Russia and the Jehovah’s Witnesses again: Nabokikh

Nabokikh and Others v Russia [2023] ECHR 97 was about the disruption of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious meetings.


The applicants organised or participated in religious assemblies held on the premises which they owned or rented specifically for that purpose [1]. In all the cases, the religious assemblies were disrupted by the police. In some cases, the reason for the disruption was that the meetings were being conducted without prior notification and the police ordered the meetings to stop or stayed on the premises to take photos and make video recording of the events, checked the documents and questioned the organisers and participants [2]. In others, the police disrupted the meetings to search the premises where they were being held [3]. The searches had been ordered in the framework of criminal proceedings against unidentified individuals suspected of involvement in extremist activities. The warrants did not explain why the prayer halls were to be searched and merely stated that “evidence relevant to the criminal case” might be found there [3]. The police seized literature during and some of the applicants complained of police violence and being detained on the premises throughout the night [4]. All applicants complained unsuccessfully to the domestic courts [5].

Before the ECtHR, they complained that the disruption of their worship and their administrative convictions had had no basis in Russian law and had not been necessary in a democratic society, contrary to Articles 9 and 11 ECHR. Some of them also referred to Articles 3, 8 and 10 [6].

The judgment

Disruption a religious assembly and punishing the applicants for holding “unauthorised” religious events amounted to “interference by a public authority” with their right to manifest their religion [9].

On the allegedly unlawful nature of events that had not been notified to the authorities, the Court had previously noted the consistent case‑law of Russia’s Supreme Court that religious meetings, even those conducted on rented premises, did not require any prior authorisation from, or notice to, the authorities, and to the extent that some of the applicants had been convicted for failure to submit such a notification, that did not have a clear and foreseeable legal basis and was not, therefore, “prescribed by law” [10]. Furthermore, it is not disputed that all the assemblies were peaceful and were not likely to cause any disturbance or danger to public order. Their disruption by the police, even if the authorities genuinely believed that lack of advance notice rendered them illegal, did not pursue a “pressing social need” and was not, therefore “necessary in a democratic society” [11]. The Court also found that the search warrants had been couched in extremely broad terms [12], which gave the police unrestricted discretion in scheduling the searches and allowed them to interrupt the worship [13]. The Government had not explained what considerations of urgency had prevented the police from waiting until worship had been finished [13].

Taken together, those findings were sufficient to conclude that there was no “pressing social need” to disrupt the JWs’ religious gatherings and that the interference with their right to manifest their religion was not “necessary in a democratic society” [14]. There had therefore been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention [15]. It was not necessary to examine the applicants’ complaints under Articles 8, 10, 11 and 14 [16].

Some applicants also complained that they had been subjected to inhuman treatment during the searches, contrary to Article 3. The Court declared those complaints inadmissible.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Russia and the Jehovah’s Witnesses again: Nabokikh" in Law & Religion UK, 4 May 2023,



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