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RUSSIA-EUROPEAN COURT : Two judgments unanimously in favour of 14 Jehovah’s Witnesses against Russia 

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

The European Magazine (23.02.2022) – https://bit.ly/3I9vWMe – On 22 February, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued two judgments in favor of 14 Jehovah’s Witnesses and found that Russia violated their fundamental rights to freedom of religion. Russia has been ordered to pay a total of over 99,000 euros ($112,323 U.S.) in compensation for violations that included mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement officials between 2010 and 2012.

Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, states:

“These judgments set a critical precedent that Russia has been unjustly and unlawfully raiding the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses—1,700 since the 2017. Any new home raids based solely on the owner’s religious beliefs are now considered illegal and in violation of the European Convention.”

“Additionally, the disruption of Ms. Zharinova’s door-to-door preaching, followed by her detention and seizure of religious literature amounted to an ‘interference by a public authority’ with her right to manifest her religion. This is a clear endorsement by the ECHR that ‘door-to-door preaching’ is a religious activity that a public authority should not interfere with. Today the ECHR sent a clear signal to Russia of what to expect when the Court deals with the over 60 other cases pending involving Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world rejoice to see that their fellow believers in Russia are being validated and protected by the ECHR for staying true to their religious beliefs.”

The Court’s two judgments address six cases against Russia that challenged the validity of search warrants that prompted raids of several private homes and a place of worship, strip searches of two women following their arrest while preaching, the confiscation of personal items, and the refusal of authorities to return seized personal items. In some cases, searches were carried out by fully masked and heavily armed FSB (Russian secret police) officers who forcefully confronted peaceful citizens solely on the basis of their Christian beliefs.

The judgements were rendered by a committee of three judges, which cannot be referred to the Grand Chamber and are therefore final judgments. The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers will monitor whether Russia implements the judgments.

Case of Cheprunovy and Others v. Russia (Applications nos. 74320/10)

“1. The case concerns searches in the flats of Jehovah’s Witnesses and in the prayer hall owned by a local religious organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

2. The applicants are individual Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Kostomuksha local religious organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the “Kostomuksha LRO”). On various dates between 2010 and 2012, the Russian courts authorised searches and inspections in the applicants’ flats on the basis that, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, they might be involved in extremist activities and distribution of extremist literature. The Federal Security Service (the “FSB”) also issued an inspection order for the prayer hall owned by the Kostomuksha LRO.

3. The authorities searched the applicants’ flats and seized the religious literature they had found, including Bibles, magazines and books, and other personal items, such as computers, video-recordings, writing pads and notebooks. Domestic courts dismissed the applicants’ complaints about the searches, finding that they had been duly authorised by judicial decisions and carried out in accordance with the law (see the Appendix).

4. Following an inspection in her flat and seizure of religious brochures, Ms Chavychalova (application no. 74329/10) was found guilty of “unlawful possession of extremist material with the aim of mass distributing”, an offence under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offences (CAO), and fined 1,500 Russian roubles.

5. The applicants complained that the searches in their flats and seizure of their religious literature and personal belongings were neither lawful, nor “necessary in a democratic society”, and thus, violated their rights guaranteed by the Articles 8, 9, 10, and 14 of the Convention. Some of the applicants also relied on Articles 6, 11 and 13 of the Convention, and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 in this respect.” (Source: European Court decision)

 

The Court unanimously held that there has been a violation of Article 9 (freedom of religion or belief) of the European Convention and that Russia has to pay

  1. EUR 37 to Ms Chavychalova, and EUR 500 (five hundred euros) jointly to Ms Zharikova and Mr Naumov, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of pecuniary damage;
  2. EUR 5,000 (five thousand euros) jointly to all the applicants in respect of costs and expenses.

Case of Zharinova v. Russia (Application no. 17715/12)

“1. The case concerns the apprehension of the applicant, a Jehovah’s Witness, while preaching door-to-door, her subsequent conveyance to the police station, where she was questioned, searched, and had her religious literature seized.

2. On 17 March 2011 the applicant was preaching door-to-door and talking about the Bible with local residents in her home town. She was approached by two police officers who, after checking her identity documents, took her to a police station. While at the station, the officers photocopied her passport and interviewed her for two hours. They also seized her personal belongings and religious literature. After four and a half hours, she was released.

3. The applicant complained to a court of her unlawful detention and seizure of her possessions. By judgment of 19 August 2011, as upheld on appeal on 20 September 2011, the Ivanteyevka Town Court in the Moscow Region dismissed the complaint, finding that the police had lawfully sought to uncover an administrative offence and stop her unlawful activities.

4. Relying on Articles 9 and 10, taken alone and in conjunction with Article 14, and on Articles 3 and 5 of the Convention, the applicant complains of the disruption of her religious activity, followed by her detention at the police station, and the seizure of her personal belongings.” (Source: European Court decision)

The Court unanimously held that there has been a violation of Article 9 (freedom of religion or belief) of the European Convention and that Russia has to pay

 

  1. EUR 10,000 (ten thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;
  2. EUR 1,000 (one thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicant, in respect of costs and expenses;

 

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website

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