Georgia: Court backs 13 Jehovah’s Witnesses in religious discrimination human rights dispute

A human rights court ruling today confirmed a complaint by 13 Jehovah’s Witnesses that they faced religious discrimination in Georgia.

Tsartsidze and Others v. Georgia (no. 18766/04)

The applicants are 13 Georgian nationals who are all Jehovah’s Witnesses. The case concerned alleged harassment of Jehovah’s witnesses in Georgia.

The applicants submitted that in 2000 and 2001 they had been the victims of various instances of intimidation and aggression towards Jehovah’s Witnesses either by Orthodox religious extremists or by the authorities, including the police.

In five separate incidents some had been prevented from attending a religious meeting when stopped at a police checkpoint and others had had their religious meetings disrupted or had been stopped in the street by the police in possession of religious tracts; of those applicants some had been taken to police stations and had either been beaten or forced to sign a written undertaking not to hold any more gatherings in the future.

All alleged that religious equipment and literature had been confiscated or stolen from them, and in one case had subsequently been publicly burned.

The events described by six of the applicants in two of the incidents have been examined in a case already brought to the European Court of Human rights (Begheluri and Others v. Georgia, no. 28490/02).

All the applicants lodged administrative complaints against the Ministry of the Interior, police officers allegedly involved either directly or indirectly (on account of their failure to intervene in the various incidents) and the local authorities, claiming compensation.

Their complaints were all later dismissed, ultimately at the level of the Supreme Court, because the police’s or the authorities’ involvement in the incidents had not been proven.

The applicants essentially complained about the religiously motivated violence to which they had been subjected, alleging that it had breached their right to freely practise their religion via meetings and the distribution of religious literature.

They relied in particular on Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention.

Violation of Article 9 taken separately and in conjunction with Article 14 – with respect to Mikirtumov, Aliev, Dzamukov, Gabunia, Gogelashvili, Kurua, and Chubinidze.

Just satisfaction: EUR 500 jointly to Gogelashvili, Kurua and Chubinidze in respect of pecuniary damage; EUR 1,500 each to Mikirtumov, Aliev, Dzamukov, Gabunia, Gogelashvili, Kurua and Chubinidze in respect of non-pecuniary damage; and EUR 10,000 jointly to Mikirtumov, Aliev, Dzamukov, Gabunia, Gogelashvili, Kurua and Chubinidze in respect of costs and expenses.

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