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Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia and Others v. Moldova, No. 45701/99, ECtHR (First Section), 13 December 2001


Refusal to grant official recognition to an Orthodox Church. Religious groups lacking legal personality. State’s duty of neutrality in recognition of religious communities. Alleged acts of intimidation affecting a church and its members.

Normative references

Art. 9 ECHR

Art. 13 ECHR


1. The importance of religious pluralism entails an obligation for the State to act neutrally and impartially in religious matters.

2. The role of national authorities is not to remove the cause of tension between different religious groupings by eliminating pluralism, but to ensure that the “competing groups” tolerate each other.

3. The State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality, as defined in the European Court’s case law, is incompatible with any power on the State’s part to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs or the ways in which those beliefs are expressed, and requires the State to ensure that conflicting groups tolerate each other.

4. One of the means of exercising the right to manifest one’s religion, especially for a religious community, in its collective dimension, is the possibility of ensuring judicial protection of the community, its members and its assets, so that article 9 must be seen not only in the light of article 11, but also in the light of article 6 of the Convention.

(In the present case, the Government had denied recognition to a local Orthodox Church – the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia, affiliated to the patriarchate of Bucharest and distinct from the Metropolitan Church of Moldova – by arguing that such measure was necessary in order to uphold Moldovan law and constitutional principles and that the applicant Church, once acknowledged, could pose a threat to the national security and territorial integrity of the young Republic of Moldova. The Court unanimously found that the refusal to grant official recognition to the applicant Church breached article 9 of the Convention given that, according to the national legislation on religious denominations, only religions recognised by Government decision may be practised in Moldova).


In addition to the violation of article 9 ECHR, the Court found that the failure to recognise the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia also breached article 13 of the Convention, since the applicants were unable to obtain redress from a national authority in respect of the infringement of their right to freedom of religion.