ECHR refuses to review Church of Scientology claim against Russia

Moscow - European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) has refused to review an appeal filed by Russian Federation over the ECHR decision in favor of unregistered Church of Scientology over the refusal of St. Petersburg authorities to officially recognize it as a legal entity, says the court ruling made public on Wednesday.

According to the ruling, the application was filed by Church of Scientology in St. Petersburg, which was formed by a group of individuals gathered together for research of Scientology. The first group was formed in St. Petersburg in 1984, which in the late 80’s splintered into two organizations, one of which was headed by Galina Shurinova (one of the six applicants).

The present application concerned the refusal of St. Petersburg authorities to acknowledge it as a legal entity. The group applied for registration six times, from March 1995 to August 2003.

The first application was filed by Shurinova with other nine founders of the St. Petersburg Church of Mission of Scientology in March 1995. Upon receiving no answer over the course of two years, Shurinova demanded an explanation from the authorities. Russian Justice Ministry informed her, that the application was transferred to a State Duma committee, to be evaluated by an expert in religious and legal matters. Following lack of response, the application was shelved.

In February 2002, a new registration request was filed, which was rejected in March of the same year, citing discrepancies in required paperwork. Scientologists filed four more registration requests, which were all subsequently turned down under a number of reasons. In the last rejection in August of 2003, the St. Petersburg authorities stated that the documents proving that the group was active for the last 15 years (time period necessary to register a new religious organization), were fraudulent.

The Scientologist turned to a district court in St. Petersburg, which declared the rejections legal in October 2003, and was supported by an appeals court in 2006.

The applicants turned to ECHR in November 2006. Citing article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion), and article 11 Article ( the right to freedom of assembly and association), the applicants contested in their opinion unlawful rejections to register the Church of Scientology as a legal entity.

The Russian response confirmed that the rejections were in violation of freedom of religion, pointing out that the decision in the case was based on the Russian law and security reasons. Russia further pointed to similar cases reviewed by the ECHR concerning UK and Austria.

The ECHR upon reviewing the application, ruled in favor of Scientologists, awarding them 7,500 EUR as moral damages compensation.

Russia requested that case be referred to the Grand Chamber the Grand Chamber of ECHR. However, Grand Chamber refused to review an appeal. Therefore the Court ruling came into effect.