Refusal of registration again: Jehovah’s Witnesses in the NKR v Armenia

In Christian Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the NKR v Armenia [2022] ECHR 251, the Jehovah’s Witnesses complained under Articles 9, 11 and 14 ECHR that the authorities in the internationally unrecognised Nagorno Karabakh Republic (the NKR) had refused to register them as a religious organisation, in breach of their right to freedom of religion and association, and that the refusal amounted to discrimination on the grounds of religion [1].

The Government of Armenia contended that it had no jurisdiction over the matter. Relying on several cases decided by the International Court of Justice, it argued that states parties providing support to unrecognised entities (such as the domestic authorities in the NKR) could not be held responsible for specific actions undertaken by agents of the local administrations of those unrecognised entities [46]. Further, there had been no interference with the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the territory of the NKR [53]; and the refusal of Witnesses to undertake military service endangered public safety and the interests of the State [56].

The Court noted that the expert opinion which had served as a basis for the NKR authorities’ refusal to register the applicant and on which the Armenian Government had relied in its submissions had been prepared by the Chief of the NKR’s Department for National Minorities and Religious Affairs and had shown open negative bias by stating, inter alia, that “[n]o one accepts Jehovah’s Witnesses as a [religious] organisation but as a sect, fake organisation” [71]. It reiterated that the State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality was incompatible with any power on the State’s part to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs or the ways in which those beliefs were expressed [76].

As to the Armenian Government’s contention that the refusal of Jehovah’s Witnesses to serve in the army endangered the national security of the NKR in the conflict with Azerbaijan [77], it was the Court’s settled case-law that conscientious or religious opposition to military service was of sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance to attract the guarantees of Article 9 [79].

There had therefore been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention read in the light of Article 11: there was no need to examine the admissibility or the merits of the complaint under Article 14 [93].

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Refusal of registration again: Jehovah’s Witnesses in the NKR v Armenia" in Law & Religion UK, 29 March 2022, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2022/03/29/refusal-of-registration-again-jehovahs-witnesses-in-the-nkr-v-armenia/

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