Scientologists 1, Russia 0

Paris, France - The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Russia on Thursday for repeatedly refusing to recognise Moscow's Church of Scientology as a legally valid religious association.

Several European countries have refused to register the Church of Scientology, founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, as a church.

Under a 1997 law, religious groups recognised as a legal entity in Russia had to re-register to keep their status. The church applied 11 times for re-registration but was turned down for various administrative reasons.

The church challenged the decision in Russia's courts, unsuccessfully.

"The Court of Human Rights found that the reasons given to deny re-registration of the church by the justice department and endorsed by the Moscow courts had had no legal basis", the Strasbourg-based court said in a statement.

"It followed that the Moscow authorities had not acted in good faith and had neglected their duty to be neutral and impartial vis-a-vis the church's religious community," it added.

The court ordered that Russia pay the church 10 000 euros (about R96 000) in damages and 15 000 euros for costs and expenses.

The European Court of Human Rights enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia has signed.