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EAJW (27.05.2021) – On 3 May, the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses – France filed a 13-page submission to the 132rd session of the UN Human Rights Committee prior to the adoption of the List of Issues. We present you the introduction of their submission focusing on the role of the MIVILUDES followed by the table of contents of the document.

 

Introduction

 

  1. The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses (EAJW) is a charity registered in the United Kingdom. It provides support to Jehovah’s Witnesses facing fundamental human rights violations in various parts of the world.
  2. The activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France go back to the end of the 19th The first local religious association was legally registered in 1906. In 1929, a national office was opened in Paris. Close to 300,000 people currently attend their meetings for worship.
  3. Nonetheless, over the past three decades, various governmental agencies have consistently and egregiously labelled Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “sect” (French, secte – a seriously pejorative term in French). These agencies[1], principally the MIVILUDES at present, are leading a campaign of harassment and misrepresentation against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Parliament established four parliamentary commissions on sectarian aberrations (1995, 1999, 2006 and 2012), all of which referred to Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the time, State authorities alleged that so-called sects engaged in “mental destabilisation, exorbitant financial demands, inducing people to sever ties with their home environment, bodily harm, indoctrination of children, more or less antisocial views prejudicing public order, numerous lawsuits, possible misuse of traditional financial channels and attempts to infiltrate public authorities.”[2]
  4. On 22 December 1995, the State’s anti-sect commission released its first report, entitled “Sects in France”, which listed 173 so-called sects. Jehovah’s Witnesses were the largest group named in the report. On 17 June 1999, the State’s anti-sect commission released its second report, entitled “Sects and Money,” which once again included numerous discriminatory, defamatory and false accusations about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses in France contacted State officials, objecting to the inclusion of Jehovah’s Witnesses in both anti-sect reports. They also filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), challenging the legality of both reports. In a decision dated 6 November 2001, the ECHR held that the reports were protected from challenge by parliamentary immunity but went on to observe that such reports have “no legal effect and cannot serve as the basis for any criminal or administrative proceedings.”[3] Subsequently, in a related 2011 judgment, the ECHR ruled in favour of Jehovah’s Witnesses (in the context of discriminatory taxation imposed on Jehovah’s Witnesses as a result of the anti-sect reports), concluding that “Jehovah’s Witnesses’ free exercise of freedom of religion is protected by Article 9 of the Convention”.[4]
  5. Despite both rulings of the ECHR, and the fact that the anti-sect reports “have no legal effect”, such reports continue to be cited by some State officials as justification for religious discrimination and human rights violations against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The primary source of that religious discrimination is the State agency MIVILUDES, which has consistently maligned Jehovah’s Witnesses for more than 25 years, tarnishing their reputation and presenting them as a dangerous sect. This has created a climate of severe religious intolerance and hostility against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Official discrimination by national and local authorities has occurred, along with countless instances of hate speech and hate crime. The present submission will provide examples of the insidious and damaging effects that such stigmatisation has had on law-abiding citizens (Part II).
  6. On 25 February 2021, the French authorities released a report prepared and endorsed by the MIVILUDES, the National Police and the Gendarmerie. The report comments on “sectarian aberrations” and once again pejoratively refers to Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “sect”.
  7. Furthermore, on 5 April 2021, Le Monde, one of the most respected and widely read national newspapers in France, published an article quoting Ms. Marlène Schiappa, Minister Delegate in Charge of Citizenship, attached to the Minister of the Interior, who has recently reinforced the MIVILUDES. She makes direct reference to Jehovah’s Witnesses as one of the major sects still active, along with The Order of the Solar Temple. The latter was notorious for a series of violent actions, murders and mass suicides in multiple countries in the 1980’s. This slanderous misrepresentation not only affronts the religious feelings of almost 9 million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide but also casts shame on our confession, which has been present and perfectly integrated into the religious landscape in France for over a century, and stigmatises tens of thousands of respectable citizens.
  8. The EAJW objects in the strongest terms to the recent and continued misrepresentation of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the MIVILUDES. Such actions by the authorities will undeniably continue to generate further discrimination and religious intolerance.
  9. These recent developments are all the more shocking because during the past 30 years, the senior French administrative courts, including the Conseil d’État (Supreme Court for Administrative Justice), have systematically reaffirmed and reinforced the religious status of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France. Moreover, the ECHR has repeatedly confirmed that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a “known religion[5] with “an active presence in many countries world-wide, including all European States”.[6] The ECHR, in its decision Association les Témoins de Jéhovah v. France[7], condemned the French authorities for violating Article 9 of the European Convention, which guarantees freedom of religion or belief. That decision ended a 16-year-long legal battle against targeted discrimination against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Footnotes

1.The Observatoire interministériel sur les sectes (Interministerial Observatory of Sects) was created on 9 May 1996 and was renamed Mission interministérielle de lutte contre les sects, or MILS (Interministerial Mission on the Fight Against Sects), in October 1998. In November 2002, the French authorities established by presidential decree the Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires, or MIVILUDES (Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Combat Against Sectarian Aberrations).

2. Fédération Chrétienne des Témoins de Jéhovah de France v. France, no. 53430/09, 6 November 2001 (Dec).

3. Fédération Chrétienne des Témoins de Jéhovah de France v. France, no. 53430/09, 6 November 2001 (Dec).

4. Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah v. France, no. 8916/05, 30 June 2011, paras. 9-10, 50-51.

5.  Manoussakis and Others v. Greece, no. 18748/91, 26 September 1996, para 40.

6. Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others v. Russia, no. 302/02, 10 June 2010, para 155.

7. Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah v. France, no. 8916/05, 30 June 2011 and 5 July 2012.

Table of contents

 

SUMMARY OF THE SUBMISSION. 2

  1. INTRODUCTION. 3
  2. Violations of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Articles 18, 19, 21, 22, 26 and 27. 4
  3. A. Direct Attempt to Restrict the Religious Activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the National Authorities 5
  4. Opposition to the Construction of Local and Regional Places of Worship. 6
  5. Vandalism of Places of Worship. 7
  6. Tax Exemption for Places of Worship, Legal Capacity to Receive Donations 7
  7. Refusal to Rent Municipal Halls and Facilities 7
  8. Refusal to Allow Ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses to Register with the Social Security Scheme for Religious Orders (CAVIMAC) 7
  9. Denial of Inmates’ Right to Receive Visits of Ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses 7
  10. Discrimination at the Workplace and in the Education System.. 8
  11. Child Custody and Child Adoption Refusals 9
  12. Physical Assaults 10

III.      CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS. 11

[1]     The Observatoire interministériel sur les sectes (Interministerial Observatory of Sects) was created on 9 May 1996 and was renamed Mission interministérielle de lutte contre les sects, or MILS (Interministerial Mission on the Fight Against Sects), in October 1998. In November 2002, the French authorities established by presidential decree the Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires, or MIVILUDES (Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Combat Against Sectarian Aberrations).

[2]     Fédération Chrétienne des Témoins de Jéhovah de France v. France, no. 53430/09, 6 November 2001 (Dec).

[3]     Fédération Chrétienne des Témoins de Jéhovah de France v. France, no. 53430/09, 6 November 2001 (Dec).

[4]     Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah v. France, no. 8916/05, 30 June 2011, paras. 9-10, 50-51.

[5]     Manoussakis and Others v. Greece, no. 18748/91, 26 September 1996, para 40.

[6]     Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others v. Russia, no. 302/02, 10 June 2010, para 155.

[7]     Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah v. France, no. 8916/05, 30 June 2011 and 5 July 2012.

Further reading about FORB in France on HRWF website

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