CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne
Introduction and General Consideration on Human Rights and Minority Religions
The core aim of this paper is to demonstrate how human rights are the best means to achieve an effective respect for both minority religions’ and majorities’ rights going through a review of the European Court of Human Rights case law about religious freedom issues since 1993 up to these days.
Human rights are in fact the instrument through which a real peaceful coexistence can be actually ensured amongst human beings.
Enforcement of the Law has then to be carried out according to human rights standards.
The international treaties/covenants/conventions on human rights do contain both statements and provisions which member states are obliged to respect.
Actually it often happens that, generally speaking, minority religions and their members do encounter problems with regard to their own “religious rights” such as freedom of choice, freedom of speech, the right to proselytism, just to name a few.
The above mentioned problems are due either to the unfair application of the Law in an individual case, or to the presence of particular restrictions in the national legislations.
Those restrictions are usually aimed at preventing minority religions from practising their own religious activities.
The reasons for such restrictions are many and the most common being that often those groups are suspected and/or accused of abuses, violent offences and so called brainwashing.
In all of these cases what really needs to be pointed out is the infringement of the Law, both national and international.
Kokkinakis v. Greece
The first decision of the European Court of Human Rights was issued in 1993. It was given in the case Kokkinakis v. Greece. Whence many other cases were treated by the European Commission and by the permanent European Court afterwards, some of which ended up with a judgment. Some cases are related to family issues children upbringing, parents’ religions and other issues other cases are closer to individual religious freedom in a given context amongst many, prisoners’ freedom of religion, religious freedom of ministers of religion.
There are also cases in which the actual fact is the right to manifest personal religion in public places, the right to exteriorize one’s religion.
Other cases are linked to groups’ religious freedom right: the right to exist as a religion and other circumstances such as the right not to be prevented from existing as a religious community through the adoption of illiberal acts and laws against such groups usually referred to as either sects or cults in a generalized negative meaning.
Also other cases involving groups’ rights and the discrimination of their members such as those regarding the Italian freemasonry (Grande Oriente d’Italia di Palazzo Giustiniani v. Italy) were considered by the European Court of Human Rights.
Furthermore the Council of Europe’s policies about these issues are indeed straightforward and different times the COE’s organs have recalled the ways that should be run in theme of religious minorities’ rights.
Over a period of 16 years many cases were sifted through by both the former European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights regarding religious freedom.
Due to the shortness of time available to this speech it would not be possible to pass through all of the judgments given by the European Court of Human Rights and all of the decisions issued by the former European Commission of Human Rights, this is why the method of analysis of the case law is structured in the way, I chose, of only considering the most relevant cases; among the most relevant cases and judgments given by the European Court of Human Rights surely are the most recent ones.
And in my view I want to begin starting exactly from the last cases pinpointing the links with any correlations with previously issued judgments.
In any cases whichever is the method chosen and employed in the exposition, it is absolutely necessary to focus in on the general topic that clearly is Religious Freedom.
First of all, freedom of religion or belief is protected by a number of international Human Rights instruments; one of which is the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), whose art. 18, proclaims that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.
The Universal Declaration, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, due to its status as a Declaration had not legally binding effects.
Two years later, in 1950, the Council of Europe, an international organization based in Europe and which counts now 47 member States, adopted the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), whose art. 9 protects religious freedom.
All of the 47 member States are bound by the provisions of the ECHR and above all they are bound by the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) based in Strasbourg and created in 1959 by the COE through the ECHR.
Then let’s see what art. 9 ECHR states about religious freedom.
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public society, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedom of others”.
So we clearly realise that art. 9 ECHR is organised like art. 18 UDHR. The core difference is that art. 9 ECHR is divided in two main parts; the second of which being aimed at providing possible limitations to religious freedom exercise.
Talking about religious freedom we can state that there are essentially two dimensions of religious freedom. The forum internum which is connected with the freedom to believe whatever people want. There are not possible limitations connected to this internal dimension of religious freedom. The forum externum which concerns the exteriorisation of personal religious thoughts can be subject to limitations by the public authorities. Not every kind of limitations but only those, art. 9 says ... which are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public society, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedom of others. So the extent of possible limitation is clearly stated.
A huge part of the COE’s work is aimed at ensuring religious freedom in the States Parties. In fact the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the Recommendation 1396 of 1999 said that “The Council of Europe, by its statute, is an organisation which is essentially humanistic. At the same time, as a guardian of human rights, it must ensure freedom of thought, conscience and religion as affirmed in Art. 9 of the ECHR. It must also ensure that manifestations of religion comply with the limitations set out in the same article”.
Moreover the work of the ECtHR is considerably increasing also as it regards the protection of religious freedom. And the extent of religious freedom protection was stated in 1993 in the first case about religious freedom before the ECtHR. In the judgement in the case Kokkinakis v. Greece of 1993, the European Court affirmed that “Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundation of a ‘democratic society’ within the meaning of the Convention. It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it”.
The UN organs in 1966 adopted two International Covenants aimed at giving legal effects to the content of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
These Covenant are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Unlike the UDHR in a much more detailed fashion the ICCPR, art. 18, on religious freedom, provides that:
“1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of the children in conformity with their own convictions” .
It is apparent that “freedom to change his religion or belief” as stated in art. 18 of the UDHR disappears in art. 18 of the ICCPR. This was due to the opposition by States with a majority of Islamic faithful. As we know the Islamic shari’a does not allow Islamic people to change their religion. So from the point of view of the representatives of those states the right to conversion was not to be permitted in the ICCPR.
However article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights not only protects the right to freedom of religion, it also states that this right “shall include freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice…”. And the right to change one’s religion is emphasized by the UN Human Rights Committee in its General Comment 22 on the scope and interpretation of Article 18:
“The Committee observes that the freedom to ‘have or to adopt’ a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one's religion or belief. Article 18.2 bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert”.
Proselytism and the actual decision of an individual to convert to a new faith is considered as a manifestation of religion or belief encompassed within the right to freedom of religion or belief under international human rights law. Also other activities strictly connected to right to proselytize such as the right to “prepare and distribute religious texts or publications” General Comment 18 as part of religious teaching are included in the extent of religious freedom. The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief adopted in 1981 includes, furthermore, in its art. 6, the freedom “to write, issue and disseminate relevant publications” and the “freedom to solicit and receive voluntary financial […] contributions” which is often at the very basis of many controversial cases. The European Convention on Human Rights explicitly guarantees the freedom to change religion or belief. The European Court of Human Rights has also held that proselytism and the right of an individual to adopt a new faith are components of the right to freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the aforementioned case Kokkinakis v. Greece the ECtHR has found that:
“According to Article 9, freedom to manifest [one’s] religion…includes in principle the right to try to convince one’s neighbour, for example, through teaching, failing which, moreover, freedom to change [one’s] religion or belief, enshrined in Article 9, would be likely to remain a dead letter”. (ECtHR, Kokkinakis v. Greece, 1993).
Although these rights may be restricted by the state if it can identify concrete and pressing social interests so strong as to override religious freedom, there is a very strong presumption under international law in favour of proselytism and in favour of allowing an individual the freedom to adopt a religion of his or her choice.
The full text of Article 6 of the aforementioned 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief comprehends a list of freedoms which constitute the types of manifestation of religious exercise.
These are as below the right:
1. To worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes;
2. To establish and maintain appropriate charitable or humanitarian institutions;
3. To make, acquire and use to an adequate extent the necessary articles and materials related to the rites or customs of a religion or belief;
4. To write, issue and disseminate relevant publications in these areas;
5. To teach a religion or belief in places suitable for these purposes;
6. To solicit and receive voluntary financial and other contributions from individuals and institutions;
7. To train, appoint, elect or designate by succession appropriate leaders called for by the requirements and standards of any religion or belief;
8. To observe days of rest and to celebrate holidays and ceremonies in accordance with the precepts of one’s religion or belief;
9. To establish and maintain communications with individuals and communities in matters of religion and belief at the national and international levels.
In addition, the Human Rights Committee has also determined that any attempt to limit the right to manifest religion or belief may not be “imposed for discriminatory purposes or applied in a discriminatory manner” and “any distinction based on religion or belief should be supported by reasonable and objective criteria in pursuit of a legitimate aim under the ICCPR” (United Nations Human Rights Committee, General Comment 22).
I talked about the distinction between the forum internum and the forum externum as two dimensions of the religious freedom. Another distinction is between individual rights and collective rights, so rights, I mean, which religious groups are entitled to as groups as such. There is no provision or statement anywhere about a differentiation about religions in two different groups: good religions and bad religions.
Thus, all of the distinctions based on classification of religions into two groups, one considered acceptable by the State and classified as “religions” or “mainstream religions” and the other considered unacceptable by the State and classified as “sects” subject to repressive investigation and legislation has resulted in the stigmatizing and blacklisting of hundreds of religious groups as “sects” in Belgium and France. There is no legal justification for such a classification. Indeed, classifying religious groups into “religions” and “sects” or “cults” is itself a violation of religious human rights standards. It is impermissible and arbitrary for the government to confer benefits on groups it classifies as “religions” while denying benefits and enacting oppressive measures against groups it classifies as “sects”.
As the Human Rights Committee has noted:
“Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility by a predominant religious community”.
Likewise, Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, during his activities as UN Special Rapporteur for Religious Freedom, rejected the type of classification that forms the methodology of the draft laws about religious minorities, mind control and brainwashing in different countries:
“All in all, the distinction between a religion and a sect is too contrived to be acceptable. A sect that goes beyond simple belief and appeals to a divinity, or at the very least, to the supernatural the transcendent, the absolute, or the sacred, enters into the religious sphere and should enjoy the protection afforded to religions” (1996 Annual Report by the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom to the United Nations Human Rights Commission).
As shown above the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief is one of the most comprehensive statements regarding religious freedom. In fact its Article 2 reads: “ 1. No one shall be subject to discrimination by any state, institution, group of persons, or person on the grounds of religion or belief. 2.For the purpose of the present Declaration, the expression “intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief” means any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief and having as its purpose or as its effect nullification or impairment of the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis”.
As recalled the extent of the religious freedom as in art. 9 of the ECHR has been delineated by the European authorities many times. Similarly the Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment No. 22 on Art. 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, noted that: Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms belief and religion are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility by a predominant religious community (para. 2).
Going on the Committee found that “the fact that a religion is recognized as a State religion or that it is established as official or traditional or that its followers comprise the majority of the population, shall not result in the impairment of the enjoyment of any of the rights under the Covenant, including articles 18 [freedom of thought, conscience and religion] and 27 [protection of minorities], nor in any discrimination against adherents of other religions or non-believers. In particular, certain measures discriminating against the latter, such as measures restricting eligibility for government service to members of the predominant religion or giving economic privileges to them or imposing special restrictions on the practice of other faiths, are not in accordance with the prohibition of non-discrimination based on religion or belief and the guarantee of equal protection under article 26 . . .” (para. 9).
Moreover, the 1996 Annual Report by the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance to the United Nations Human Rights Commission provides the Rapporteur’s opinion on the broad scope of the term religion and the need for equal treatment of all religions, including so called “sects.” The Special Rapporteur noted that:
“Religions cannot be distinguished from sects on the basis of quantitative considerations saying that a sect, unlike a religion, has a small number of followers. This is in fact not always the case. It runs absolutely counter to the principle of respect and protection of minorities, which is upheld by domestic and international law and morality. Besides, following this line of argument, what are the major religions if not successful sects?”.
Even the former United Nations Human Rights Commission in two different reports in 2000 (report n° 33 par. 6) and in 2001(in report n° 42 par. 6) expressed the concern for “the increase of violence and discrimination against religious minorities, including restrictive legislation and arbitrary application of legislation and other measures”.
Not only the United Nations stated about religious freedom with regards to groups distinction’s opportunity. So in June 1999, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly adopted a recommendation which unanimously condemned:
1. states’ use of the pejorative word “sect” to describe minority religions targeted by the state;
2. states’ attempts to classify groups as either “sects” or religions;
3. states’ intrusion into the theological debate regarding whether certain groups should be considered “religions”;
4. state recognition of only certain religions;
5. state supervision of sect observatories;
6. state dissemination of information about religious groups before the groups concerned have had a chance to respond and challenge the information;
7. states’ refusal to engage in dialogue with minority faiths and promote tolerance;
8. state discrimination, marginalization and value judgments in any form towards minority beliefs.
France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Romania and other States which, after 1999, adopted or did not change after that date laws against religious minorities have violated every single one of these fundamental human rights principles articulated by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly principles which states are obliged to follow since they run from international human rights treaties which all of the above mentioned States have signed and ratified.
The text of the Council of Europe’s report is indisputable on this subject in so far as it statutes that:
“The state could agree to adopt the course suggested by certain groups and distinguish between religions by definition good and sects necessarily dangerous or even between good and bad sects. Once again, we do not think that such an approach is acceptable. Under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights States are prohibited from distinguishing between different beliefs and from creating a scale of beliefs which is, in our view, unacceptable. Merely making such a distinction would constitute a disproportionate violation of the freedom guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights because the very basis of this freedom is the absence of distinction between beliefs, which explains the state’s duty to maintain neutrality.” (COE’s Report on Sects and Cults, 22 June 1999)
Indeed the international human rights instruments’ statements and provisions are rather straightforward about these subjects.
Much less clear, in theme of religious freedom, are the behaviours of some States Parties of the UN and of the COE such as France, Belgium, Russia, Greece, Georgia, Bulgaria just to name a few.
For instance in 2001 France as a result of the activities carried out by the Interdepartmental Mission for the fight against sects (MILS Mission Interministérielle de Lutte contre les Sectes whose name is now MIVILUDES Mission Interministerielle de Vigilance et Lutte contre les Derives Sectaires) adopted law n° 504 against religious minorities and created a list of 172 religious groups considered as sects. Likewise in 2006 after ten years of investigations amongst hundreds of groups operating in the country the Belgian Parliament adopted a Law which included 189 religious groups considered as dangerous cults/sects. Also other States have been internationally condemned for human rights violations with regards to religious freedom. Now it’s absolutely unambiguous that for the reasons I explained beforehand all of these national laws/acts do infringe the international human rights law’s statements and provisions.
Christian Federation of Jehovah’s Witnesses of France v. France
The French legislation was object of a case actually declared inadmissible because the Court reiterated that Article 34 of the Convention requires that an individual applicant should claim to have been actually affected by the violation he alleges, which in this case did not happen at all before the European Court of Human Rights. It was the case Christian Federation of Jehovah’s Witnesses of France v. France. In the decision related to the case and issued on 6 November 2001 the Court stated that “That Article  does not institute for individuals a kind of actio popularis for the interpretation of the Convention; it does not permit individuals to complain against a law in abstracto simply because they feel that it contravenes the Convention. In principle, it does not suffice for an individual applicant to claim that the mere existence of a law violates his rights under the Convention; it is necessary that the law should have been applied to his detriment (Klass and Others v. Germany, 6 September 1978, Series A no. 28, § 33)”. Nonetheless after that decision the Council of Europe asked a study report from Mr Cevdet Akcali whose report n° 9612 about the French legislation was adopted on 31st October 2002. The rapporteur declared it was not possible to state about that law and that it would have been the responsibility of the European Court of Human Rights to state about that law in a hypothetical individual case of religious freedom violation. At the same time Mr Akcali invited the French government to clarify some of the aspects contained in that law one of which being the definition of “sect” such a definition of ‘sect’ as well as the word sect was not present at all in the text of that law.
Thus we can say that there is often a ‘gap’ between the international legislation which is mandatory for the relevant international organizations’ member states and the national praxis.
Church of Scientology of Moscow v. Russia and Religionsgeneinschaft Der Zeugen Jehovas v. Austria
Last year at the 2008 Conference held at the London School of Economics I reported about the judgment issued by the European Court of Human Rights in the case Church of Scientology of Moscow v. Russia the 6th of April 2007. It is just the case to recall this case in which the applicant Church and its members as well as other religious groups were not allowed to operate and exist at all in that country. This was due to the adoption of a new legislation about religious minorities registration in Russia which was packed with subterfuges aimed at preventing religious minorities from existing and operating any longer in the country. The ECtHR founded a violation of the applicant church’s rights. Last year, few days before the 2008 Conference, a Spanish Court, the Audiencia Nacional, recognized to the Church of Scientology the status as a bona fide religion in that country. The same statement was done in 2000 by the European Court of Human Rights in the case Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria when asserted that “[…] a failure of the authorities to remain neutral in the exercise of their powers in the field of registration of religious communities must lead to the conclusion that the State interfered with the believers’ freedom to manifest their religion. Except in very exceptional cases, the right to freedom of religion excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express them are legitimate”. This statement was recalled in September 2004 by the COE in a resolution with some recommendations addressed to Bulgaria in which the Organisation stated that Bulgaria should not interfere with religious societies operating in the country.
With regards to this last point concerning the undue interference of State with religious rights and particularly the subterfuges at which the European Court of Human Rights hinted previously in the judgment in the case Church of Scientology of Moscow, the European Court itself issued a judgment in the case Religionsgeneinschaft Der Zeugen Jehovas v. Austria of 31st July 2008. The subterfuges and stratagems employed by the State, Austria in this case, were based upon a prejudice against Jehovah’s witnesses in that country and aimed at preventing that religious community from fully enjoying a complete legal status as a religion like instead many other organizations in the country actually do. Particularly the point there was that Austrian authorities did not confer the legal status to the congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses; the European Court stressed the point that the autonomy of religious confessions in a democratic society is indisputable for pluralism in a democratic society. In addition the Austrian authorities did not provide the European Court with sufficient evidence and reasons on which they had based the unjustified refuse of such a legal recognition to the applicant community. The Court stated that it would have been acceptable for a religious community to obtain the legal recognition after a period of ten years of investigation in such an event it was a newly created community or organization; but it was not the case of Jehovah’s witnesses organization, which is actually present in that country as well as globally since many years and then its existence was known by the national authorities very well. Upon the above statements the Court found the manifested interference concreted in a long lasting investigation by the national authorities as neither necessary nor justifiable for the safeguard of religious freedom according to article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights read in conjunction with art. 14, then a violation of art. 9 ECHR was declared.
97 Members of the Gldani Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses & 4 Others v. Georgia
In the same wavelength there are other cases one of which regards Jehovah’s witnesses too. It is the case of 97 Members of the Gldani Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses & 4 Others v. Georgia. In this case the point was that the applicant community’s members had been, several times, victims of physical attacks and violent assaults by the member of a coalition lead by a defrocked orthodox priest and his followers and the police investigator responsible for the case stated that, on account of his Orthodox faith, he could not be impartial in conducting the investigation. This inaction was considered, by the European Court, like a refuse to ascertain the fact by the public authorities and being this refuse neither necessary nor justifiable they declared a violation of art. 9 of the European Convention as well as a violation of article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and of article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of only some of the applicants.
Leela Förderkreis E.V. and Others v. Germany
In the same context religious groups rights another relevant judgment was issued by the European Court of Human Rights in the case Leela Förderkreis E.V. and Others v. Germany the 6th of November 2008.
The applicants were, in particular, three associations registered under German law, Leela Förderkreis e.V., Wies Rajneesh Zentrum für spirituelle Therapie und Meditation e.V. and Osho Uta Lotus Commune e.V.. They are religious or meditation groups belonging to the Osho movement, formerly known as the Shree Rajneesh or Bhagwan movement, which emerged in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1979 the German Government launched a campaign to draw attention to the potential dangers of such groups. The Government referred to them as “sects”, “youth sects”, “youth religions” and “psycho sects” and issued warnings that they were “destructive”, “pseudo-religious” and “manipulated their members”. In October 1984 the applicant associations brought proceedings in which they requested that the Government refrain from describing them in such negative terms. Following the domestic courts’ dismissal of their claims, they brought a constitutional complaint. In June 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court prohibited the use of “destructive”, “pseudo-religious” and “manipulated their members” but, considering that the Government could provide the public with adequate information about such associations, authorized the remaining terms. Relying on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time), the applicant associations complained about the excessive length of the civil proceedings. They also alleged that the Government had infringed their duty to be neutral in religious matters and had embarked on a repressive and defamatory campaign against them, in breach of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). The Court noted that the proceedings had lasted in total 18 years and one month, of which more than 11 years had been before the Federal Constitutional Court. Even in the unique context of German reunification, the Court considered that that length had been excessive and therefore held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1. The Court assumed that the Government’s information campaign had interfered with the applicants’ right to manifest their religion or belief. That interference had, under the Basic Law, been “prescribed by law” and pursued the “legitimate aim” of providing information about the dangers of groups which were commonly known as sects. The information campaign had aimed to settle a matter of major public concern at the relevant time by warning citizens of a phenomena viewed as disturbing, that is to say the emergence of new religious movements and their attraction for young people. The campaign had not, however, in any way prohibited the applicant associations’ freedom to manifest their religion or belief. Indeed, the Constitutional Court had set certain limits by authorizing some statements and not others. The authorized terms (“sects”, “youth sects” and “psycho sects”), even if somewhat pejorative, had been used at the relevant time quite indiscriminately for any kind of non-mainstream religion. The Court further noted that the Government refrained from further using the term “sect” in their information campaign following an expert recommendation issued in 1998. The Court therefore found that the Government’s statements, as delimited by the Constitutional Court, had not overstepped what a democratic State might regard as in the public interest. Accordingly, the interference with the applicant associations’ right to manifest their religion or belief had been justified and had been proportionate to the aim pursued and the Court held, by five votes to two, that there had been no violation of Article 9. It further held unanimously that no separate issue arose under Article 14 taken in conjunction with Articles 9 and 10. The three applicant associations were awarded EUR 4,000 for costs and expenses.
The point that deserves to be stressed here is that this judgment conducts to end an argument regarding the so called psycho-sects lasted about forty years in Germany and not only in Germany. The Court only declared a violation of Art. 6 § 1 and 13 of the European Convention but at the same time it was recognized that pejorative terms like sect, psycho-sect and youth-sects cannot be employed by States, recognizing also in this way a genuine respect of religious freedom for all.
Dogru v. France and Kervanci v. France
Two other judgments were issued the 4th of December 2008. They are Dogru v. France and Kervanci v. France and regard personal religious rights: the right to use headscarf in public schools. Personally I considered and wrote and spoke on this topic several times and I would say that these judgments’ general statements may be considered as a conclusion of a discussion among scholars and authorities lasted for years.
Shortly, the Court held unanimously in both cases that there had been no violation of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The applicants, Belgin Dogru and Esma-Nur Kervanci, are French nationals who were born in 1987 and 1986 respectively and live in Flers (France). The two cases concerned the applicants’ exclusion from school as a result of their refusal to remove their headscarves during physical education and sports classes.
On numerous occasions in January 1999 the applicants went to physical education and sports classes wearing their headscarves and refused to take them off, despite repeated requests to do so by their teacher, who explained that wearing a headscarf was incompatible with physical education classes.
In February 1999 the school’s discipline committee decided to expel the applicants from the school for breaching the duty of assiduity by failing to participate actively in physical education and sports classes.
In March 1999 the Director of Education for Caen upheld the decision of the school’s discipline committee, after obtaining the opinion of the appeal panel. The panel had justified the prohibition on wearing the headscarf during physical education classes on the basis of compliance with schools’ internal rules, such as those governing safety, health and assiduity.
On 5 October 1999 the Caen Administrative Court rejected applications lodged by the applicants’ parents seeking to have the Director of Education’s decision set aside. The court held that, by attending physical education and sports classes in dress that would not enable them to take part in the classes in question, the applicants had failed to comply with the duty to attend classes; that their attitude had created an atmosphere of tension within the school and that, on the basis of all the factors involved, their expulsion from the school had been justified, regardless of the proposal they had made at the end of January to wear a hat instead of a headscarf. The Nantes Administrative Court of Appeal subsequently upheld those judgments, noting that the applicants had overstepped the limits of the right to express and manifest their religious beliefs on the school premises. Finally, the Conseil d’Etat declared inadmissible an appeal on points of law submitted by the applicants’ parents.
The applicants indicated that, subsequent to their exclusion, they have continued their schooling by correspondence classes.
Relying on Article 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion), the applicants complained of an infringement of their right to practice their religion. They also alleged that they had been deprived of their right to education within the meaning of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education).
With regards to art. 9 ECHR, the Court observed that the purpose of the restriction on the applicants’ right to manifest their religious convictions was to adhere to the requirements of secularism in state schools.
On the basis of the decisions by the Conseil d’Etat and the ministerial circulars issued on this question, the Court noted that the wearing of religious signs was not inherently incompatible with the principle of secularism in schools, but became so according to the conditions in which they were worn and the consequences that the wearing of a sign might have.
In that connection the Court referred to earlier judgments in which it had held that the national authorities were obliged to take great care to ensure that, in keeping with the principle of respect for pluralism and the freedom of others, the manifestation by pupils of their religious beliefs on school premises did not take on the nature of an ostentatious act that would constitute a source of pressure and exclusion. In the Court’s view, that concern did indeed appear to have been answered by the French secular model.
In the applicants’ cases the Court considered that the conclusion reached by the national authorities that the wearing of a veil, such as the Islamic headscarf, was incompatible with sports classes for reasons of health or safety was not unreasonable. It accepted that the penalty imposed was merely the consequence of the applicants’ refusal to comply with the rules applicable on the school premises of which they had been properly informed and not of their religious convictions, as they alleged.
The Court also noted that the disciplinary proceedings against the applicants fully satisfied the duty to undertake a balancing exercise of the various interests at stake and were accompanied by safeguards that were apt to protect the pupils’ interests.
As to the choice of the most severe penalty, the Court reiterated that, where the ways and means of ensuring respect for internal rules were concerned, it was not the Court’s role to substitute its own vision for that of the disciplinary authorities which, being in direct and continuous contact with the educational community, were best placed to evaluate local needs and conditions or the requirements of a particular training.
The Court therefore considered that the penalty of expulsion did not appear disproportionate, and noted that the applicants had been able to continue their schooling by correspondence classes. It was clear that the applicants’ religious convictions were fully taken into account in relation to the requirements of protecting the rights and freedoms of others and public order. It was also clear that the decision complained of was based on those requirements and not on any objections to the applicants’ religious beliefs.
Accordingly, the Court concluded that the interference in question had been justified as a matter of principle and had been proportionate to the aim pursued. There had therefore been no violation of Article 9.
With regards to Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 the Court held that no separate question arose under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, as the relevant circumstances were the same as for the complaint already examined under Article 9
Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (Metropolitan Inokentiy) v. Bulgaria
Last January 22nd 2009, a judgment regarding religious communities’ properties and State interference with internal organization of religious confessions was issued in the case Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (Metropolitan Inokentiy) v. Bulgaria by the ECtHR.
The first applicant, the Holy Synod presided over by the Metropolitan Inokentiy (“the alternative Synod”), is one of the two rival leaderships of the divided Bulgarian Orthodox Church (the Church). The remaining applicants are six employees of the alternative Synod, namely Assen Milushev, Petar Petrov, Stoyan Gruichev, Liubka Nikolova, Rositsa Grozdanova and Liliana Shtereva.
Soon after the democratic changes of 1989, a number of Christian Orthodox believers, who subsequently became popularly known as the “alternative Synod”, sought to replace the existing leadership of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. They considered that Patriarch Maxim, who had been leading the Church since 1971 and had been nominated by the Communist Party, had been proclaimed Patriarch in violation of traditional canons and the statute of the Church. In 1992 the Government intervened in the internal organisation of the Church by appointing an interim council pending the holding of a Church Convention to elect a new Patriarch. The Bulgarian courts found that that intervention was unlawful.
In the following years, the leadership dispute within the Church continued. Each of the two leaderships had its supporters among the clergy and the believers and held religious conventions and congregations with the aim of uniting the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and having its leader recognised as the sole legitimate Head of the Church. In the ensuing judicial proceedings for registration the courts issued contradictory decisions. Each of the conflicting groups in the Church associated itself with one of the main political forces at the time.
Following a change in Government, the majority’s political leaders publicly supported Patriarch Maxim and declared their intention to unite the Church. A new law - the Religious Denominations Act 2002 - was introduced with a view to putting an end to the divisions in the Church. The law prohibited religious denominations from having the same name and stated that persons who had split from a registered religious institution were not entitled to use that institution’s name or assets. The law also exempted the Church from a formal registration procedure of its central leadership.
In 2003, the alternative Synod was refused registration of most of its local church councils throughout the country. The main argument of the courts for their refusal was that registration could only be granted if requested by the person representing the Church. In their view, this had not been the case.
Following a complaint filed by Patriarch Maxim against the leader of the alternative Synod and his supporters, on 19 and 20 July 2004 local prosecutors throughout the country issued orders for the eviction of persons “unlawfully occupying” churches and religious institutions. As a result the police blocked more than 50 churches and monasteries in the country, evicted the religious ministers and staff who identified themselves with the alternative Synod, and formally transferred the possession of the buildings to representatives of the rival leadership.
Relying on Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), the applicants complained that in 2003 and the following years the state had interfered arbitrarily in the internal dispute in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church with the aim of forcing all clergy and believers under the leadership of the person favoured by the authorities. The applicants also submitted that they had not had access to court, had been deprived of their property and had not had effective remedies in respect of their Convention rights, in breach of Articles 6 (right to a fair hearing), Article 1 of Protocol 1 (protection of property) and Article 13 (right to effective remedy).
With regards to Article 9 the Court first noted that, in the context of an ongoing dispute between two groups claiming leadership of the Church, in 2002 and the following years the State had taken action to terminate the autonomous existence of one of the two opposing groups and had provided the other group with exclusive control over the affairs of the whole religious community. It found that that had been contrary to the Government’s duty to remain neutral in such matters, as it had not been a question of merely recognising the canonical leadership of the Church but a question of which leadership had been canonical. The authorities had therefore taken sides in an unsettled controversy deeply dividing the religious community. That had amounted to an interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of religion, which had included the right to organisational autonomy of the religious community.
The Court noted that the whole system of registrations of religious communities in Bulgaria had been influenced by political considerations for decades and that by 2002 the Church had been genuinely divided for more than ten years. The Court disagreed with the Government’s view that the applicants had been nothing more than persons occupying churches unlawfully. The Court observed that the alternative Synod’s leader had been nominated by a Church convention attended by a significant number of clergy and believers. Further still, believers, church councils and senior clergy members throughout the country had accepted the alternative Synod as the legitimate leadership of the Church.
The Court held that the need to remedy the unlawful doings of the governments in 1992 and the following years could not justify the excessive acts that had occurred in the present case, namely the suppression of the applicants’ activities as an alternative leadership within the Church and their expulsion from temples, monasteries and other Church premises. While the Court accepted that in 2002 the Bulgarian authorities had had good reasons to consider action to help overcome the conflict in the Church, only neutral measures ensuring legal certainty and foreseeable procedures for the settling of disputes could have been justified. The Court criticised the fact that hundreds of clergy and believers were evicted from their temples in July 2004 without a proper legal basis. That had amounted to an intervention by the prosecutors and the police in a private law dispute which should have been examined by the courts.
The Court further considered that the relevant provisions of the Religious Denominations Act 2002 had been formulated with a false appearance of neutrality. The courts and prosecutors had in fact identified the “valid” leadership of the Church essentially on the basis of the view held by the majority in Parliament and the Government that Patriarch Maxim was the sole legitimate representative of the Church. The Court found that the 2002 Act had not met the Convention standards of quality of the law, in so far as it had left open to arbitrary interpretation the issue of legal representation of the Church and had the effect of forcing the believers to accept a single leadership against their will.
The Court took note of the Government’s position about the historical importance of Church unity but stated that the case before it was not about the desirability of finding a solution. It concerned the fact that the authorities had decided to impose a solution through legislative intervention and wide ranging actions to eliminate one of the two opposing leaderships and force the believers to accept the other leadership. The Court’s case-law in this respect was clear: in democratic societies it was not for the State to take measures to ensure that religious communities remained or were forced under a unified leadership.
The Court concluded that the sweeping measures which the state authorities had undertaken, namely forcing the religious community to unite under a single leadership had been unlawful and unnecessary, and had gone against the organisational autonomy of the Church, in violation of the applicants’ rights under Article 9.
As regards Article 6 and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, concerning the six individual applicants, the Court found that their complaints under these Articles had to be rejected as unproven.
Concerning the alternative Synod, the Court held that no separate issue arose under these Articles. In particular, the Court found that the alternative Synod’s claims under both of these Articles concerned in fact state interference in the internal organisation of the Church, which had already been examined under Article 9.
The Court found no violation of this Article. It considered that, as the violation of the applicants’ rights had resulted from the 2002 law and the measures for its implementation, the State had not been obliged to make available special remedies to challenge that law.
Nolan and K. v. Russia
Another really relevant and recent judgment that deserves to be mentioned is in the case NOLAN and K. v. Russia. This is a particularly shocking case not only with regards to the treatment received by the applicant but also in consideration of the effects of the authorities conduct as regards the applicant’s child.
The applicants, Patrick Francis Nolan, and his son, K., were citizens of the United States of America who were born in 1967 and 2001 respectively and live in Tbilisi (Georgia). Mr Nolan was the sole custodial parent of K. and was a member of and missionary for the Unification Church, the spiritual movement founded by Mr Sun Myung Moon (Rev. Moon) in 1954.
In 1994 the Unification Church invited Mr Nolan to assist in its activities in Russia. He was granted leave to stay by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, renewable on a yearly basis. He was based in Rostov-on-Don (Southern Russia) where he worked with local branches of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU).
In January 2000 the Concept of National Security of the Russian Federation was amended by the acting President of the Russian Federation, to read: “Ensuring the national security of the Russian Federation also includes opposing the negative influence of foreign religious organisations and missionaries...”.
In August 2001 the Rostov FFWPU was dissolved by the District Court on the ground that, for more than three consecutive years, it had failed to notify the registration authorities of the continuation of its activities.
In October 2001 Mr Nolan was summoned by the Rostov police who demanded his passport and stamped it to the effect that his residence registration was “terminated”.
The applicant subsequently obtained registration with the police through other FFWPU branches, first in Novorossiysk and then in Krasnodar. His residence registration in Krasnodar was valid until 19 June 2002.
On 19 May 2002 Mr Nolan travelled to Cyprus. His son stayed in Russia with his nanny. On his way back, on arrival at Moscow airport on the night of 2 June 2002, passport control directed Mr Nolan to the airport transit hall. Asked to wait, he was locked in a small room with no phone, ventilation or windows. Informed that his visa had been cancelled, he was told to lie down and sleep until the morning.
On the morning of 3 June 2002, after knocking and shouting for 20 minutes, the applicant was allowed to leave under guard and use the toilet. He was told that he would not be allowed to cross the Russian border, without further explanation.
Mr Nolan bought a ticket to Tallinn (Estonia) and was accompanied by a border guard until he boarded his flight. His passport was returned to him, but not his visa. In June 2002 Mr Nolan sent letters to several official bodies, asking why he had been denied entry and detained. He also complained that he had been detained for over nine hours, and that as a result his 11-month-old son had been left behind in Russia without his parents. He requested assistance to be reunited with him. Many of his complaints did not receive a response.
In July 2002, although in possession of a new valid multiple-entry visa, he was denied entry when trying to cross the Finnish-Russian border.
In August 2002 Mr Nolan challenged the decision refusing his return to Russia and in March 2003 Moscow Regional Court dismissed his complaint. The judgment, relying on a report of 18 February 2002 by Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) experts, stated that “the [applicant’s] activities in our country are of a destructive nature and pose a threat to the security of the Russian Federation.” As to Mr Nolan’s overnight detention, the Regional Court ruled that the applicant had not been deprived of his liberty. It further noted that the Russian authorities had not prevented the applicant from reuniting with his son in any country other than Russia.
The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation also subsequently dismissed Mr Nolan’s appeal, basing their decision on the administrative competence of the FSB and the Border Control in the field of national security and border control.
On 12 April 2003 the applicant was reunited with his son; his nanny, a Ukrainian national, having brought him to Ukraine.
Despite repeated requests by the European Court, the Russian Government has failed to provide a copy of the FSB report of 18 February 2002 in order to clarify why the applicant was expulsed from Russia.
Relying in particular on Articles 5, 8 and 38 § 1 (a) and Article 1 of Protocol No. 7, Mr Nolan complained that, on the basis of a report which the Russian authorities have never produced, he was detained overnight at Moscow airport, expulsed from Russia even though he had a valid visa and separated from his infant son for ten months. Mr Nolan further complains that he was prevented from re-entering Russia in order to punish him for manifesting and spreading his religion, in breach of Articles 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and 14.
In respect of Article 38 § 1 (a), the Court noted that, despite its repeated requests, the Russian Government had failed to produce a copy of the FSB’s report of 18 February 2002 which apparently served as the basis for Mr Nolan’s expulsion on the ground that Russian law did not lay down a procedure for communicating classified information to an international organisation.
The Court found that the Russian Government could have addressed those concerns by editing out the sensitive passages or supplying a summary of the relevant factual grounds, and concluded that, in not doing so, the Government had fallen short of their obligation to cooperate with the Court, in breach of Article 38 § 1 (a).
With regards to article 5 §§ 1 and 5, the Court found that the conditions of Mr Nolan’s overnight stay in the Moscow Airport transit hall had been equivalent in practice to a deprivation of liberty, for which the Russian authorities had been responsible.
Given the lack of accessibility and foreseeability of the Border Crossing Guidelines, the Court concluded that the national system had failed to protect Mr Nolan from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, in violation of Article 5 § 1.
The Court further found that the applicant had not had an enforceable right to compensation, the Russian courts not having considered that Mr Nolan had been deprived of his liberty. The Court therefore concluded that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 5.
The Court held that it was not necessary to examine the complaint under Article 5 § 4.
On the point of article 8, the Court observed that the ten months period of physical separation between K. and his father had directly resulted from a combination of Mr Nolan’s expulsion from Russia by the authorities and their failure to notify him of that decision. Mr Nolan had in effect had no opportunity to make arrangements for his son to leave Russia.
Consequently the Court found that there had been a violation of Article 8, on the account of the Government’s failure to assess the impact of their decisions on the welfare of the applicant’s son. As regards article 9, the Russian Government had consistently maintained that the threat to national security had been posed by the applicant’s “activities” rather than “religious beliefs”. However, it had never specified the nature of those activities and had refused to produce the FSB report which could have clarified the factual grounds for Mr Nolan’s expulsion.
Given the primary religious nature of the applicant’s activities and the general policy as set out in the Concept of National Security of the Russian Federation, that is to say that foreign missionaries posed a threat to national security, the Court considered it established that Mr Nolan’s banning from Russia had been designed to repress the exercise of his right to freedom of religion. However, since the interests of national security were deliberately omitted as a permitted ground for restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of religion in Article 9 of the Convention, such interests could not be relied upon as a justification for the measures taken by the Russian authorities against Mr Nolan.
Finding that the Russian Government had not put forward any plausible legal or factual justification for Mr Nolan’s expulsion on account of his religious activities, the Court found that there had been a violation of Article 9.
The Court held that it was not necessary to examine the complaint under Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 9.
Concerning Article 1 of Protocol No. 7, the Court found that Mr Nolan, at the relevant time a lawful resident with a valid annual multiple-entry visa, could be considered to have been expelled from Russia. Furthermore, Mr Nolan had been living in the country since 1994 and, his son still a resident, he could legitimately have expected to continue his residence there.
The Court observed that the Russian Government had not corroborated their claim that Mr Nolan’s expulsion had been necessary in the interests of national security or public order, an exception permitted under paragraph 2 of Article 1 of Protocol No. 7. Accordingly, there was no reason to apply that exception and the applicant should have been allowed to exercise the procedural safeguards set out in paragraph 1 prior to his expulsion. The Government, however, had not provided any explanation as to why the decision to expel Mr Nolan of 18 February 2002 had not been communicated to him until such time as he had effectively been removed from the country three months later. Nor had he been allowed to have his case reviewed. The Court therefore found a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 7.
This last case is a very scary reading and allows us to recall what reported at the beginning of this speech as regards a differentiation between good religions and bad religions and States’ attitudes against such groups generally considered like sects or even dangerous cults. The burden of proof is on the State that is asked to comply with the general requirements in order to justify any limitations according to Art. 9 § 2 of the ECHR.
Gütl v. Austria, Löffelmann v. Austria and Lang v. Austria
Finally, there are three more cases I want to mention. All of them regard Jehovah’s witnesses and their refusal to perform military service. The concerned State is Austria in all of the cases that are namely Gütl v. Austria and Löffelmann v. Austria whose judgments were issued the 11th of March 2009 and finally Lang v. Austria whose judgment was issued eight days later, the 19th of March 2009.
With regards to the first two cases, the applicants were two Austrian nationals: Markus Gütl who was born in 1977 and lives in Belgrade (Serbia); and, Philemon Löffelmann who was born in 1976 and lives in Maissau (Austria). They are members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Relying in particular on Articles 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights, they complained of having been forced to perform civil service in lieu of their military service while members of other recognised religious societies holding religious functions comparable to theirs were exempted from that requirement. The European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 9 of the Convention on account of discrimination against the applicants on the ground of their religion. The Court awarded Mr Gütl 4,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and 8,462.30 EUR in respect of cost and expenses and Mr Löffelmann 4,000 EUR in respect of non-pecuniary damage and 10,698.53 EUR in respect of cost and expenses.
In the latter case, Lang v. Austria, the applicant, Gerhard Lang, was an Austrian national who was born in 1969 and lives in Altmünster (Austria). He is a Jehovah’s Witness and is an elder (Ältester) for the community which involves providing pastoral care, leading church services and preaching. Relying in particular on Articles 4 (prohibition of forced labour), 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights, he complained that he had not been exempt from military service, unlike members of other recognised religious societies holding comparable religious functions. The European Court of Human Rights considered the Austrian Military Service Act discriminatory and held, by six votes to one, that, as a result of the application of that Act, Mr Lang had not been exempt from military service, in violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 9. The Court awarded Mr Lang 12,664.36 euros (EUR) for costs and expenses.
This last case is even more discriminatory than the other two; in fact in the latter the applicant was neither allowed to perform the alternative civil service being forced to perform the obligatory military service.
As a common point, what makes all of the above mentioned cases difficult to understand is the COE’s State parties conduct, which is often reiterated time by time also after a European Court’s condemnation.
All the State parties of the Council of Europe, which numbers 47 members now, are obliged to respect human rights as stated in the European Convention on Human Rights and are fully bound by the European Court of Human Rights judgments.
What the European Court does is a very difficult work because there are many points to consider and many interests to ponder. Each State is different from any others and every States are bound by the same obligations. The ECtHR does interpret the ECHR in every single States according to the national contexts and legal systems and in the light of the previous Court cases. Unfortunately in the last years there was a dramatic increase in the number of complaints lodged with the European Court of Human Rights. What’s the main reason of such an increase? What are the inner problems that lead to violations of religious freedom in the Council of Europe’s State parties?
Usually papers and speeches are concluded with clear statements and points of view explained.
In my view there is only one way to conclude this paper: asking some questions myself.
What are the next steps to be taken in theme of religious freedom?
What should national and European and even international organization do in the field of minority religions and religious freedom too?
What can people and young people do with regards to these topics?
What could minority religions and faithful do in order to make themselves better understood and known by the general public and national authorities?
Why should State respect religious minorities on the basis of the same principles on which they deal with majority religions often referred to as traditional or mainstream religions?
Does the use of cults observatories and sects missions make any sense? Does it respect the human rights standards?
Why and in what way should the international authorities, such as the Council of Europe, strengthen and foster the human rights of religious minorities through policies recommendations and other instruments?
..and so on.
Any answer is up to anybody. I will only cite an old Chinese proverb which reads:
“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people”.
Thank you for your attention,