Available in Russian
Keywords: Jehovah’s Witnesses; religious organization; believers; freedom of religion; forced dissolution of a religious organization; ban of a religious organization; extremist activities; extremism; extremist publications; right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions; confiscation of extremist publications; freedom of expression; freedom of religious associations; website blocking; freedom to receive and impart information; right to liberty and security of a person; unlawful detention; lack of legal grounds for the seizure of property; conviction of dissemination of extremist publications
In Taganrog LRO and Others v. Russia (applications nos. 32401/10 and 19 others), the European Court of Human Rights examined the complaints of hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious organizations and their individual members regarding the application of the Russian Federation’s anti-extremist legislation against them. In its judgment, the European Court criticized the definitions of “extremism” and “extremist activities” in the Russian law, referring to their overly broad wordings which allow declaring extremist any actions or statements, even those devoid of any hatred or animosity. The European Court also noted that proclamation of the superiority of one’s religion over others’, as well as non-violent calls to convert, are regular aspects of the right to religious freedom. The European Court found that the decisions mandating dissolution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious organization in Russia were not based on law and deprived their members of the right to practice their religion in community with others and to carry out their religious activities. It also held that Russian courts’ decisions to declare Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious publications extremist and hold some of their members administratively liable for their dissemination were based on a formalistic approach and in violation of the applicants’ right to impart information. The European Court made similar conclusions about complaints against rescission of the permit for distribution in Russia of magazines published by the German society of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and against blocking access to their international website, noting that the Russian authorities had deprived the applicants of any opportunity to correct the alleged violations. The European Court also found a violation of the right to freedom of religion of those applicants who had been convicted of carrying out or taking part in the activities of an “extremist” organization after the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been banned in Russia, holding that the domestic authorities had de facto deprived the applicants of their right to manifest their religion in community with others. The confiscation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ real property and their banned religious publications was found by the Court to violate the right to peaceful enjoyment of private property due to its incompatibility with the lawfulness requirement, while the seizure of other religious literature and personal property of the individual applicants was found to breach Article 1 of Protocol no. 1 due to the lack of any legal grounds for it. Moreover, the European Court decided under Article 46 of the Convention that the respondent State had to discontinue all criminal proceedings instituted against the Jehovah’s Witnesses and release those of them in detention.
Citation: (2022) Evropeyskiy Sud po pravam cheloveka: obzor postanovleniya Palaty ot 7 iyunya 2022 goda po delu MRO “Taganrog” i drugie protiv Rossii (zhaloby no. 32401/10 i 19 drugikh) [European Court of Human Rights: review of the Chamber judgment of 7 June 2022 in the case of Taganrog LRO and Others v. Russia (applications nos. 32401/10 and 19 others)]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 3–31. (In Russian).