Deaf Russians win historic victory for religious freedom in European Court
STRASBOURG—The European Court of Human Rights has ruled unanimously that the police and a Commissioner for Human Rights, Yekaterina Viktorovna Gorina, obstructed justice and denied freedom of religion when they raided and shut down a lawful Christian meeting of 150 deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chelyabinsk, Ural region of Russia. By ruling in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Court reaffirmed an important issue that the Russian Federation has committed itself to uphold, namely the right to religious freedom in Russia.
The Court’s ruling in this case, known as Konstantin Kuznetsov and Others v. Russian Federation, stated: “It is undeniable that the collective study and discussion of religious texts by the members of the religious group of Jehovah’s Witnesses was a recognised form of manifestation of their religion in worship and teaching. . . . Furthermore, [the Court] notes the consistent case-law of the Russian Supreme Court to the effect that religious assemblies do not require any prior authorisation from, or notification to, the authorities.”
The Court further found that the acts by the Commissioner and by the police had not been in accordance with the law.
The Court awarded Mr. Kuznetsov, on behalf of the applicants, 30,000 euros for non-pecuniary damage and 60,544 euros for costs and expenses.
The Kuznetsov case has taken on greater significance following the 2004 ban on the activity of the local registered community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. Another case currently under review by the European Court examines such action and the related issue of religious freedom.
Noting the broader implications of this ruling, Vasilii Kalin, Chairman of the Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, stated: “Today’s ruling is a victory for all Russians who cherish the freedom of peaceful assembly guaranteed by the Russian Constitution.”
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