OCTOBER 24, 2017
On October 12, 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a decision accepting the Republic of Georgia’s admission that it had violated the rights of ten of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the case of Gabunia and others v. Georgia, the government agreed to pay EUR 800 (USD 947) to each victim as compensation for the violation of their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination as protected by Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention).
In September 2005, ten Witnesses submitted an application to the ECHR concerning four religiously motivated mob attacks by Orthodox extremists. The four incidents were part of a State-sponsored campaign of religious persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia that lasted from October 1999 to November 2003. Law-enforcement officials were complicit in the attacks because they either participated in the violence or failed to protect the victims.
Prior to Gabunia, the ECHR issued three scathing judgments against Georgia. In these judgments, the ECHR condemned the government for failing to protect the rights of the Witnesses from the violence they had experienced during that period of time. The ECHR concluded that the inaction of law-enforcement officials “would suggest to civil society a reasonable doubt as to the criminals’ complicity with the State representatives.” It further concluded that “the Georgian authorities created a climate of impunity, which ultimately encouraged other attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country.” The ECHR also found that there had been “connivance on the part of the judiciary with the violent acts committed against the applicants” and that Georgian courts had been “biased and superficial” in their examination of the victims’ complaints.
By filing a unilateral declaration “regretfully acknowledging” that it had violated the victims’ Convention rights, Georgia has avoided a fourth judgment that no doubt would have repeated the condemnations of the previous three judgments. Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia are no longer victims of mob attacks and State-sponsored religious persecution. They now enjoy freedom of religion.