Wednesday, October 08, 2014

European Court Says Violence Against Jehovah's Witnesses Violates Human Rights Convention

In Begheluri and Others v. Georgia, (ECHR, Oct. 7, 2014), in a Chamber Judgment, the European Court of Human Rights held that numerous incidents of violence against Jehovah's Witnesses, even when carried out only by private individuals, violated Articles 3 (freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment) and 9 (freedom of conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights because of the government's indifference and failure to protect those attacked.
... [T]he Court concludes that the relevant authorities were ineffective in preventing and stopping religiously motivated violence. Through the conduct of their agents, who either participated directly in the attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses or by their acquiescence and connivance into unlawful activities of private individuals, the Georgian authorities created a climate of impunity, which ultimately encouraged other attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country. Furthermore, by an obvious unwillingness to ensure the prompt and fair prosecution and punishment of those responsible, the respondent Government failed to redress the violations, thereby neglecting the inherent preventive and deterrent effect in relation to future violations against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
... All of the above leads the Court to conclude that the Government simply declined to apply the law to protect the applicants. It therefore establishes that Article 3 of the Convention has been violated....
... [S]everal violent attacks took place with the direct participation of various public officials or with their connivance and acquiesence. As to the adequacy of the response, the applicants’ religious gatherings were violently disrupted on a large scale, their religious literature was confiscated and burnt, and their homes were ransacked. Having been treated in that way, the applicants were subsequently confronted with total indifference and a failure to act on the part of the authorities, who, on account of the applicants’ adherence to a religious community perceived as a threat to Christian Orthodoxy, took no action in respect of their complaints.... The authorities’ negligence opened the doors to widespread religious violence throughout Georgia against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The applicants were thus led to fear that they would be subjected to renewed violence at each fresh manifestation of their faith.
... [T]hrough their involvement, connivance or at least acquiescence, the relevant authorities failed in their duty to take the necessary measures to ensure that Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to exercise their right to freedom of religion.... The Court thus concludes that the State’s failures in connection with the circumstances concerning the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the practice of their religion, seen as a whole, resulted in a violation of Article 9 of the Convention...
Art. 3 violations were found as to 32 applicants and Art. 9 violations were found as to 88.  The court also issued a press release summarizing the decision. Chamber Judgments are appealable to the Grand Chamber.