Recent Decisions, Judgments, and Hearings
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Bektashi Community and Others v. the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (nos. 48044/10, 75722/12, 25176/13) - First Section Chamber Judgment. From the Court's press release: The applicants are the Bektashi Community, a religious association, and two of its members, Mr E. Brahimaj, an Albanian national, and Mr A. Sulejmani, a Macedonian national. They both live in ‘the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ (FYROM) . . . . Mr E. Brahimaj holds the highest position in the hierarchy of the community. / The case concerned their complaint that, when new legislation entered into force in 2007, the domestic courts had refused to allow the association to retain its status as a religious organisation and to accept its fresh application for registration. / The applicant association operated as an officially recognised religious organisation from 1993. When new legislation on the legal status of churches, religious communities and groups entered into force in 2007, the association requested that the registration court recognise its continuing legal status. Its request was however refused on a formal ground, namely it had not been registered prior to 1998, but only listed in 2000. It then made a fresh application for registration under the new legislation, but in 2010 this request was also refused, mainly because the courts found that its name and doctrinal sources were identical to those of another already registered religious organisation and that this could create confusion among believers. / Relying in particular on Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention, the applicants complained about the domestic courts’ decisions refusing to recognise the association as a religious organisation or to register it anew. / Violation of Article 11 read in the light of Article 9 – in respect of the applicant association

Christian Baptist Church v. Poland (no. 32045/10) - First Section Chamber Judgment. From the Court's press release: The applicant church is a legal entity with its seat in Wrocław. The case concerned the church’s legal efforts to have property restored to it. In May 1996 the church applied to the governor of Wrocław for a decision confirming its ownership of a four-storey building which had belonged to the church earlier, but which had been transferred to the State in the communist era. The governor refused to issue such a decision, saying the church had not fulfilled a requirement of the 1995 Act which regulated relations between the State and the Baptist Church. The church launched further administrative and court proceedings. In June 2007 the Governor of Lower Silesia refused to return the property in question to the church and in October 2009 the Supreme Administrative Court dismissed the church’s complaint against that decision.  The church made in particular two complaints under Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time), one of the alleged unfairness of the proceedings and the other of the excessive length of the proceedings. The Court found no violation of "reasonable time" but awarded just satisfaction and costs for a violation in length (13 years) of proceedings.

Mockutè v. Litihuania (no. 66490/09) - Fourth Section Committee Judgment. [From the Court's press release:]  The case concerned allegations by the applicant that a publicly run hospital had revealed highly personal and sensitive, confidential information about her private life to journalists and to her mother, and that she had been prevented from practicing her religion because of the restrictive hospital enviornment and the unsympathetic approach of her doctors.  The Court found that the hospital had unlawfully shared private information aobut the applicant, in contravention of domestic and international law, and had breached the applicant's freedom of religion by detaining her unlawfully and by pressuring her to "correct" her beliefs and practices. 

Boyko v. Russia (no. 42259/07) - Third Section Committee Judgment.  Applicant is a Russian national charged with large-scale fraud and money laundering. When he did not show up for inititial interviews, he was placed on a fugitive list.  Applicant was ultimately arrested in February of 2007.  he applicant's detention was extended on nine occassions during an investigation that lasted over two years. The Supreme Court determined that the proceedings had been unreasonably long and ordered the applicant's release on bail after more than eighteen months in prison. While in custody, the applicant applied to receive pastoral visits from his Orthodox priests.  The investigator refused the visits suggesting that the applicant could see the prison chaplain instead. The Tverskoy District Court pronounced the refusal of pastoral visists to be lawful and justified, holdingi that the investigator had full discretion to determine if the visits ran counter to their investigation.  The applicant complained that the refusal by the investigator breached Article 9 of the Convention. Citing Mozer v. the Republic of Moldova and Russia the Court reiterated that the refusal of the pastoral visits constituted an interference with the prisoner's right to freedom of religion. The availability of a prison chaplain may be taken into account but did not alter this conclusion.  The Court clarified that the investigator's refusal of the pastoral visits on the grounds that it would negatively affect the course of the investigation failed to explain why it was so or assess the impact which the refusal had on the applicants right to freedom of religion.  Russian courts failed to censure the abuse but rather endorsed the investigator's unlimited discretion. Therefore, the legal framework for governing pastoral visits falls short of the "quality of law" and there has been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention.  Respondent State ordered to pay applicant EUR 7,500 within three months in respect of non-pecuniary damage. 

Mockutė v. Lithuania (no. 66490/09) - Fourth Section Judgment. [From the Court's press release:] The case concerned allegations by the applicant, Neringa Mockutė, that a publicly run hospital had revealed highly personal and sensitive, confidential information about her private life to journalists and to her mother, and that she had been prevented from practising her religion on account of a restrictive hospital environment and the unsympathetic approach of her doctors. The Court found that the hospital had unlawfully shared private information about the applicant, in contravention of domestic and international law, and had breached the applicant’s freedom of religion by detaining her unlawfully and by pressurising her to “correct” her beliefs and practices.

Smajić v. Bosnia and Herzegovina (no. 48657/16) - Fourth Section Inadmissibility Decision (Committee)The applicant is a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a lawyer. He was convicted for making a number of posts on an Internet forum describing military action which could be undertaken against Serb villages in the Brčko District in the event of another war. Before the ECtHR he alleged that he had been convicted for expressing his opinion on a matter of public concern, in breach of Article 10 (freedom of expression). He also made two complaints under Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (c) (right to a fair trial and right to legal assistance of own choosing) with regard to the fairness of the proceedings brought against him.  He made further complaints under Article 9 (freedom of religion or belief) and 14 (discrimination). The Court found the application inadmissbile: Tthe domestic courts had examined Mr Smajić’s case with care, giving sufficient justification for his conviction, namely that he had used highly insulting expressions towards Serbs, thus touching upon the very sensitive matter of ethnic relations in post-conflict Bosnian society. Furthermore, the Court did not see any reason to disagree with the domestic courts’ dismissal of Mr Smajić’s complaints about the fairness of the proceedings against him. The application of the domestic law had neither been arbitrary nor unreasonable and Mr Smajić, who was a lawyer himself, had unequivocally waived his right to legal assistance during his initial questioning in the case. 

Sekmadienis Ltd. v. Lithuania  (no. 69317/14)  Fourth Section Judgment 30 January 2018. From the Court's Press Release: The Court held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) in the imposition of a fine on Sekmadienis Ltd., a clothing company, for displaying a series of advertisements deemed by the Lithuanian courts and other bodies to offend against public morals. The advertisements had used models and captions referring to "Jesus" and "Mary". The Court found that, despite having triggered a number of complaints (including via the territorial authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Lithuania), the advertisements were not gratuitously offensive, and did not incite hatred. Nor had the domestic authorities provided sufficient justifications for why such use of religious symbols had been contrary to public morals. Accordingly, the domestic authorities had failed to strike a fair balance between, on the one hand, the protection of public morals and the rights of religious people, and, on the other hand, the applicant company’s right to freedom of expression.

A.R. and L.R. v. Switzerland (no. 22338/15) [Decision in French only] - Third Section Decision 18 January 2018. From the Court's press release and legal summary:  The case concerns the refusal by a Basle primary school to grant Ms. A.R.'s request that her daughter, then aged seven and about to move up to the 2nd year of primary school, be exempted from sex education lessons.  The Court determined that the Swiss authorities did not exceed their margin of appreciation of parental rights within Article 8. The national authorities recognized the paramount importance of the right of parents to provide sexual education for their children. The directive itself expressly recognized the "important role" of parents and specifies that the school's only role is to "supplement" the sexual education provided by parents. By providing detailed guidance in the above mentioned directive the Swiss authorities have shown sensitivity in dealing with the different interests at stake. Conclusion:  inadmissible (manifestly ill-founded.) Artlicle 9 §1 does not grant parents who have a particular religion or philosophy the right to refuse to participate in public education which may be contrary to their ideas; it is limited to a prohibition on State to indoctrinate children through its teaching. It follows from the Court's conclusion under Article 8 that the competent authorities did not pursue such a purpose and that they respected the complementary nature of school sex education in relation to sex education provided within the family.  

GRA Stiftung gegen Rassismus und Antisemitismus v. Switzerland (no. 18597/13) - Third Section Judgment 9 January 2018. From the Court's press release:  The case concerned a complaint by a non-governmental organisation that its right to freedom of expression had been infringed because the domestic courts had found that it had defamed a politician by classifying his remarks at a speech during a campaign ahead of a 2009 referendum on banning minarets in Switzerland as "verbal racism". In its judgment of 9 January 2018, the Court found a violation of ECHR Article 10 (right to freedom of expression), in particular that the context of the debate at the time of the referendum – including other criticisms of the referendum itself by human rights bodies – meant that the organisation’s use of the words "verbal racism" had not been without factual foundation. The penalty imposed on the organisation might also have had a chilling effect on its freedom of expression. Overall, in reviewing the circumstances submitted for their assessment, the domestic courts had not given due consideration to the principles and criteria laid down by the Court’s caselaw for balancing the right to respect for private life and the right to freedom of expression, thereby overstepping their room for manoeuvre (“margin of appreciation”).

A. v. Switzerland (no. 60342/16) - Third Section Judgment 19 December 2017. The case concerned the deportation of an Iranian asylum-seeker. Mr. A, who entered Switzerland in 2009. He brought three sets of asylum proceedings, all without success. The Swiss authorities found that his account of danger in Iran was not credible and that his conversion to Christianity was not genuine and ordered his deportation to Iran. The Federal administrative Court dismissed Mr A.'s appeal  against that decision, "considering that Christian converts would only face a risk of ill-treatment upon return to Iran if they were particularly exposed in the public arena on account of their Christian faith and could therefore be perceived as a threat by the Iranian authorities." This was not the case for Mr A., who was an ordinary member of a Christian circle and the Iranian authorities had most likely not even become aware of his conversion.  At the ECtHR Mr. A. relied on Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment), to allege that his conversion to Christianity put him at a real risk of being killed or ill-treated if he were to be deported to Iran. The Court, however, found no violations in these matters. 

Hamidović v. Bosnia and Herzegovina (no 57792/15) - Fourth Section Judgment 5 December 2017. The applicant, an adherent of a group advocating the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi/Salafi version of Islam, was summoned to appear as a witness in a trial involving other adherents of the group, who attacked the US Embassy in Sarajevo in October 2011. During the trial the applicant refused to remove his cap in the courtroom as ordered and was exelled from the courtroom. An Appeals Chamber reduced the fine charged but otherwise found the order reasonable, holding that the requirement to remove any and all headgear at the premises of public institutions was one of the basic requirements of the life in society and that in a secular State, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, any manifestation of religion in the courtroom was forbidden. The fine was converted into a prison term of 30 days. The Constitutional Court found no breach of ECHR Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (discrimination), and the applicant brought these complaints to the ECtHR.  It its judgment of 5 December 2016, the Court held be six votes to one that there had been a violation of Article 9 and that there was no need to examine the case from the standpoint of Article 14.

Orthodox Ohrid Archdiocese v. Macedonia (no. 3532/07) - First Section Judgment 16 November 2017. The applicant is a religious organization not granted official status at the national level. It appealed the refusal to register it to the Court, saying that the decision violated its rights under Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 11 (freedom of association), and that its members were put in disadvantaged positions in relation to members of recognized churches. In its judgment of 16 November 2017 the Court found, unanimously, that Macedonia's refusal to register the association as a religious entity violated the applicant's rights under Article 11 interpreted in the light of Aritcle 9.  "It could not be said that the reasons provided by the national authorities, taken as a whole, were 'relevant and sufficient' to justify the interference and the manner in which the domestic authorities refused the recognition of the applicant association as a religious organisation could not be accepted as necessary in a democratic society."

Ratzenböck and Seydl v. Austria (no 28475/12) - Fifth Section Judgment 26 October 2017. The case concerned the complaint by a heterosexual couple about being denied access to a registered partnership, a legal institution only available to same-sex couples. The applicants maintained that they were discriminated against based on their sex and sexual orientation. The Court, by five votes to two, found no violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life). The Court found in particular that there were no more substantial differences between marriage and registered partnership in Austria. Their access to marriage satisfied the applicants’ principal need for legal recognition, and they had not claimed to have been specifically affected by any difference in law between the two institutions.

Adyan and Others v. Armenia (no. 75604/11) - First Section Judgment  12 October 2017. Applicants are Armenian nationals and members of Jehovah's Witnesses who complained that the alternative form of service allowing for their religious conscientious objection to military conscription was punitive in naature as it lasted 42 months. Normal military conscription is 24 months. The Court held the length of the alternative labor service was significanlty longer than the maximum period of one and a half times the length of armed military service laid down by the European Committee of Social Rights. Such a significant difference in duration of service must have had a deterrent effect and could be said to contain a punitive element. The Court found there was an Article 9 violation and awarded applicants EUR 12,000 each in respect to non-pecuniary damage. 

Lyublino Local Church of Evangelical Christians and Fedichkin v. Russia (no. 38744/11) - Third Section Committee Decision 26 September 2017. The applicants are a local religious organization and its pastor who complained that the legal-entity status of their church was denied for failure to notify the government of a change in its banking details to tax authorities. On 15 June 2012 the Simonovskiy District Court ordered the tax authority to reinstate the legal-entity status of the applicant church. On 25 December 2012 that decision was given effect. The applicants did not submit their observations on the admissibility and merits of the case within the established time-limit. The Court considers that the applicants may be regarded as no longer wishing to pursue their application. The Court strikes the application out of its list of cases. 

Gabunia and Others v. Georgia (no. 37276/05) - Fifth Section Committee Decision 19 September 2017. Applicants are Georgian nationals who complained of a breach of their right to freely practice their religion.  The Government of Georgia was given notice of the complaint in March 2017.  After unsuccessful negotiations, the Government of Georgia regretfully acknowledged a violation of the applicants freedom of religion and awarded teh applicants pecuniary and non pecuniary damages of EUR 800 and costs and expenses of EUR 2000.  The Court strikes this application from its list of cases based on this implied friendly settlement between the parties. 

Jula v. Romania (no. 46167/09) -  Fourth Section Committee Decision 5 September 2017. Applicant is a Romanian national who complained under Articles 9 and 14 of the Convention and Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention that religious education was denied to children belonging to the Greek Catholic church, including his own children.  On 20 December 2007 the National Council against Discrimination dismissed the complaint.  It found that the situation described by the applicant did not constitute discrimination because any religion, including the Orthodox, should be represented by a sufficient number of children in order to trigger an entitlement to religion classes.  In the applicant's application to the ECtHR the applicant sent letters making serious defamatory and groundless accusations about the integrity of the Romanian judge who was serving his mandate at the time.  The Court determined that this conduct was contrary to the purpose of the right of the individual petition, as provided for in Articles 34 and 35 of the Convention and that it constituted an abuse of the right of application within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention.  The Court declared the application inadmissible. 

Belkacem v. Belgium (no. 3467/14) [judgment in French only] - Second Section Admissibility Decision 20 July 2017. [From the Court's Press Release:] [From the Court's Press Release:] The case concerned the conviction of the leader and spokesperson of the organisation "Sharia4Belgium", which was dissolved in 2012, for incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence on account of remarks he made in YouTube videos concerning non-Muslim groups and Sharia. The Court noted that in his remarks Mr Belkacem had called on viewers to overpower non-Muslims, teach them a lesson and fight them. The Court considered that the remarks in question had a markedly hateful content and that Mr Belkacem, through his recordings, had sought to stir up hatred, discrimination and violence towards all non-Muslims. In the Court's view, such a general and vehement attack was incompatible with the values of tolerance, social peace and non-discrimination underlying the European Convention on Human Rights.With reference to Mr Belkacem's remarks concerning Sharia, the Court observed that it had previously ruled that defending Sharia while calling for violence to establish it could be regarded as "hate speech", and that each Contracting State was entitled to oppose political movements based on religious fundamentalism. The Court therefore rejected the application, finding that it was incompatible with the provisions of the Convention and that Mr Belkacem had attempted to deflect Article 10 of the Convention from its real purpose by using his right to freedom of expression for ends which were manifestly contrary to the spirit of the Convention.

Belcacemi and Oussar v. Belgium (no. 37798/13) [judgment in French only] - Second Section Judgment 11 July 2017. One of two cases unanimously ruling against applicants (Mulsim women) challenging Belgium laws prohibiting the wearing of partial or full face coverings in public. In June of 2011, a new law went into effect in Belgium that prohibited wearing clothing which totally or principally conceals the face "in places accessible to the public." The applicants complain of indirect discrimination. They argue that as Muslim women who wish to wear the full veil in a public space on religious grounds they belong to a category of persons particularly vulnerable to the prohibition in question and to any attached sanctions. They claim the prohibition is much less restrictive for other people who are not Muslims and does not at all touch their exercise of fundamental freedoms. The Government claims the law was not discriminatory, since it did not specifically refer to whether a man or woman wore the clothing that covered their face in public or whether the motive is religious or otherwise. The Court emphasized that a general policy or measure which has disproportionately prejudicial effects on a group of persons may be considered discriminatory even if it does not specifically target that group and if there is no intention discriminatory. This, however, is the case only if the policy or measure lacks "objective and reasonable" justification, if it does not pursue a "legitimate aim" or if there is no “reasonable relationship of proportionality " between the means employed and the aim pursued. In the present case, as the Constitutional Court noted, even if the prohibition imposed by the Act of 1 June 2011 has more restrictive consequences for the exercise by certain Muslim women of the fundamental freedoms, this measure has an objective and reasonable justification for the same reasons as those previously developed by the Court in SAS v. France. There has accordingly been no violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Articles 8 and 9.

Dakir v. Belgium (no. 4619/12) [judgment in French only] - Second Section Judgment 11 July 2017.  The second of two cases unanimously ruling against applicants (Mulsim women) challenging Belgium laws prohibiting the wearing of partial or full face coverings in public. For a discussion of both cases see Frank Cranmer, "Strasbourg upholds Belgian niqab ban: Belcacemi and Dakir" in Law & Religion UK, 12 July 2017.

Perelman v. Germany (no. 32745/17) - Fifth Section Admissibility Decision 6 July 2017. The applicants are French nationals living in Germany. They retained membership of their "liberally-oriented Jewish community in France" and submitted a registration form in Germany listing their religion as "Mosaic". The Jewish community of Frankfurt/Main welcomed them by letter as new members. The applicants wrote back rejecting membership, but the community did not accept the rejection. As a precaution, the applicants resigned membership, which the community accepted. When the Frankfurt tax office nevertheless levied church tax on the applicants' income for the period before they resigned their membership, the applicants complained to the German courts.  Their claim was dismissed by the Federal Administrative Court, and while their appeal to the Federal Constitutional Court was still pending, they brought action in the ECtHR, complaining under Articles 9 and 11 of the domestic courts’ acknowledgement of the applicants’ membership of a religious community which was not based on their consent. They emphasised that they had not declared their willingness to become members of the Jewish community of Frankfurt/Main, which was of orthodox orientation and did not represent the applicants’ liberal and progressive beliefs. From their perspective it could not have been foreseen that the information provided in the registration form would be interpreted as such a declaration of willingness, in particular in view of the fact that they had not been asked for their religious affiliation but for their religion. A unanimous Court found the complaint inadmissible for failure to exhaust domestic remedies.

Gard and Others v. United Kingdom (no. 39793/12) - First Section Admissibility Decision 3 July 2017. The Court endorsed the decision of the courts of the United Kingdom in ruling that it would be lawful for a treating hospital to withdraw artificial ventilation for an infant suffering from a rare congenital condition when the child's parents desired to find further, experimental treatment for the baby in the United States. Bearing mind the government's wide margin of appreciation, the Court declared the parents' application inadmissible.

Bayev and Others v. Russia (nos. 67667/09, 44092/12, 56717/12) - Third Section Judgment 20 June 2017. The applicants are three Russian nationals who were fined when, as gay activists, they staged demonstrations in front of a secondary school, a children's library, and an administrative building to protest Russian laws banning "propaganda of homosexuality", as in their view such laws constitute a virtually full prohibition on nearly any public mention of homosexuality.  In particular, the Code of Administrative Offences was amended in 2013 to specifically ban "the promoting of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors, … creating a distorted image of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships". They complained to the Court of a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) and of Article 14 (discrimination) in conjunction with Article 10. [From the Court's Press Release:] The Court found in particular that, although the laws in question aimed primarily at protecting minors, the limits of those laws had not been clearly defined and their application had been arbitrary. Moreover, the very purpose of the laws and the way they were formulated and applied in the applicants’ case had been discriminatory and, overall, served no legitimate public interest. Indeed, by adopting such laws the authorities had reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia, which was incompatible with the values of a democratic society.

Metodiev and Others v. Bulgaria (no. 58088/08) [judgment in French only] - Fifth Section Judgment 15 June 2017. The applicants are of Ahmadiyan faith, a religious movement derived from Sunni Islam founded in Punjab in the late 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.The applicants were denied registration as a new worship association under the Worship Act in May of 2007 by the Sofia City Court because the statutes of the religious association did not specify the group’s beliefs but merely reproduced the objectives and activities mentioned in the law on non-profit legal entities.  Further the Sofia City Court held that the group distinguished itself from the Muslim religion and was likely to provoke a schism within the Muslim community in Bulgaria. The applicants allege that the courts' refusal to register their religious association under the Religious Worship Act infringed their right to freedom of religion under Article 9 of the Convention. The Court held that the alleged lack of precision in the description of the beliefs and rites of the religious association in the statutes of the Ahmadiyan applicant was not such as to justify the refusal of religious registration.  There was a violation of Article 9 viewed in conjunction with Article 11.  The respondent State is to pay applicant EUR 4,000. 

Dimitras v. Greece (no. 26108/11) [in French only] - Notice of Settlement and First Section Decision to strike 23 May 2017.  The applicant complained that he was obliged to reveal his religious beliefs during the procedure for taking the oath and the absence of an effective remedy in this respect.  An agreement was reached between the Government and applicant.  Applicant would receive 500 euros and the applicant waived all further claims against Greece in respect of the facts giving rise to his application. The court recognized the agreement and struck the case off their list.

National Turkish Union and Kungyun v. Bulgaria (no. 4776/08) [judgment in French only] - Fifth Section Judgment 8 June 2017 The case concerned the refusal of the Bulgarian authorities to register an association promoting the rights of the Muslim minority in Bulgaria. Referring back to its case-law, the Court found that there was no "pressing social need" to require any association wishing to pursue political aims to constitute a political party if it was not the intention of the founders to take part in elections. The Court further noted that the domestic courts had not referred to any action of the association or its members which might have compromised the territorial integrity or unity of the nation, or any action or speech which might have been regarded as a call to hatred or violence. It concluded that the refusal to register the applicant association had not been "necessary in a democratic society". The Court therefore held, unanimously, that there had been violation of the applicants' rights to freedom of assembly and association under ECHR Article 11.

Molla Sali v. Greece (no. 20452/14) - First Section Relinquishment to Grand Chamber 8 June 2017. The c