View Adopted: 2021.03.25
The author is a national of Belarus. The author claims the State party has violated his right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as well as the right to manifest one’s beliefs under articles 18(1) and (3) of the Covenant. The author held a small Sunday service at his home, when several State authorities entered and asked whether his practice was registered as a legal entity under the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations. Accession to such legal registration is only possible when more than 20 people are members, and the author’s community was much below the minimum. He was fined 315,000 Belarusian roubles (Euro 100).
All claims of admissibility are sufficiently sustained despite claims by the State party that he did not exhaust domestic remedies, as all of the author’s attempts had been unsuccessful
The Committee reminded that it is not possible to restrict the freedom of any person in community, in public or private, to manifest his or her religion or belief. Instead, the author’s religious practice should have been protected by the State. The law limiting such freedom to a maximum of 20 people in a given group was, therefore, found unlawful. The Committee deplored the practice of 10 years prior to the case, where criminal legal sanctions applied to unregistered religious organisations. The freedom to manifest one’s belief may be restricted in situations where it takes precedence to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. However, the required strict interpretation sees no justification for an administrative fine to effectively fulfil any of the situations and hence, to be instated for a legitimate purpose. The Committee concluded that the author’s rights to freedom of religion and to expression of that religion under article 18(1) and (3) had been violated.
Accordingly, the State party is obligated to, inter alia, provide the author with adequate compensation, including reimbursement for the fines imposed and for court fees related to the cases in question. The State party is also under an obligation to take all steps necessary to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future, including by reviewing its domestic legislation, regulations and/or practices with a view to ensuring that the rights under article 18 of the Covenant may be fully enjoyed in the State party.
Deadline for follow-up report on implementation: 25/09/2021
By Laura Cestaro