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Religionsgemeinschaft der Zeugen Jehovas and Others v. Austria, No. 40825/98, ECtHR (First Section), 31 July 2008


National authorities’ failure to grant legal personality to a religious group. Inconsistent application of qualifying periods for eligibility to register as a religious society.

Normative references

Art. 9 ECHR
Art. 14 ECHR


1. The right of a religious community to an autonomous existence is indispensable for pluralism in a democratic society and is at the very heart of the guarantees in Article 9 ECHR. Given the importance of this right, there is an obligation on State’s authorities to keep the time during which such a community has to wait for legal personality reasonably short.

2. While the imposition of a waiting period before a religious association that has been granted legal personality can obtain a more consolidated status as a public-law body might be necessary in exceptional circumstances, such as in the case of newly established and unknown religious groups, it hardly appears justified in respect of religious groups which are long established nationally and internationally and, thus, are familiar to the authorities.
(In the present case, the Court found that the prolonged refusal to grant legal personality to a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses violated their freedom of religion under Article 9 ECHR as well as the prohibition of discrimination under Article 14 in conjunction with Article 9 of the Convention).