Friday, February 13, 2015

European Court Says Bulgaria's Treatment of Word of Life Member Violated Religious Freedom

In Dimitrova v. Bulgaria, (ECHR, Feb. 10, 2015), the European Court of Human Rights in a Chamber Judgment held that police action against a member of the Word of Life church violated her religious freedom rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. As recounted by the Court:
[A] complaint was submitted to the office of the Sofia City Public Prosecutor by the Directorate of Religious Denominations with the Council of Ministers, raising concerns about the activities of Word of Life in Bulgaria. ... [H]aving carried out an investigation, the prosecutor’s office adopted a decision stating that the “sect” had an influence on its followers which increased the risk of suicide and other psychological problems. Membership might lead to the severance of family and social ties with the wider community; followers were prohibited from watching television or reading literature other than the Bible or from undergoing any form of surgical intervention. In conclusion, the prosecutor decided to order the restriction of the right of members of the three organisations linked to Word of Life from assembling to promote their beliefs and from continuing to operate the Bible study centre....
[T]he applicant was summonsed to appear at the police station and ... a search of her flat was carried out, with a number of personal items seized, for the sole reason that she was known to be a member of the Word of Life community and had organised religious meetings at her home. Following the search, she was issued by the police with an order warning her not to host further meetings of Word of Life.... In these circumstances, since the police action was taken in direct response to the applicant’s manifestation of her religious belief and was intended to discourage her from worshipping and observing her religion further in community with others, the Court finds that it constituted a limitation on her freedom to manifest religion within the meaning of Article 9 § 2.
Law & Religion UK has more on the decision.