ECHR TO EXAMINE CASE OF RUSSIAN FINED FOR COLLECTIVE READING OF BIBLE
Gathering of believers in a café considered by police to be unsanctioned meeting
by Anastasia Kornya,
Vedomosti, 20 March 2017
The European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) communicated last week an appeal by the leader of a group of Evangelical Christians, Aleksei Koliasnikov, who was fined in 2014 for collective reading of the Bible in a Sochi café without prior agreement with government agencies. In the report (published on the court's website), the ECHR reminded the Russian government that back in 2014, in considering the appeal of a group of Jehovah's Witnesses against the disruption of a worship service on similar bases (several members of a congregation in 2006 were arrested and fined for participation in a prayer meeting), it found a violation of their rights to freedom of religious confession. The Strasbourg court wants to know whether holding Koliasnikov accountable for a religious meeting in a café should be regarded as a violation.
According to the law on freedom of conscience, religious organizations may conduct worship services only in houses of worship and a public service in a secular institution is a rally and it is necessary to get permission from the authorities for it. But the ECHR insists that the dispersal of a peaceful assembly by police cannot be viewed as "necessary in a democratic society," even in conditions where the authorities were not notified about the public event in required form while its participants to not pose a threat to public order.
Koliasnikov recalls that prosecution of participants in a collective prayer also violates the decision of the Constitutional Court, which back in 2012 ruled: the requirement of a prior notification of authorities about such events, if they do not require special measures intended to ensure safety, contradicts the constitution. The declarer notes that he and his fellow believers did not disrupt public order and did not pose a threat and inconvenience to others who also were within the premises that they occupied in a legal way.
The director of the apparatus of the Russian commissioner to the ECHR, Andrei Fedorov, says that the issues will be forwarded to the competent bodies and on the basis of their conclusions, a response will be formulated. The Russian side has three months for this.
Cases about the consequences of the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church for human rights and liberties have finally reached the RPTs itself, says the director of the international rights advocacy group "Agora," Pavel Chikov. He recalls that in February, the ECHR communicated [that is, notified the Russian government about an appeal—tr.] the appeal of a Karelian rights advocate, Maksim Efremov, who was found to be an extremist for criticizing the protection that the republic's authorities showed to the RPTs. In Strasbourg there already is an appeal against the illegal arrest of the "Pokemon hunter," Ruslan Sokolovsky, who was accused of inciting hatred for the Orthodox. And finally, the appeal of Pussy Riot was communicated by the court back in December 2013, i.e., one can expect a decision in the near future, Chikov concludes. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 March 2017)
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