Legal Victories

The European Court declared illegal the disruption of worship services of Jehovah's Witnesses in Chelyabinsk

Chelyabinsk Region,   France

STRASBOURG. The European Court of Human Rights has unanimously ruled that the actions of the police and the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, Ekaterina Gorina, violated justice and violated the right to religious freedom of citizens when they disrupted a legitimate Christian meeting of 150 deaf Jehovah's Witnesses in Chelyabinsk. In ruling in favour of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Court reaffirmed an important principle upheld by the Russian Federation: the right to freedom of religion.

The Court's judgment in this case, known as Konstantin Kuznetsov and Others v. the Russian Federation, states: "It is undeniable that the joint study and discussion of liturgical texts by members of the community of Jehovah's Witnesses is a recognized form of professing [their] religion during worship and teaching. [...] In addition, [the Court] notes the consistency of the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, which recognizes that the holding of liturgical meetings and congresses requires the prior permission of the authorities and there is no need to notify them of the holding of these meetings."

The Court also found that the actions of the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission and the police officers were unlawful.

The Court ruled that the plaintiff, and in his person all the applicants, should be paid an amount of EUR 30,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 60,544 in respect of costs and expenses.

The Kuznetsov case became more significant when the activities of the registered Jehovah's Witnesses community in Moscow were banned in 2004. It is this ban, as well as the related issue of religious freedom, that is the subject of a complaint in another case before the European Court.

Speaking about the significance of this decision, Vasily Kalin, chairman of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, said: "Today's decision is a victory for all Russians who value the constitutional right to freedom of peaceful assembly."