Мнение со стороны

Mercedes Murillo Muñoz: "Our state has a lot of confidence in this religious group"

European Union

"First of all, I must say that I do not belong to Jehovah's Witnesses, so I do not know the details of their doctrine. But on duty, I had the opportunity to work and get to know some of their responsible persons in Spain. We have a great relationship. My impression of the Witnesses is that they are very kind people who never create difficulties in cooperation.

The only "extremist activity" I have seen from Jehovah's Witnesses is their extreme kindness and politeness. In Spain, their legal status was established many years ago, they are recognized as a well-known religion. This gave them great legal powers. For example, now they have the right to register marriages. In other words, the state has a lot of trust in this religious group. And, of course, as far as I know, in our country there have never been any occasions for lawsuits, complaints or accusations against this group because of any of its activities that could be considered extremist or illegal.

[Russia should take into account] the norms of international law, as well as the rulings of courts, primarily the European Court of Human Rights in cases of freedom of religion, including Jehovah's Witnesses, especially in Russia. For example, the rulings in the case of Kuznetsov in 2007 and Krupko in 2014, as well as in the case of 2010 on the illegal denial of the right of Moscow Jehovah's Witnesses to have a registered community. In its decision, the European Court emphasized at least two principles that should serve as a guide when deciding in such cases imposing a ban on religious activity.

First of all, the state must be neutral and impartial in relation to religious beliefs. And secondly, and most importantly, citizens as a group professing their faith in community with others must be guaranteed that the State will not illegally and arbitrarily interfere with their activities. In other words, the right to separate the state from religion, that is, from views or their expression. This implies autonomy for religious associations, freedom from interference by the state in internal organization and activities.

I think that the reaction should be the same as we are already seeing in some forums. A statement was issued by the International Helsinki Group, an organization affiliated with the OSCE, which considers the application of anti-extremist legislation (and it was not intended to apply to religious organizations as such) as arbitrary. The dangers associated with the overly broad application of this law may lead to the fact that it will be applied to any creed that for some reason is considered extremist. In fact, in 2010, when the European Court of Human Rights expressed its opinion in the case of the Moscow Jehovah's Witnesses community, it had already considered the arguments that led to the ban of this organization to be arbitrary and baseless. And now they again intend to go beyond the law, to misuse the law. Therefore, international organizations and democratic states must respond to protect the right to freedom of religion of all citizens, in this case, citizens of Russia."

Mercedes Murillo Muñoz is a professor of ecclesiastical law at the University of King Juan Carlos (Spain).