European Court orders Moscow to overturn the ‘Jehovah’s ban’


Eastern Europe


Jehovah's Witness Dennis Christensen in a Russian Court. Recently, Christensen was released. Photo Jehovah's Witnesses

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian ban on Jehovah's Witnesses is illegal. Therefore, the Court ordered Moscow to abolish the ban.

That is reported by Interfax. According to the Court in Strasbourg, the ban on Jehovah's Witnesses violates human rights. In 2017, the Russian government declared the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organisation. It forbade all its activities and confiscated the property of the believers.

According to the European Court, the ban violates the right to freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. In addition, it breaks the right to personal integrity, the judges ruled according to Orthodox Christianity. In their opinion, the definition of extremism is "too broadly interpreted by Russian law and misused to prosecute believers solely based on their beliefs", Interfax writes.

The Russian authorities banned Jehovah's Witnesses for refusing blood transfusion and distributing prohibited literature. That is reported by Orthodox Christianity. The Ministry of Justice claims that the first violates the accessibility to medical care, and the second poses a threat to the national security of Russia.

"Jehovah's Witnesses are a peaceful denomination"

The European Court of Human Rights now ordered Russia to overturn its ban and compensate people affected by the ban, under whom also the 1,444 applicants of the court case. In addition, the Court decided that confiscated property should be returned to the applicants.

According to the European Court, the Jehovah's Witnesses are a peaceful and legitimate denomination. That is reported by European Times. Judges argued among other things that no extremist content was found on the website, and that publications "appear to be peaceful and in line with their professed doctrine of non-violence."

The ruling of the European Court states that 559 Jehovah's Witnesses have been charged for participating in an "extremist organisation", Vart Land reports. The newspaper writes that more than 130 people have been convicted, and at least 255 Jehovah's Witnesses have been remanded in custody or placed under house arrest. It bases these numbers on figures from September 2021.

Significance of the ruling

According to Inna Sangadzhieva, a Norwegian human rights expert, the ruling is an "important breakthrough for Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia." She said so to Vart Land. Sangadzhieva points out that the ruling is an essential signal because Jehovah's Witnesses have tried their case in Russian courts and complained to international courts and were then proven right.

In addition, the ruling shows to the international community that the denomination of the Jehovah's Witnesses is not seen as a threat but rather as a peaceful religion, European Times adds.

However, in practice, the ruling will not change much. Interfax reports that the State Duma has adopted a law that rules that decisions of the ECtHR made after March 15, 2022, are not subject to execution in Russia.



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