Legal Victories

The Russian Translation of the ECHR Judgment That Fully Vindicated Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia Is Published

France,   Moscow,   Rostov Region

On August 2, 2022, a translation of the ECHR judgment in the case of the LRO of Taganrog and Others v. Russia was notarized in Russia. The ECHR issued a historic ruling in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses, ruling that their persecution in Russia was illegal.

The following conclusions of the European Court of Justice, while made in the ruling against Russia, apply throughout the entire Council of Europe, where there are 2.8 million people who attend worship services of Jehovah's Witnesses. In the ruling, the court assessed the charges that circulate among those who are prejudiced against this religion. Here are a few quotes.

Are the charges of extremism justified? “The Court reiterates that only religious statements and actions involving or calling for violence, hatred or discrimination may warrant suppression as being “extremist”. … The courts did not identify any word, deed or action by the applicants which would be motivated or tainted by violence, hatred or discrimination against others.” — §271.

Is it against the law to believe in the truth of one's religion? “Peacefully seeking to convince others of the superiority of one’s own religion and urging them to abandon “false religions” and join the “true one” is a legitimate form of exercise of the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression which enjoys the protection under Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention.” —§156.

Should one be punished for refusing a blood transfusion? "the refusal of blood transfusion was an expression of free will of a community member exercising her right to personal autonomy in the sphere of health care protected both under the Convention and in Russian law." —§165.

Is conscientious objection to military service a crime? " The religious admonishment to refuse military service did not break any Russian laws and the Jehovah’s Witnesses were entitled to seek to persuade others that they should prefer alternative civilian service instead of taking up weapons." —§169.

Is there anything illegal about religious texts? " Both the applicants’ religious activities and the content of their publications appear to have been peaceful in line with their professed doctrine of non-violence. … Not one of the banned publications was found to contain calls or incitement to violence or any insulting, slanderous or discriminatory statements against members of other faiths." —§157.

How should the practice of blocking entire websites be viewed? "The Court has found above that the decision to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious publications “extremist” disclosed a violation of the Convention. This finding applies to the publications, brochures and magazines which had been referenced in the request for a blocking order. However, even if there had been exceptional circumstances justifying the blocking of unlawful content, the measure blocking access to the entire website would have needed a justification of its own… and by reference to the criteria established by the Court under Article 10 of the Convention. Blocking access to legitimate content can never be an automatic consequence of another, more restricted blocking measure because indiscriminate blocking measure – interfering as it does with lawful content as a collateral effect of a measure aimed solely at illegal content – amounts to arbitrary interference with the rights of website owners." —§231.

As a result, the ECHR concluded that from the point of view of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the ban on the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia in 2017, as well as the publications and website, was unlawful. The Court ruled that the respondent state must take all necessary measures to stop the criminal prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses and release those of them who are imprisoned, as well as return the confiscated property from legal entities or pay compensation in the amount of 59,617,458 euros. In addition, the believers' claims for moral damages totaling 3,447,250 euros were satisfied.