Scientology wins Europe rights case against Russia

3 Oct 2009

Russian authorities had rejected the registration of two Scientology churches on the basis of legislation that demands that a religious group must exist for at least 15 years in a Russian region and prove that it is affiliated to a central religious organization.

Strasbourg — The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday condemned Russia for the second time in two years for refusing to register two Scientology churches as religious organizations.

The Church of Scientology was awarded 5,000 euros (7,250 dollars) in moral damages.

The court ruled that the action of the authorities in Surgut in eastern Siberia and Nizhnekamsk in Tatarstan had violated articles nine and 11 of the Human Rights convention on freedom of religion and freedom of association.

Russian authorities rejected the registration of the churches in 1994 and 1998 on the basis of legislation which demands that a religious group has to have existed for at least 15 years in a Russian region and prove that it is affiliated to a central religious organisation.

“The Court noted that the question of whether Scientology could be described as a ‘religion’ was a matter of controversy among the member states,” said the ruling.

In the absence of any European consensus on the religious nature of Scientology, the court said it had “to rely on the position of the domestic authorities.”

It added: “At no point in the proceedings had it been shown that the applicants — either as individuals or as a religious group — had engaged or intended to engage in any unlawful activities or pursued any aims other than worship, teaching, practice and observance of their beliefs. The ground for refusing registration had therefore been purely formal and unconnected with their actual functioning.”

In April 2007, the court found against Russia over the refusal of authorities to register the Moscow branch of the Scientologists between 1998 and 2005.

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