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NOVEMBER 20, 2020

Favorable ECHR Rulings for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine

Favorable ECHR Rulings for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine

Court condemns the failure to punish perpetrators of religious hate crimes against our brothers

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued three judgments in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine on November 12, 2020. The cases are entitled Zagubnya and Tabachkova v. Ukraine, Migoryanu and Others v. Ukraine, and Kornilova v. Ukraine. They were submitted to the Court in 2014 and 2015. Each case involved incidents in which law enforcement officials failed to act after Jehovah’s Witnesses were victims of violent attacks. The ECHR declared that the Ukrainian authorities did not fully protect our brothers’ rights and ordered compensation for the victims in the amount of 14,700 euros ($17,400 U.S.).

Zagubnya and Tabachkova v. Ukraine: On April 20, 2009, Sisters Zagubnya and Tabachkova were participating in the door-to-door ministry in the village of Novi Mlyny. When Mykola Lysenko, a priest at the local Trinity Orthodox Church, encountered the sisters on the street, he brutally beat them on their head and back with a wooden stick. The assailant was never punished, even though the priest actually confessed that he wanted to “intimidate” our sisters and “stop their activity.”

Migoryanu and Others v. Ukraine: Twenty-one Jehovah’s Witnesses and a number of guests were gathered on April 5, 2012, to commemorate the Memorial of Jesus Christ’s death when a mob headed by local Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox Priest O. Greku disrupted the meeting. The mob shouted obscenities and threatened the attendees, including children and elderly women.

Over time, the priest and his accomplices continued to assail Jehovah’s Witnesses, which included physically beating brothers, burning one brother’s car, and hurling a Molotov cocktail into a house where Witnesses were sleeping. After these violent episodes, the victims filed police reports and supplied evidence to the authorities. In some cases, the perpetrators were caught on video. But the police refused to categorize the crimes as religiously motivated and claimed that the culprits could not be identified in the videos. Neither the priest nor his accomplices were ever punished.

Kornilova v. Ukraine: On March 7, 2013, in the town of Nosivka, Sisters Kornilova and Serdiuk were inviting their neighbors to attend the Memorial of Christ’s death. One man began shouting obscenities and religious slurs at the sisters. He then attacked them, punching Sister Kornilova in the face so hard that she sustained a concussion. She spent 11 days in the hospital. The police refused to accept that the assault was religiously motivated and declared that our sister was a victim of “personal, hostile animosity.” The court imposed a lenient fine on the attacker.

From left to right: Sister Tetyana Kornilova, Sister Tetiana Zagubnya, Sister Maria Tabachkova, and Brother Vasyl Migoryanu. Four of the many Jehovah’s Witnesses assaulted during religiously motivated hate crimes in Ukraine between 2009 and 2013

Representatives of the Ukraine branch held numerous diplomatic meetings with local, national, and international officials to discuss the persecution. After exhausting all of these remedies, the brothers began filing cases with the ECHR in 2014. Interestingly, the year before, officials began to note the religious intolerance in Ukraine. A 2013 report by the Ukrainian Ombudsman states: “Incomplete investigation of the crimes where there is potential intolerance motive creates [an] atmosphere of impunity for the perpetrators.” Similarly, in its 2013 periodic report on Ukraine, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated that it was concerned that hate crimes, including those against Jehovah’s Witnesses, were prosecuted in Ukraine as lesser crimes. The Committee concluded that the government of Ukraine should “step up its efforts to ensure that alleged hate crimes are thoroughly investigated, that perpetrators are prosecuted . . . and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, and that victims are adequately compensated.”

In recent years, the government of Ukraine began taking steps to improve the situation. Though Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country enjoy freedom of religion, we hope that these three ECHR decisions will motivate law enforcement agencies in Ukraine and other countries to continue to protect the religious freedoms of our brothers and sisters. We look forward to the time when Jehovah, whose “ways are justice,” will end all persecution of those who worship him.—Deuteronomy 32:4.