Prison conditions, religious observance and Article 9 ECHR: Berghea and Turan v Romania

In Berghea and Turan v Romania [2016] ECHR 972 [in French] Mr Berghea and Mr Turan both complained before the Fourth Section ECtHR about their treatment in prison.

Mr Berghea is Jewish. He said that he had repeatedly asked to see a rabbi in prison and had indicated to the prison authorities that he was willing to pay the costs involved, but that his requests had been refused [7]. He also alleged that the Orthodox prison chaplain had repeatedly asked him to convert [8]. Mr Turan is Muslim: he alleged, inter alia, that the meals provided to him during his detention were not in conformity with the prescriptions of Islam because they were prepared with pork or pork fat [15]. Both applicants alleged that that they had been prevented from practising their religion by the prison authorities in violation of Article 9 ECHR [30]. Mr Turan also alleged that the physical conditions of his detention breached Article 3 [22].

The Government contended that the applicants had not exhausted domestic remedies: they should have brought an action before the sentencing supervisory judge, under Act No. 254/2013, to examine the complaints of detainees. Mr Berghea made no observations on the matter but Mr Turan claimed that he had complained to the prison staff about the interference with the exercise of his religion but that his complaints had not been registered; however, he did not provide any evidence to support his claim [32 & 33].

The Court pointed out that it had already concluded in a similar case against Romania that a complaint based on the provisions of Law No. 275/2006 addressed to the sentencing judge was an effective remedy and that the applicants should have pursued that channel before lodging a complaint under Article 9. Furthermore, Law No. 254/2013 included the provisions of Law No. 275/2006, in particular those relating to the competence of the sentencing supervisory judge to examine the complaints of detained persons about the exercise of their rights in detention. Law No. 254/2013 included specific recognition of the right of detained persons to exercise their religion by being offered meals in accordance with the precepts of their religion and the possibility of meeting with representatives of their religion.

The Court concluded that the remedy provided for by Law No. 254/2013 demonstrated the effectiveness required by Article 35 §1 ECHR and that the applicants should have invoked it before bringing an Article 9 claim [35]. It did not appear that they had lodged a complaint with the Sentence Supervisory Court that the prison authorities had failed to accommodate their right to exercise their religion. In particular, Mr Turan’s allegation that his complaints to prison staff were ignored was not supported by any evidence [36]. The Article 9 complaint was therefore dismissed for failure to exhaust domestic remedies.

The Court concluded that the complaint under Article 3 was admissible but that the remainder was inadmissible. There had been a violation of Article 3 in respect of Mr Turan.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Prison conditions, religious observance and Article 9 ECHR: Berghea and Turan v Romania" in Law & Religion UK, 12 November 2016, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2016/11/12/prison-conditions-religious-observance-and-article-9-echr-berghea-and-turan-v-romania/

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