ADF International

Russian authorities prohibit use of church building


  • ADF International files case against Russia at European Court of Human Rights on behalf of church
  • Background of religious freedom issues for minorities in Russia

STRASBOURG (16 October 2020) – ADF International has filed a case alleging violations of fundamental rights before the European Court of Human Rights. Over the course of a 20-year legal battle, the Russian authorities have consistently sought to seize the property belonging to the Word of Life Church in Kaluga near Moscow, Russia. The authorities allege that modifications to the existing building were conducted without a permit. This case joins a number of similar cases before the Court in which bureaucratic technicalities are used as a pretext to stifle religious minorities in Russia.

“No one should be persecuted because of their faith. Everyone has the fundamental right to choose their religion and practice it alone and with others, in public and in private. The refusal of the Kaluga authorities to recognize this religious organization as the owner of the church building it bought, is a violation of the right to practice faith freely. If the European Court of Human Rights agrees to hear this case, it could provide some measure of protection for Russian citizens seeking to freely live out their faith,” said Lidia Rieder, Legal Officer for ADF International

Religious freedom in Russia

The evangelical Word of Life Church in Kaluga purchased property in 2000 with the aim of converting it to a church where the religious community could meet. Despite fulfilling the legal requirements, the authorities refused to recognize the church’s ownership of the property and have set numerous bureaucratic hurdles over the past 20 years. In a public speech, the local governor asked the authorities to seize the church’s property by “all means necessary”. Subsequently, an order to seize the land in favor of a company building a shopping mall nearby, was issued. The land remained the church’s property, however, in December 2019, a court decision prohibited the use of the building. Currently the congregation meets in a tent outside of the property. In its application to the European Court of Human Rights, ADF International argues that the church’s rights to freedom of religion and assembly were violated as they are denied the ability to meet and worship together in their property.

In its 2020 annual report the US Commission on International Religious Freedom designated Russia as a ‘country of particular concern’. According to the report, police conduct raids on the private homes and places of worship of religious minorities. Minority groups report that local authorities have used anti-extremism laws to add religious texts to the government’s list of banned books. Officials also prevent religious minority organizations from obtaining land and deny them construction permits for houses of worship.

Bak v. Russia

In December 2019, ADF International filed another case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of pastor Vitaliy Bak. He is the leader of a Baptist community in Verkhnebakansky, Russia. The authorities sealed areas of his property shut in July 2019. Formally, they accused the 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. Amidst the corona crisis, the city administration has filed a lawsuit and asked the local court in Novorossiysk to order the demolition of the house – in which several people live – simply because religious services were held there. Under Russian law, communities with the status of a religious group cannot own property and must therefore meet in residential buildings.

“Everyone has the right to choose their religion and to express it publicly and privately. This includes the freedom to do so in community with others. By ratifying the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia has agreed to be held to account on its human rights record. Respecting the religious freedom of its citizens is not just a right protected by the Convention, but a litmus test for democracy. We are hopeful that the Court will agree to hear the case of this religious organization in Kaluga as well as that of Pastor Bak,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.