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DECEMBER 8, 2020

European Court of Human Rights Rules in Favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bulgaria

European Court of Human Rights Rules in Favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bulgaria

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on November 10, 2020, that the Bulgarian government had violated our brothers’ right to freedom of religion. This decision means that the authorities should allow construction to continue on a Kingdom Hall in the city of Varna, Bulgaria. The construction project has been under dispute for more than a decade. Additionally, the ECHR ordered Bulgaria to pay the brothers a total of 9,600 euros ($11,500 U.S.) in compensation.

The case involved the construction of a Kingdom Hall on a property that our brothers purchased in January 2006. The Varna municipal authorities authorized the construction in May 2007, and our brothers started the project immediately. But in July of that year, the mayor suspended the construction, citing building violations. That same month, a well-known Bulgarian nationalist political party displayed posters at the building site and held a large-scale protest against the construction project.

According to the ECHR judgment, the municipality of Varna then issued a public declaration disparaging Jehovah’s Witnesses and gave their “explicit support for the protests.” The mayor also voiced his support for the protests in statements to the media.

Despite their clearly expressed prejudice, the mayor and other officials claimed that they were blocking the construction project because of an ongoing debate over zoning regulations and not religious discrimination.

Our brothers filed numerous appeals in the Bulgarian courts, including the Supreme Administrative Court, but to no avail. During a portion of this time, the local congregation had to rent a facility to hold their meetings.

The ECHR concluded that the officials’ actions could not be justified. The Court voted 6-1 that by preventing the building of the Kingdom Hall, the Varna municipality violated the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” as guaranteed by Articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Our brothers hope that the city officials will now fully implement the ECHR’s judgment and allow them to finally complete construction on a place of worship that will benefit the community and glorify Jehovah’s name in the city of Varna. We are grateful to Jehovah for his unfailing support.—Psalm 54:4.