Russia fined for refusing to recognize Scientology church

The European Court for Human Rights has fined Russia for refusing to register Scientology churches in the cities of Surgut and Nizhnekamsk as religious groups.

The Strasbourg court’s statement says the country has broken Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and must pay €10,000 for punitive damages and another €10,000 in legal costs.

The scientologist community in Russia is estimated at 100,000 people. Their spokesperson says the ruling was a long time in coming.

Scientology in Russia

“We have waited for this decision for more than eight years, and never doubted it would be in our favor,”
said Nina de Castro. “We have big plans for Russia. Currently we have about 40 groups and we hope all of them will soon be recognized as churches.”

The Scientology church was registered in the Siberian city of Surgut back in 1994 as a non-governmental organization, but it was soon banned for performing religious activities. They repeated their registration attempt as an NGO in 1999, but without success. The authorities also refused their effort to gain legal status as a religious organization in 2000.

Scientologists in Nizhnekamsk in in the Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan didn’t get their recognition in 1999 due to the so-called “rule of 15 years” included in the law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. According to Article 9 of the act, a local religious organization may only be founded by a religious group "which has a confirmation of their existence in the territory for at least 15 years or confirmation of entry into the structure of a centralized religious organization of the same religion."

The lawsuit

Scientologists filed lawsuits in the European Court of Human Rights in 2001 and 2003. They claimed that the Russian authorities had violated Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of expression), as well as Articles 11 (freedom of assembly and association) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

The case against Russia was launched in 2005.

Vladimir Ivanov, a scientology sympathizer in the past, says the salvation promised by the group doesn’t come cheap.

“This organization has no right to call itself a church,” he said. “It’s a sophisticated financial pyramid whose main goal is – through psychological pressure – to pump money out of people or make them serve as church personnel for absolute pennies.”

“The only reason why they want to be a church is to avoid paying taxes,” Ivanov said.

Scientology is a body of beliefs and related practices founded in the early 1950s by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard. It is legally recognized in the U.S. and some European countries.

The religion teaches that people are immortal spiritual beings who have forgotten their true nature. Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta are Scientology’s most famous followers.

A legal case against the Church of Scientology is underway in France at the moment. The prosecutor’s office there is demanding the dissolution of the basic structures of the organization in the country.