JUNE 8, 2022
On June 7, 2022, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) released a landmark judgment a against Russia for persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses. The ECHR declared that it was unlawful for Russia to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017. The Court also stated that it was illegal to ban printed publications and jw.org. Russia was ordered to discontinue all pending criminal proceedings against our brothers and sisters and to release all those in prison. Russia was also ordered to return all the confiscated properties or pay 59,617,458 euros ($63,684,978 U.S.) compensation for the same (in pecuniary damages). Russia was directed to pay the applicants a total of 3,447,250 euros ($3,682,445 U.S.) in nonpecuniary damages.
The judgment addresses 20 cases from 2010 to 2019, involving over 1,400 applicants—individual Witnesses and legal entities. However, the ECHR’s judgment extends far beyond the applicants. It states that Russia “must take all necessary measures to secure the discontinuation of all pending criminal proceedings against Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . and [the] release of all Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been deprived of their liberty.” (Italics ours.) The judgment vindicates every one of our brothers and sisters inside and outside of Russia, legally establishing that they are law-abiding citizens who are being wrongly prosecuted and imprisoned.
Throughout the judgment, the ECHR systematically refutes Russia’s baseless claims that our actions, beliefs, publications, and website are extremist. For example, note the following selections from the judgment:
Actions: The ECHR stresses that the Russian 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)
Belief that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the truth: “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.” (§156)
Blood transfusions: “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)
Conscientious objection: “The religious admonishment to refuse military service did not break any Russian laws.” (§169)
Our publications: “The applicants’ religious activities and the content of their publications appear to have been peaceful in line with their professed doctrine of non-violence.” (§157)
JW.ORG: The Court determined that the content on jw.org is not extremist. If the authorities objected to some information on the website, they should have required the organization to remove only those sections they found offensive instead of banning the entire website. (§231 and §232)
The judgment strongly criticizes the Russian authorities and establishes that they were prejudiced, showed bias, and “had not acted in good faith.” (§187) For example, the judgment details the following discoveries made by the Court:
“The forced dissolution of all religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia was not merely the result of a neutral application of legal provisions but disclosed indications of a policy of intolerance by the Russian authorities towards the religious practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses designed to cause Jehovah’s Witnesses to abandon their faith and to prevent others from joining it.” (§254)
Russian authorities allowed serious “procedural flaws,” such as when the Russian Supreme Court relied on biased expert reports selected by the police and prosecutors instead of reviewing the publications impartially. (§203)
The law on extremism was strategically drafted in such a broad and vague manner that it allowed the authorities to act arbitrarily against Jehovah’s Witnesses. (§272)
It is unclear what impact the ECHR’s judgments will have inside Russia. Ultimately, though, we do not rely on human authorities. Instead, we “are in expectation of Jehovah” as “our helper and our shield.”—Psalm 33:20.