Jehovah's Witnesses, Greece Settle before the European Court of Human Rights

European Court of Human Rights - Press release issued by the Registrar (voir aussi texte français)


In a judgment delivered at Strasbourg on 21 January 1999 in the Tsavachidis v. Greece case, the European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that the case should be struck out of its list.

1. Principal facts

The applicant, Mr Gabriel Tsavachidis, a Greek national, was born in 1941 and lives at Kilkis in Greece. He is a Jehovah’s Witness.

He was charged with having opened a place of worship without the necessary permission from the local church authorities and the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs and was committed for trial at the Kilkis Criminal Court. A week before the trial on 7 April, the defence learned that an anonymous report dated 7 March 1993 and bearing the words "Highly confidential" — containing detailed information about the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities and naming the applicant as their leader — had been placed in the case file. At the beginning of the trial the applicant challenged the validity of the indictment, on the ground that the report could not be used as evidence against him as it was unsigned. The court dismissed the objection but decided not to admit the report in evidence as it was anonymous, and acquitted the applicant on the same day.

The Kilkis public prosecutor refused requests by the applicant to send him the original report so that it could be subjected to forensic examination and to open an inquiry in order to determine who had written it.

2. Proceedings and composition of the Court

The application to the European Commission of Human Rights, which was lodged on 20 September 1995, was declared partly admissible on 4 March 1997.

Having attempted unsuccessfully to secure a friendly settlement, the Commission adopted a report on 28 October 1997 in which it established the facts and expressed the following opinion: (a) there had been a violation of Article 8 (thirteen votes to four): (b) there had been no violation of Article 9 (nine votes to eight): (c) no separate issue arose under Article 11 (fourteen votes to three) and (d) it was unnecessary to consider whether there had been a violation of Article 14 taken together with Articles 8, 9 and 11 (unanimously). It referred the case to the old Court on 15 December 1997.

Under the transitional provisions of Protocol No. 11 to the Convention, the case was transmitted to the Grand Chamber of the new European Court of Human Rights on the entry into force of the Protocol, on 1 November 1998.

On 4 November 1998 the Court received from the Agent of the Government the text of a friendly settlement concluded by the Government and the applicant, under which the Government undertook to pay the applicant 1,500,000 drachmas and to state that "the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not subject to secret surveillance on account of their religious beliefs and will never be subject such surveillance in the future". The applicant’s lawyer had confirmed the agreement.

Judgment was given by the Grand Chamber composed of seventeen judges, namely:

Elisabeth Palm (Swedish), President of the Grand Chamber,
Luigi Ferrari Bravo (Italian),
Gaukur Jörundsson (Icelandic),
Lucius Caflisch (Swiss),
Pranas Kuris (Lithuanian),
Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portuguese),
Jean-Paul Costa (French),
Willi Fuhrmann (Austrian),
Karel Jungwiert (Czech),
Marc Fischbach (Luxemburger),
Nina Vajic (Croatian),
John Hedigan (Irish),
Wilhelmina Thomassen (Dutch),
Margarita Tsatsa-Nikolovska (FYROMacedonia),
Tudor Pantiru (Moldovan),
Egils Levits (Latvian)
Mr Christos Yeraris (Greek), (ad hoc judge)

and also of Michele de Salvia, Registrar, Paul Mahoney, Deputy Registrar, and  Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Registrar.

3. Summary of the judgment


The applicant complained that the Greek intelligence services kept him under surveillance on account of his religious beliefs. He relied on Articles 8 (right to respect for private life), 9 (right to freedom of religion) and 11 (right to freedom of association) of the European Convention on Human Rights, taken individually or together with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

Decision of the Court

The Court took formal note of the agreement reached by the Government and Mr Tsavachidis and noted also that the agreement afforded the applicant satisfaction.

It pointed out that in a number of earlier cases it had had to consider systems of secret surveillance in States other than Greece and to ascertain, under Article 8 of the Convention, that there were adequate and effective safeguards against abuses of such systems. Furthermore, in the cases of Kokkinakis v. Greece and Manoussakis and Others v. Greece — in which the facts had, however, been different from those of the instant case — the Court had had to rule under Article 9 of the Convention on the application of the relevant Greek legislation to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In so doing, it had clarified the nature and extent of the Contracting States’ obligations in that regard.

It followed that the case should be struck out of the list.

[See paragraphs 21-25 of the judgment and the operative provision.]

Judgments are accessible on the day of delivery on the Court’s Internet site.

Subject to his duty of discretion, the Registrar is responsible under the Rules of Court for replying to requests for information concerning the work of the Court, and in particular to enquiries from the press.

Registry of the European Court of Human Rights
F — 67075 Strasbourg Cedex
Contact: Roderick Liddell
Telephone: (0)3 88 41 24 92; fax: (0)3 88 41 27 91

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