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Serif v. Greece, No. 38178/97, ECtHR (Second Section), 14 December 1999

Type Judgment
Case number 38178/97


Appointment of a Muslim religious leader by the State. Interference with the internal organisation of a religious community. Conviction of a supposed spurious leader of a local Muslim community.

Normative references

Art. 9 ECHR


1. In democratic societies the State does not need to take measures to ensure that religious communities remain or are brought under a unified leadership.

2. Punishing a person for merely acting as the religious leader of a group that willingly followed him can hardly be considered compatible with the demands of religious pluralism in a democratic society.

3. Although it is possible that tension is created in situations where a religious or any other community becomes divided, this is one of the unavoidable consequences of pluralism. The role of national authorities in such circumstances is not to remove the cause of tension by eliminating pluralism, but to ensure that the competing groups tolerate each other.

(In the present case, the applicant – who had claimed to be the religious leader of a local Turkish-Muslim community of western Thrace – was convicted for usurping the functions of an officially appointed minister of a “known religion” and for wearing in public the uniform of that office without having the right to do so. The Court unanimously found that the interference in question violated the applicant’s right to freedom of religion under article 9 of the Convention).


The Greek Government argued that the applicant’s conviction was necessary in a democratic society because his actions undermined the system put in place by the State for the organisation of the religious life of the Muslim community in the region. However, the Court recalled that there was no indication that the applicant attempted at any time to exercise the judicial and administrative functions for which the legislation on the muftis and other ministers of “known religions” makes provision.