Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

European Union

New legislation restricting missionary work breached the European Convention  

Today’s Chamberjudgment1 was held in the case of Ossewaarde against Russia (application no. 27227/17) The European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that there had been:

is a violation Article 9 (freedom from religion)of The European Convention on Human Rights.

A violation of Article 14 (prohibition discrimination) of the European Convention when taken with Article 9

This case involves a US citizen living in Russia who held Bible study meetings at his home without informing authorities.


After new Russian law requiring missionary work in 2016, the sanction was imposed upon the applicant. It was now an offense to evangelise in private residences and it required prior authorization for missionary work by a religious group.

The Court noted that the Government did not explain the reasons behind these new formalities for missionary work, which left no space for individuals engaged in individual evangelism. The applicant did not use any inappropriate methods of proselytism that involved coercion, incitement to hatred, or intolerance.

The Court’s database HUDOC will contain a summary of the case (link).


Principal facts

Donald Jay Ossewaarde is a citizen of the United States of America and was born in 1960. He was a resident of Oryol, Russia and held a permanent residence permit.

Both the applicant and his wife are Baptist Christians. They have held regular Bible study and prayer meetings at their home since 2005, when they moved to Oryol. The meetings were personally hosted by Mr Ossewaarde, who also posted information on notice boards.

Three police officers arrived at the home of the couple on Sunday, August 14, 2016, amid the backdrop of new legislation regarding missionary work. Following the Bible study, officers took statements and escorted Mr Ossewaarde into the local police station.

He was fingerprinted at the police station and shown a complaint letter about the posting of evangelical tracts on an apartment building’s notice board. Police prepared an administrative offence report on illegal missionary work by a non-Russian national.

After a brief hearing, he was taken to court and convicted of missionary work that he did not notify the authorities regarding the formation of a religious group. He was fined 40,000 rubles (approximately 65 euros).

On appeal, his conviction was upheld in a summary. All of his additional requests to review the conviction were ultimately denied.

Procedure and composition of Court

He cited Article 9 (freedom to religion) as the reason for his complaint. He claimed that he was not a member or a representative of any religious organization, but was simply exercising his right of spreading his religious beliefs. In addition to Article 9 regarding discrimination based on nationality, Ossewaarde complained under Article 14 about discrimination. He was fined a greater amount for being a US citizen than a Russian national.

The European Court of Human Rights received the application on 30/03/2017

The European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses was allowed to intervene as third party.

You can find the Court’s process for processing applications against Russia here.

A Chamber of seven judges was formed to give judgment.

Pere Pastor Vilanova (Andorra), President, Georgios A. Serghides (Cyprus).

Yonko Grozev (Bulgaria),

Jolien Schukking (the Netherlands), Darian Pavli (Albania).

Ioannis Ktistakis (Greece), Andreas B (Switzerland).

Also Olga Chernishova is Deputy Section Registerar.


The Court ruled that the Court had jurisdiction to handle the case because the facts giving rise the alleged violations to the Convention occurred before 16 September 2022. This date was when Russia became a party to the European Convention.

Article 9 – Freedom of Religion

The Court reiterated that Article 9 protects the act of sharing information about a set of beliefs with others. This is known as missionary work, or evangelism in Christianity. The Court affirmed that individuals can engage in individual evangelism as well as door-to-door preaching, provided there was no evidence of pressure or coercion.

It was noted that there was no evidence Mr Ossewaarde made any person participate in his religious meetings against their wishes or that he sought to incite hatred or discrimination. He was sanctioned for not using improper methods of proselytism, but for failing to adhere to the 2016 missionary law requirements.

The Court determined that the new requirements, making it an offense to evangelise within private homes and requiring prior authorization for missionary work by a religious group or organization, had made it impossible for individuals engaged in individual evangelism such as the applicant.

The Government did not explain the reasoning behind these new formalities for missonary service. Accordingly, the Court wasn’t convinced that interference with freedom of religion by the applicant due to his missionary activities was motivated by any “pressing social necessity”.

In a democracy, it was not necessary to sanction the applicant for allegedly failing to notify authorities about the establishment of a religious organization. Freedom to express one’s beliefs, and talk about them with others, cannot be tied to any act of State approval or administrative registration. To do so would mean that the State could dictate what a person must believe.

Accordingly, there was a violation to Article 9 of Convention.

Article 14 (prohibition discrimination) in conjunction Article 9

The Court observed that the Code of Administrative Offences had a minimum penalty for non-nationals convicted of illegal missionary work six times greater than the maximum for Russian nationals. The non-nationals could also be expelled. In an analogous situation, there was a difference in the treatment of people based on their nationality.

The Court found no reason for this treatment difference, which was difficult to reconcile with Russia’s Religions Act that provided that Russian non-nationals could enjoy the same rights to freedom of religion as Russian citizens.

Accordingly, there was a violation both of Article 14 and Article 9 of the Convention.

Only satisfaction (Article 41).

The Court ruled that Russia had to pay the applicant 592 Euros (EUR) for pecuniary damages, EUR 10,000 for non-pecuniary damages and EUR 4,000 for costs and expenses.

English is the only language that can be used to access the judgment.

More information about FORB in Russia at HRWF websiste

This article is shared:

You May Also Like

European Union

After a Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine was detained, U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi announced that the man responsible has been released....


For many years we have seen how the Soft Power used by the Kremlin works exclusively through culture, exhibitions, musical groups presentations, etc. It...


The Azerbaijani diaspora, which numbers some 60 million people around the world has entered the virtual social media battle being waged between Armenia and...

United States

The body of the stone dealer had been decaying for several weeks by the time it was found in an Upper West Side apartment....