Sentenced to prison for sharing the Gospel
What’s at Stake:
The right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion
Greece does not take kindly to people openly sharing their faith. Just ask Emmanuel Damavolitis – he was fined and imprisoned, simply for sharing his faith with a neighbour.
The reason for this harsh treatment is Greece’s position on ‘proselytism’ – it’s prohibited under both the Greek Constitution and criminal law. ‘Proselytism’ is described in Greek law as ‘any direct or indirect attempt to intrude on the religious beliefs of a person of a different religious persuasion with the aim of undermining those beliefs’. The country has had similar laws in place since the 19th Century. And as Emmanuel’s experience shows, these laws leave little room for explaining one’s faith to others.
He was arrested by police in 2006, accused of converting one of his neighbours. After his conversion, the neighbour faced extreme pressure from his family to renounce his newfound faith. He later displayed signs of mental illness, and his family complained that Emmanuel had taken advantage of him and manipulated him into converting, even though the man was over 30 years old at the time.
The man explained in court that Emmanuel had not pressured him and that he decided of his own volition to be baptized as an adult. Despite this clear testimony, the Greek courts found against Damavolitis, sentencing him to four months in prison and fining him 300 Euros, plus the costs of the trial.
Hoping to address this injustice, Emmanuel took his case to the Court of Appeals in Crete. But rather than upholding freedom of speech and religion, the court upheld the decision and actually increased the fine to 840 Euros. An appeal to the Greek Supreme Court was filed in 2012, but the court denied the application. Having exhausted every avenue in the domestic courts, Damavolitis continued to seek justice.
ADF International partnered with Athens-based allied lawyer, Vassilios Tsirmpas, in representing Emmanuel. His case was filed with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, where it is was argued that Greece’s ban on ‘proselytism’ is a violation of the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, as recognized in international law.
Our Role in the Case
ADF International allied lawyer, Vassilios Tsirmpas, has fought for Emmanuel Damavolitis’ rights throughout his ordeal in the Greek courts. With legal assistance and funding from ADF International, Damavolitis’ case went before the European Court of Human Rights.