Cheprunovy and others v. Russia, Nos. 74320/10 and others, ECtHR (Third Section), 22 February 2022
The Third Section of the European Court of Human Rights has again ruled on the always difficult relations between Russia and Jehovah's Witnesses. In particular, the case recently decided concerned a series of searches carried out in Russia in the flats of individual Jehovah's Witnesses and in the prayer room owned by a local religious organisation of adherents to the same creed, with the consequent seizure of religious literature considered extremist.
The Strasbourg judges, therefore, assessing a possible violation of Article 9 of the Convention, first of all recognised the legitimacy, in the eyes of the national legal system, of the acts at issue, insofar as they were authorised by the local authorities, and of the purpose pursued, the prevention of crime.
The domestic courts, however, did not consider whether there were relevant and sufficient reasons for such interference with the appellants' sphere of religious freedom and failed to consider whether such interference responded to an urgent social need and was proportionate to the legitimate objectives pursued.
The ECHR also noted the excessive extension of the terms of the search warrants, which gave the police unlimited discretion in determining which objects were relevant to the investigation. This in fact led to the extensive search and seizure of religious literature, including titles that had not been declared extremist.
Considering, therefore, that the searches and seizures were carried out without relevant and sufficient grounds and in the absence of safeguards limiting their impact to reasonable limits, the Court concluded by declaring a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, since the described limitation of Jehovah's Witnesses' religious freedom was "not necessary in a democratic society".
(Comment by Alessandro Negri)