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Dimitrova v. Bulgaria

ECHR rules Christian woman’s rights violated in 20-year-old case

What was at stake?

  • The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion


In theory, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion can be enjoyed by anyone in a country that has signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights. But for Petya Dimitrova, she had to wait 20 years before she could finally exercise these rights.

It all began in 1995, when she tried to register a church as part of the Swedish Word of Life group. When Bulgarian authorities denied her request, she organised religious meetings at her home. But Petya wasn’t even allowed to host worship meetings in her own home. In September of that year, police broke into her home without a warrant, confiscated her religious materials, and arrested her for conducting private worship services.

The restrictions on Petya’s freedom didn’t end there. She tried for years to get justice in the Bulgarian courts but was met with dead ends at every turn. Unwilling to allow the injustice to stand, she decided to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Petya filed a complaint with the Court, in which she claimed that the government had violated her freedoms protected by Articles 9 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights. ADF International represented her at the ECHR together with Bulgarian Allied Attorney, Viktor Kostov.

Relief for Petya finally came in February 2015, when the Court ruled that Bulgarian authorities had violated Petya’s freedom of thought, conscience, and religion when they unjustly arrested her for private worship meetings in her home. The Court also found that the government violated her right to an effective remedy of the situation, which spanned 20 years.

In its judgment, the ECHR stated: “The denial of legal registration to her church was done in a spirit which lacked any semblance of State neutrality. At all stages, the State authorities acted on the basis of discriminatory value judgments rather than evidence. The action of the state authorities failed to respect the need for true religious pluralism, which is inherent in the concept of a democratic society.”

ADF International Deputy Director Robert Clarke commented: “This ruling sends a clear message to European governments that they must respect the religious freedom of their citizens as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. It is a victory not only for Petya but for all people who value freedom from government coercion and recrimination.”

Our Role in the Case

ADF International represented Petya Dimitrova before the European Court of Human Rights. 

Legal Documents