Human Rights Court turns up heat for Russia in Scientology case
STRASBOURG—The European Court of Human Rights delivered a verdict Thursday entitling members of two Scientology groups in Russia to registration as religious groups, finding that their rights to freedom of religious association under the European Convention of Human Rights had been breached by the Russian state.
Peter Hodkin, SolicitorThis is a great victory for religious freedom in Russia and in all the member countries of the Council of Europe.
The applicants in the case hailed from the Tatarstan Republic in western Russia, and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region in central Russia, presenting similar cases of discrimination by government agencies responsible for registration of religious organisations. In one case, a Church of Scientology was unable to be registered as a non-religious group due to its religious affiliation, yet could not register as a religious group either.
The findings of the court come in the wake of a similar ruling against the Russian Federation after an application by the Church of Scientology in Moscow indicated a breach of the same Article of the European Convention, resulting in the court declaring that the Moscow authorities “did not act in good faith and neglected their duty of neutrality and impartiality vis-à-vis the applicant's religious community”.
Based on the latest ruling, the Churches of Scientology of Surgut and Nizhnekamsk will be entitled to registration as a religious organisation in their respective areas, while Peter Hodkin, a solicitor representing the applicants, declared the ruling, "a great victory for religious freedom in Russia and in all the member countries of the Council of Europe."
Mr Hodkin continued, "The case, which has taken eight years before the Court, establishes that it is not permissible for countries to place discriminatory restrictions on the legal forms and activities of religious groups."
Another case is pending against Russia, brought by a Scientology church in St. Petersburg for similar reasons, as it remains to be seen what effect these cases will have on religious freedom in other parts of Europe.
For the full text of the European Court of Human Rights' October 1st Judgement, see http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?item=2&portal=hbkm&action=html&highlight=&sessionid=30929681&skin=hudoc-en
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