European Court of Human Rights Again Upholds Religious Freedom, Handing Down Victory for the Church of Scientology
ECtHR/STAND/SOVACENTER. The Scientology version of ADL, known as STANDLEAGUE (Scientologists Taking Action Against Discrimination), has reported about the unanimous December 14, 2021 decision, in which the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled, once again that the Russian government has violated the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression of Scientologists, rights that are guaranteed in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Standleague explained that the three-judge Committee, composed of members from Russia, Estonia and Switzerland, awarded damages totaling €12,500 to Moscow Scientologists and the Church of Scientology International.
Other related articles: European Court of Human Rights: “Scientology Cannot Be Banned in Russia”
This decision comes on the heels of a separate September decision from the ECHR finding in favour of Moscow Scientologist Vladimir Leonidovich Kuropyatnik, concluding Kuropyatnik had been illegally deprived of his liberty by the Russian government, in contravention of international human rights standards, simply because he is a Scientologist.
The Church of Scientology has to date won every case it has brought before the ECHR to protect the rights of its members to freely practice their religion in the Russian territory.
The three-judge Committee awarded damages totaling €12,500 to Moscow Scientologists and the Church of Scientology International.
The Court unanimously found there was “no evidence” to support the Russian government’s suppression of Scientology religious scriptures and that proceedings in Russian courts have been biased, “stripping [Scientologists] of procedural protection” afforded them by the Convention.
The Court also noted that the Church of Scientology Moscow was registered as a religious organization in Russia for more than two decades and that Russian authorities had never questioned the religiosity of Scientology throughout domestic court proceedings leading up to the case being brought before the ECHR.
Article 9 of the ECHR Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms reads:
STAND highlighted the words of Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard, “Human rights must be made a fact, not an idealistic dream.” to vindicate their victory on religious freedom. It is still to be seen when Russia will take a different path in respecting Scientologists, Jehovah Witnesses and other religious minorities.
SOVA CENTER reported on December 14, 2021, that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) “has ruled in a joint judgment against the Russian courts that declared Ron Hubbard’s books extremist, refused to re-register the Moscow Scientology Church and ordered its liquidation. The complaint was filed by the dissolved Church of Scientology of Moscow, the Dianetics and Scientology Centre in Moscow and personally by Vladislav Kochemarov, Meruert Kozhanova, Natalia Lukashkina and Olga Murashkintseva, as well as US and Danish Scientology organisations and publishers”.
The applicants claimed that their rights guaranteed by Articles 9, 10, 11 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights – on freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of association and prohibition of discrimination – had been violated.
In particular, Scientologists have challenged the Shchelkovo City Court decision to ban seven titles of Hubbard’s works, issued on 29 June 2011 and upheld by the Moscow Regional Court on 20 March 2012.
The ECtHR noted that the decisions of the courts in both instances were based on the same expert assessment of the case commissioned by the Shchelkovo City Prosecutor’s Office, the court refused to consider other opinions on the case and thus the Church of Scientology of Moscow and Church of Scientology International were unable to challenge the ban and the Hubbard works joined the Federal List of Extremist Materials on May 17, 2012.
The ECtHR, in opposition to the views of the Russian Government, stated that the activities of the Scientologists in relation to the exercise of their right to freedom of expression were not aimed at violating the rights of others.
In examining the appeal of the Scientologists, the European Court relied on previous decisions in the case of Ibrahim Ibragimov and Others v. Russia concerning the prohibition of Said Nursi’s books as extremist materials and in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow and Others v. Russia.
With regard to the bans on the Hubbard materials, the ECtHR pointed out that, as in the case of the ban on Nursi literature, the Russian courts had not analysed the form, content and context of specific statements from the materials that gave rise to claims of inciting discord or exerting a particular “psychological influence” on the audience, limiting themselves to reciting general conclusions of experts to which they took an uncritical view.
At the same time, the applicants were unable to provide an alternative expert opinion and all their arguments were rejected by the courts without due justification, in general terms. The Russian courts had failed to provide relevant and sufficient reasons to interfere with the applicants’ rights, to demonstrate how the Hubbard materials justified or advocated violence or could lead to dangerous consequences.
The ECtHR stated that:
59. In addition, religious groups cannot reasonably expect to be exempt from all criticism; they must tolerate and accept the denial by others of their religious beliefs and even the propagation by others of doctrines hostile to their faith. The same principle applies to non-religious ideologies, including atheism and agnosticism. There is no evidence before the Court that the impugned texts insulted, held up to ridicule or slandered persons outside the Scientology community; nor that they used abusive terms in respect of them or of matters regarded as sacred by them (see Ibragim Ibragimov and Others, cited above, § 117, with further references)
60. Overall, the Court is not persuaded that in their analysis of the Scientology literature the domestic courts have fully taken into account the social and political background against which the statements were made; whether the statements, fairly construed and seen in their immediate or wider context, could be seen as a direct or indirect call to violence or as a justification of violence, hatred or intolerance; the manner in which the statements were made, and their capacity – direct or indirect – to lead to harmful consequences (see Perinçek v. Switzerland [GC], no. 27510/08, §§ 205-07, ECHR 2015 (extracts)).
61. The Court therefore finds that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention read in the light of Article 9 and rejects the Government’s preliminary objection under Article 17.
SOCA CENTER wrote that overall, the ECHR found that the decisions of the Russian courts violated the applicants’ rights under Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention and ordered Russia to pay the applicants EUR 5,000 in respect of legal costs and EUR 7,500 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.