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Turkey: Refusing worship place to Jehovah’s Witnesses breached human rights law


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Authorities in Turkey breached European human rights law by refusing to provide the Mersin and İzmir Jehovah’s Witnesses with an appropriate place of worship.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Association for Solidarity with Jehovah Witnesses and Others v. Turkey (applications nos. 36915/10 and 8606/13) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights

As just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Turkey was to pay 1,000 euros (EUR) jointly to the applicants in application no. 36915/10 and EUR 1,000 to the applicant association in application no. 8606/13 in respect of nonpecuniary damage, and EUR 4,000 to the applicants jointly in respect of costs and expenses.

On the basis of a law prohibiting the opening of places of worship on sites not designated for that purpose and imposing certain conditions on the building of places of worship, the private premises which the Mersin and İzmir congregations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been using were closed by the national authorities and their applications to use those premises as places of worship were rejected.

The congregations were also informed that the local development plans comprised no sites which could be used as places of worship.

The court found in particular that the congregations in question were unable to obtain an appropriate place in which to worship on a regular basis, which amounted to such a direct interference with their freedom of religion that it was neither proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued, that is to say the prevention of disorder, nor necessary in a democratic society.

The court considered that the domestic court had taken no account of the specific needs of a small community of believers and noted that the impugned legislation made no mention of that type of need, whereas, given the small number of adherents, the congregations in question needed not a building with a specific architectural design but a simple meeting room in which to worship, meet and teach their beliefs.

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      The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Turkey violated the right to freedom of religion of a group of Jehovah Witnesses in İzmir and Mersin through “direct interference” by refusing to grant them appropriate places of worship. 

      The Association for Solidarity with Jehovah Witnesses and others appealed against the ECHR against Turkey in June 2010 and complained that national authorities refused to grant a place of worship status to their houses of worship while also rejecting their requests to provide access to places of worship. 

      In the appeal, the association claimed Turkey violated the group’s right to freedom of religion (Article 9), right to a fair trial (Article 6) and freedom of assembly and association (Article 11). The group added that they did not benefit from the right to an effective remedy (Article 13) and were discriminated against over their membership to a minority religious community – a violation of prohibition of discrimination (Article 14). 

      The aforementioned difficulties arose from a Turkish Law No. 3194 on Urban Planning which prohibits the opening of places of worship on sites which were designated for other purposes in local development plans.

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      The private premises which were used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the southern province of Mersin and the Aegean province of İzmir were closed down by authorities for being “unlawful.” Appeals by the believers for the allocation or use of alternative premises as places of worship were also turned down by courts. 

      In its decision, the ECHR ruled that “the impugned rejections by the authorities amounted to such a direct interference with their freedom of religion that it was neither proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued nor necessary in a democratic society.”

      Noting that states are largely free to implement urban planning policies, the court nevertheless underlined that the needs of minority communities were not taken into consideration by state authorities. 

      “Domestic courts had taken no account of the specific needs of a small community of believers,” the ECHR said, adding that Turkey’s practices were in violation of Article 9 of the convention. 

      Violations of the remaining articles on which the Jehovah Witnesses complained should also be declared admissible, the court said, but found no need to examine their merits because they were already sufficiently covered.

      Turkey was ordered to pay 1,000 euros to the applicants in non-pecuniary damages in addition to 4,000 euros to cover their costs and expenses.
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      The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Turkey violated the right to freedom of religion of a group of Jehovah Witnesses in İzmir and Mersin through “direct interference” by refusing to grant them appropriate places of worship. 

      The Association for Solidarity with Jehovah Witnesses and others appealed against the ECHR against Turkey in June 2010 and complained that national authorities refused to grant a place of worship status to their houses of worship while also rejecting their requests to provide access to places of worship. 

      In the appeal, the association claimed Turkey violated the group’s right to freedom of religion (Article 9), right to a fair trial (Article 6) and freedom of assembly and association (Article 11). The group added that they did not benefit from the right to an effective remedy (Article 13) and were discriminated against over their membership to a minority religious community – a violation of prohibition of discrimination (Article 14). 

      The aforementioned difficulties arose from a Turkish Law No. 3194 on Urban Planning which prohibits the opening of places of worship on sites which were designated for other purposes in local development plans.

      The same law also established a number of conditions to build places of worship. Accordingly, even a small place of worship must have a surface area of at least 2,550 square meters. 

      The private premises which were used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the southern province of Mersin and the Aegean province of İzmir were closed down by authorities for being “unlawful.” Appeals by the believers for the allocation or use of alternative premises as places of worship were also turned down by courts. 

      In its decision, the ECHR ruled that “the impugned rejections by the authorities amounted to such a direct interference with their freedom of religion that it was neither proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued nor necessary in a democratic society.”

      Noting that states are largely free to implement urban planning policies, the court nevertheless underlined that the needs of minority communities were not taken into consideration by state authorities. 

      “Domestic courts had taken no account of the specific needs of a small community of believers,” the ECHR said, adding that Turkey’s practices were in violation of Article 9 of the convention. 

      Violations of the remaining articles on which the Jehovah Witnesses complained should also be declared admissible, the court said, but found no need to examine their merits because they were already sufficiently covered.

      Turkey was ordered to pay 1,000 euros to the applicants in non-pecuniary damages in addition to 4,000 euros to cover their costs and expenses.
      Source: 
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