STRASBOURG, France – The Fourth Section of the European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that Bulgarian authorities violated a Christian woman’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 has spanned 20 years. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represented the woman, Petya Dimitrova, at the ECHR.
“The government has no business punishing people for their faith and manner of worship,” said ADF Senior Counsel Roger Kiska. “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.”
In 1995, Dimitrova tried to register a church as part of the Swedish Word of Life group. When Bulgarian authorities denied her request, she organized religious meetings at her 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.
Unable to receive complete justice in the Bulgarian courts, Dimitrova filed a complaint with the ECHR that claimed the government violated her freedoms protected by Articles 9 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The denial of legal registration to her church was done in a spirit which lacked any semblance of State neutrality,” the ECHR’s judgment in Dimitrova v. Bulgaria states. “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,” the judgment continues. “The search and seizure measures against the applicant were not taken in the framework of a criminal investigation, and were therefore unlawful under domestic law….”
“The court has protected Petya’s right to freely practice her Christian faith without illegal government harassment,” added Viktor Kostov, one of more than 2,500 private attorneys allied with ADF and Dimitrova’s counsel, together with ADF-allied attorney Nevena Stefanova, in the Bulgarian courts. “Bulgaria’s religious freedom violations have finally been exposed. This victory establishes clear lines against future government intrusion on the fundamental religious freedoms of European Christians.”
Press release: http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/9515
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith: www.adfinternational.org