FECRIS admits: Hamburg Case lost against Jehovah’s Witnesses was “a lesson”

While in a public press release the lost case was presented as a victory, in its General Assembly the organization acknowledged things went differently.

by Massimo Introvigne

Bitter Winter (13.09.2021) – Excerpt from FECRIS’ report at their 2020 General Assembly:

2.1. Le procès Témoins de JEHOVAH/ FECRIS = énorme travail, heureusement assisté de Jean-Pierre JOUGLA.

Objet du litige: Le site de la FECRIS a publié au cours des années, des interventions comportant des points concernant les Témoins de Jéhovah (TJ).

La Fédération allemande des TJ a attaqué la FECRIS pour propos diffamatoires.

Les dernières conclusions ont été remises le 23 octobre 2020.

Le jugement final a été rendu en Allemand, le 27 novembre 2020; la décision et ses motifs sont en cours de traduction.


Précision de JP. Jougla: “Ce procès doit nous servir de leçon. Les intervenants doivent pouvoir apporter la preuve de ce qu’ils avant”.


Conclusion: à l’avenir les textes écrits ne seront pas publiés sur le site de la Fédération (précaution/sécurité)

(Source: Item 2.1 of the report of FECRIS General Assembly of 11/27/2000).


On November 27, 2020, FECRIS, the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects, an umbrella organization for anti-cult movements in Europe and beyond, significantly funded by the French government, lost a landmark case at the District Court of Hamburg, in Germany, where it was found guilty of 18 counts of untrue factual allegations against the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On May 24, 2021, Bitter Winter published a commentary of the decision.

On May 30, 2021, i.e., six days after Bitter Winter’s article (and six months after the decision, proving that it was indeed answering Bitter Winter, and without our article it would never have commented the judgement in public), FECRIS published a press release about the case.

In the press release, FECRIS falsely claimed that it had won a case that it had in fact lost. Since the Jehovah’s Witnesses had claimed that 32 FECRIS statements were defamatory, and the court found 17 of them defamatory, one partially defamatory, and 14 non-defamatory, FECRIS claimed that it had successfully defended its case in Hamburg. Obviously, it had not, as evidenced by the fact that FECRIS was sentenced to pay some money to the Jehovah’s Witnesses rather than vice versa. FECRIS claimed that the 14 statements declared non-defamatory were “essential” and the 18 points for which they were sentenced were “ancillary.” This was totally arbitrary. As evidenced in our article, the statements found defamatory by the court concerned some of the main claims  of FECRIS’ usual campaigns against the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Lawyers know that defamation cases are difficult. Not all false statements constitute defamation. Some statements may be inaccurate, yet the courts may regard them as protected by free speech and falling outside the scope of statutes against defamation. Organizations and tabloids that resort to systematic defamation know that they will be often sued, about several statements, and that they will be sentenced for some and found not guilty for others. Their strategy is normally to downplay the negative decisions and claim victory when only some of the statements for which they were sued, but not all, are found defamatory (a common occurrence even in the most successful defamation cases). They would also falsely claim that, when their statements have been found as non-defamatory, the courts have “certified” that they are “true”—while in fact a statement may be both inaccurate and outside the scope of defamation.

Typically, FECRIS’ press release gave the false impression that the Court of Hamburg had validated the 14 statements it had considered non-defamatory as true. In fact, the Court itself had warned against such an interpretation, noting that in German law “expressions of opinion enjoy extensive protection. Accordingly, inaccurate opinions also share in the scope of protection.” One clear example of an “inaccurate opinion” regarded as non-defamatory, which FECRIS mentions in its statement as if it had been confirmed as true by the Hamburg judges, is that “all claims of persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are just primitive propaganda.” We even wonder whether FECRIS really believes this statement to be true, after the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has been repeatedly denounced by the United Nations, the European Union, and several Western governments, including the German one.

We have now evidence that, while publicly claiming “victory” in the Hamburg case, FECRIS is well aware that things went otherwise. On November 28, 2020, FECRIS’ General Assembly was held by videoconference. One of the items discussed was the Hamburg case. The Assembly was informed of the “enormous work, happily helped by Jean-Pierre Jougla.” According to his Linkedin profile, Jougla is a “honorary attorney” (avocat honoraire), a peculiar French (and Belgian) position indicating somebody, normally retired, who maintains the title of attorney and some of its functions, but can no longer act as an attorney in court cases, except in special circumstances.

Jougla commented that “this case should be a lesson for us. Contributors should be able to prove what they assert.” The Assembly concluded that for reasons of “precaution and security” “in the future the written texts [of the speeches given at FECRIS conferences] will no longer be published on the web site of the Federation.”

See the full article here

P.S. The court decision is available in German and in English on HRWF website.

Photo : Jehovah’s Witnesses evangelizing in Frankfurt, Germany. Source: jw.org.

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.

Further reading about FORB in Germany on HRWF website