The European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, has delivered a landmark judgement against Russia in favour of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Court handed down the judgement on Tuesday declaring that it was unlawful for Russia to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It further ordered Russia to discontinue all pending criminal proceedings against Jehovah’s Witnesses, to free all those already in prison, as well as to return all the confiscated properties or pay adequate compensation.
On the same day, the Court also issued a judgement against Lithuania for denying an exemption to one of its members for military service.
The judgement further says Russia’s 2017 ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses is unlawful, adding that the ban on their printed publications and website, jw.org, is illegal.
Recall that Russia’s Supreme Court ruled on April 20, 2017 that Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation should be closed down and no longer allowed to operate legally in the country.
Following the ban, many members of Jehovah’s witnesses in Russia were locked behind doors and bars, and the confiscation of their property for many years on the grounds that they are extremists.
The ECHR found the claim of extremism against the Jehovah’s witnesses to be baseless.
According to the ECHR, “The applicants’ religious activities and the content of their publications appear to have been peaceful in line with their professed doctrine of non-violence.”
Hence, the court ordered Russia to suspend all pending criminal proceedings against Jehovah’s Witnesses and free those already in prison.
Now, ECHR says Russia must take all necessary measures to secure the discontinuation of all pending criminal proceedings against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It also ordered the release of all Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been deprived of their liberty.
The ruling also awarded Jehovah’s Witnesses 3.4m euros (around $3.7m) in damages and ordered Russia to either return all confiscated property or pay nearly 60,000 euros (around $64,000) in compensation.
It also upheld the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse blood transfusions or to join military service on religious grounds.
“The judgement 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,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses said.
It admitted, however, that it was “unclear” what impact the ECHR’s judgements would have inside Russia.
This judgement is coming on the heels of last month’s release of a 49-year old Danish Jehovah’s Witnesses, Dennis Christensen, from prison five years after he became the first member of Jehovah’s Witnesses jailed on the extremism charges in Russia.
Dennis Christensen was arrested at a Christian meeting in the city of Oryol south of Moscow in May 2017.
He was thereafter sentenced to six years in prison in 2019, however, two years was deducted from his sentence for the time spent in pre-trial detention, and was released after spending five years in jail.