Jehovah’s Witnesses – Russia – On January 31, 2023, the European Court of Human Rights, having considered seven complaints from Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia, recognized the disruption of worship services from 2010 to 2014 as a violation of fundamental freedoms. The ECHR ruled to pay compensation to the applicants in the amount of 345,773 EUR and another 5,000 EUR as legal costs.
This case concerns the disruption of religious meetings in 17 regions of Russia, as well as searches, confiscation of literature and personal belongings, and several cases of detention with personal searches.
Law enforcement officers, sometimes armed and wearing masks, would brake into the buildings where worship services of Jehovah’s Witnesses were being conducted. The actions of law enforcement officers were justified by technicalities, for example, by the fact that the meetings were organized without prior notice to the authorities. The security forces either demanded that the event be stopped or remained on the premises and filmed what was happening using photo and video equipment, after which they interrogated those present.
On several occasions, police raided places of worship, including private residences. The search warrants did not provide specific grounds. They only stated that the buildings may contain “evidence relevant to the criminal case.”
“The applicants unsuccessfully pleaded with [the police] to postpone the search until after the end of the religious services.” Several similar cases are described in the ECtHR decision (§ 4).
The victims appealed against the actions of the security forces in local courts, but their demands were not satisfied.
The European Court concluded that the actions of the Russian authorities violated Article 9 of the Convention on Human Rights, which declares the fundamental right to participate in peaceful religious assemblies.
Here are excerpts from the judgment of the ECtHR.
What Does the Decision of the European Court Mean?
Although the cases reviewed by the ECHR dealt with events prior to the ban on Russian legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017, hundreds of criminal cases filed since then have treated the joint discussion of the Holy Scriptures as a crime.
Yaroslav Sivulskiy, representative of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, commented on the decision of the ECHR: “The ECHR once again emphasized that there is not and cannot be anything extremist in the religious meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The same was recognized by the Plenum of the Supreme Court of Russia; however, some Russian courts continue to act contrary to these rulings, putting Jehovah’s Witnesses behind bars merely because of their religion.”
More than 60 applications from those who suffered from the repressive campaign against Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses are awaiting the European Court’s decision.
In June 2022, the European Court of Human Rights recognized the liquidation of legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia as illegal and demanded that the criminal prosecution of believers be stopped and that all those imprisoned for their faith be released.