NOVEMBER 1, 2012 | AUSTRIA
STRASBOURG, France—On September 25, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the government of Austria was guilty of discrimination against Jehovah’s Witnesses and ordered the government to pay nearly 13,000 euros ($16,600 approx.) for the Witnesses’ legal costs and expenses.
In 2002, the government of Austria had refused residency for two ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Philippines who wanted to perform pastoral work among the Tagalog-speaking Witnesses in Austria. On a separate matter, the government had ordered the Witnesses to pay a gift tax on a religious donation received in 1999. The reason for the government’s actions in both situations was that instead of recognizing Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “religious society,” it would only recognize them as a “religious community,” which is a lesser form of recognition. This resulted in the Witnesses being denied certain privileges extended to other well-established religions.
This is the Court’s sixth ruling against Austria and in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which reconfirms an earlier judgment in 2008. In this earlier judgment, the Court determined that the Witnesses should have been recognized as a “religious society” within a “considerably shorter period” in view of their “long-standing existence internationally” as well as their being “long established” in Austria.
The Witnesses anticipate that this latest victory in the European Court will help to protect fundamental freedoms and prevent religious discrimination, not only for the benefit of their fellow worshippers but also for the benefit of all citizens of member states of the Council of Europe.
J. R. Brown, Office of Public Information, tel. +1 718 560 5000
Austria: Johann Zimmermann, tel. +43 1 804 53 45