European Court of Human Rights Complaint on the Right to Share One’s Beliefs

Human Rights Without Frontiers reports that Donald Jay Ossewaarde, an American national who has lived in Oryol, Russia, since 2005, filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights March 30, 2017, based on his arrest and conviction of violating Article 5.26(5) of the Code of Administrative Offences.

Donald J. and Ruth Ossewaarde
Donald J. and Ruth Ossewaarde

Mr. Ossewaarde is represented before the Court by Ms. T. Glushkova, Ms. T. Chernikova, Mr. D. Shvedov, and Mr. K. Koroteyev, lawyers practicing in Moscow.

Since moving to Oryol, Ossewaarde and his wife, who are Baptists, have been holding prayer and Bible readings at their home. They personally invite people to the meetings or place invitations in people’s mailboxes.

On Sunday, 14 August 2016, while Ossewaarde was holding a Bible reading meeting in his home, police officers walked in. At the end of the service, they questioned him and those attending and then took him to the police station, where he was fingerprinted and shown a statement by a “concerned resident” who complained to the police about “foreign religious cultists” pasting Gospel tracts to a bulletin board at her apartment block. The “concerned resident” was deputy chairman of the Oryol Regional Government in charge of security matters.

Ossewaarde’s actions were interpreted as spreading information about his religion among non-members of his religious group and conducting “missionary activities” without notification of establishment of a religious group.

The night of his arrest, the District Court convicted Ossewaarde of conducting “missionary activities” without having notified the authorities of establishing a religious group and fined him 40,000 Russian roubles (the equivalent of three months average pay in Russia).

On 30 September 2016, the Oryol Regional Court rejected Ossewaarde’s appeal of the judgment and on 28 February 2017, the Constitutional Court dismissed his constitutional complaint.

On July 7, the EU Human Rights Court issued the following Questions to the Parties:

1. Was the applicant’s escorting to the police station and his detention there compatible with the requirements of Russian law and Article 5 § 1 of the Convention (see Lashmankin and Others v. Russia, no. 57818/09 and 14 others, § 489, 7 February 2017, and the case-law cited therein)?

2. Was there a violation of Article 9 or 11 of the Convention in connection with the applicant’s prosecution for the organisation of Bible-reading meetings? In particular, were the legal provisions sufficiently foreseeable in their application? Did the Russian courts draw a distinction between “missionary activities” carried out by a religious group and individual evangelism and did they indicate any facts buttressing their conclusion (see Kokkinakis v. Greece, 25 May 1993, §§ 48-49, Series A no. 260-A)?

3. Does the difference in treatment between Russian and foreign nationals under sections 4 and 5 of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offences amount to a breach of Article 14 of the Convention, read in conjunction with Articles 9 or 11?

European Court of Human Rights Baptist Missionary Article 5.26(5) of the Code of Administrative Offences