applicant to the police station to take his fingerprints.
At the station the applicant was shown a statement by a “concerned resident” who had complained to the police about “foreign religious
cultists” pasting Gospel tracts to a bulletin board at her apartment block. In the subsequent proceedings, it transpired that the “concerned resident” Ms B. was a deputy chairman of the Oryol Regional Government in charge of security matters.
The police charged the applicant with the offence under Article 5.26(5) of the Code of Administrative Offences for placing invitations to religious services on bulletin boards, which was interpreted as spreading of information about his religion among non-members of his religious group, and for conducting “missionary activities” without notification of establishment of a religious group.
After two-and-a-half hour’s detention at the police station the applicant was taken before the Zheleznodorozhnyy District Court in Oryol. He pleaded his innocence, maintaining that he was not a member of any religious association in Russia and could not exercise “missionary activities” within the meaning of the Religions Act. At approximately 7 p.m. the District Court convicted the applicant for conducting “missionary activities” without having notified the authorities of establishing a religious group, and fined him 40,000 Russian roubles.
On 30 September 2016 the Oryol Regional Court rejected the applicant’s appeal.
On 28 February 2017 the Constitutional Court dismissed the applicant’s constitutional complaint. It held in particular that it was not competent to determine the question of fact whether the applicant “had been a member of any religious association and carried out missionary activities on its behalf by involving other persons into the activities of the religious association or whether he simply disseminated his religious beliefs in public”.
The applicant complains under Articles 9 and 11 of the Convention that he was punished for manifesting his religion in community with others. He also invokes Article 14 in conjunction with the above provisions to complain about a difference in treatment between Russian and foreign nationals under Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offences.
The applicant also complains under Article 5 § 1 of the Convention that his detention at the police station was not necessary because nothing prevented the police for drawing up the offence record on the spot.