ECHR Upholds Religious Freedom in Landmark Case,
The Salvation Army v. Russia
October 9, 2006 (Strasbourg, France) - The European Court of Human Rights issued a groundbreaking judgment in the case of the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army v. Russia, having condemned the actions of the Russian government which denied this charitable organization its right to feed the poor and care for the homeless in the streets of the Russian capital. The judgment marked an outstanding victory for SCLJ and ECLJ who successfully pursued the case before the European Court.
In a judgment released on October 5th, the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously that by denying Salvation Army’s application to be registered as a legal entity in Moscow, the Russian Government violated Articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, thus breaking the organization’s and its members’ rights to freedom of religion and association.
The discriminatory action taken by the Russian government against the Salvation Army represented a serious and dangerous assault against religious freedom. The organization’s Moscow branch was denied recognition by the Russian government and forced to liquidate its assets because of the use of the word “army” in their name as well as their corporate structure. Moreover, in rejecting the Salvation Army’s required governmental re-registration application in 2000, the Russian government declared the Salvation Army a subversive “paramilitary foreign organization.” In fact, the government insisted that the Salvation Army's Book of Order and Regulations “leads one to conclude that the charter assumes that the members of the organization will inevitability break Russian law in the process of executing the Salvation Army's Orders and Regulations.”
The European Court’s judgment rejected the Russian government’s actions and cleared the way for the Salvation Army to regain its humanitarian footing in Russia – providing much-needed assistance and comfort to the people in that country. The Salvation Army was also awarded EUR 10,000 in non-pecuniary damages which it intends to spend on the poor and needy people who have been deprived of its support for so long.
This case was watched very closely throughout the world, and a number of institutions of the Council of Europe (including its Parliamentary Assembly) repeatedly tried to convince the Russian government to settle the conflict and permit the recognition of the Salvation Army, which has been helping the poor in Moscow for ten years. The case was first taken to the European Court in 2001, after all possible ways of redress in Russia had been exhausted. It was declared admissible in 2004.
The judgment sends a strong message that religious freedom is an integral and important aspect of the European Convention of Human Rights and is significant not only for Russia, but also for other Council of Europe member states.
Vladimir Ryakhovsky and Anatoly Pchelintsev of the SCLJ, attorneys representing the Salvation Army, enthusiastically welcomed the judgment. “Russian authorities were blatantly and repeatedly violating the Salvation Army’s rights, consistently ruining its reputation by suggesting its work in Russia is ‘subversive’ and discriminating against its believers,” said Ryakhovsky and Pchelintsev. “This is an important precedent that will help restore justice not only for the Salvation Army but also for other persecuted religious communities in Russia.