House church not allowed to worship
What’s at Stake:
- Religious freedom
- The right to practice one’s faith freely in communion with others at a suitable place of one’s choosing
Over the course of several years, a registered group of Evangelical Christian Baptists used to gather in a private house in Verkhnebakansky in Southern Russia. In September 2018, the local authorities filed a lawsuit against the former owner of the building asking the court to ban its exploitation for religious purposes. The administration claimed that there were violations of fire safety and anti-terror provisions, and that the building was registered and therefore can only be used as a residential house and not as a church.
Although the claim was dismissed in first instance by the district court, the decision was overturned on appeal. According to the new decision, the use of the private building for religious purposes was banned.
In April 2019, the authorities broke into the house during a festive service and demanded its termination and an inspection of the building. Administrative proceedings were initiated against one of the assistant pastors, who was found guilty of conducting “illegal missionary activities” when asking the congregation to stand and sing during the service.
Representatives of the authorities came back on July 5, 2018, once more interrupting a Sunday service. They demanded that the congregation leave and, subsequently, sealed large parts of the house, including the room where Sunday services were held.
The house remains a residence to a tenant and holds shared facilities, namely a kitchen and restrooms for two more tenants, residing in another building on the plot. However, the authorities have banned the congregation from using the property for religious purposes.
Vitaliy Bak with the help of his domestic attorney has fought over four instances. Yet in October 2019, the forth instance confirmed the ban, leaving Vitaliy Bak no other option than to appeal to the ECtHR.
Our Role in the Case:
ADF International was in contact with Russian allied attorneys during the domestic proceedings and, after exhaustion of domestic remedies, represents the client before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Court is currently reviewing the case to determine whether proceedings will be opened and the case will be communicated to the Russian government.
We were asked by the domestic attorney to take the case to the ECtHR. After completing a fact finding mission and site inspection in October 2019, we filed the case in Strasbourg on December 4, 2019. The Court has informed us we fulfilled all the formal criteria and the case is currently under review at the end of which the Court will determine whether or not to communicate the case to the Russian government.