A Christian church is challenging Russian authorities at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for seizing the congregation’s property and leaving the community to gather outside in a tent.
Facing demolition for hosting a worship service at home
Topic | Freedom of Worship, Church Freedom in Russia
Vitaliy Bak, the leader of a Baptist community in Southern Russia, may soon be forced to demolish his house. Authorities have filed a lawsuit against him – and asked the local court to order the demolition – simply because he was hosting religious worship services.
This comes after the property was sealed off by the authorities in July 2019 based on the same allegations. ADF International has filed an application alleging violations of freedom of religion on behalf of Pastor Bak against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights.
Under Russian law, communities with the status of a “religious group” cannot own property. Many therefore have no option but to meet in residential buildings.
When authorities sealed areas of Bak’s property shut in July 2019, they formally accused the baptist community of unlawfully using a residential property for worship. In addition, they said the building had not been secured in accordance with Russian anti-terror laws. The first lawsuit demanded a ban on religious activities in the building. At the first level, the court ruled in favour of the Baptist community, but the authorities won the following appeals. While these appeals were pending, an agent of the Federal Security Service – successor to the infamous KGB – together with police and local government officials raided the building during a festive religious service. After the refusal of his appeal at the Supreme Court in Russia, Pastor Bak took his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
A year later, with the case pending at the European Court, the Russian authorities applied to the local court to order pastor Bak’s property to be demolished. This came after two additional visits by the authorities to ensure the property remained closed. These inspections found no violations by the community but they nonetheless claimed that the house was not a residential building. Initially, the request to demolish was put on hold by the local court for formal reasons, though the lawsuit is expected to continue as harassment of the pastor Bak’s community persists.
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Vitaliy Bak, the leader of a Baptist community in Southern Russia, may soon be forced to demolish his house for holding allegedly illegal religious worship services there.
Amidst reports of increasing religious persecution in Russia and in the run up to Christmas, an international human rights organization has brought a case alleging violations of freedom of religion before the European Court of Human Rights.