The applicants are Russian citizens and Jehovah's Witnesses. B was baptized as a Jehovah's Witness in 1998 and A became a Jehovah's Witness in 2008. Their religious activities included gathering with other parishioners and A. was further appointed so-called legal person for a congregation and responsible for preaching and teaching meetings. A and B's child, C, has also participated in Jehovah's witnesses’ activities. The applicants reported several occasions of being harassed by private persons or state authorities for their preaching activities. After Jehovah's Witnesses were banned as extremist organisation, they all moved to Moscow and began gathering with other believers in secret. They left Russia in August 2017.
By decision of 26 October 2018, the Finnish Immigration Service (FIS) rejected the application for asylum and residence permit for A and B and their minor child and issued a return decision to the Russian Federation. FIS assessed that the Russian Federation did not target Jehova witnesses solely based on their religious orientation although admitting that the applicants could be subject to justice offences (including occasional threats or criticism and individual penalties/fines) in their home country. The FIS decision was upheld by the Administrative Court and the applicants appealed before the Supreme Administrative Court.
The Supreme Administrative Court analysed country of origin information, ECtHR caselaw on Article 9 of ECHR and CJEU caselaw on Article 9 of the Recast Qualification Directive (judgment of 5 September 2012, Y and Z, C-71/11 and C-99/11, and judgment of 4 October 2018, Fathi, C-56/17.
It was noted that Jehovah's Witnesses are a religious organization engaged in active public preaching and missionary work. Participation in the church is a key part of Jehovah's witnesses' membership and religious activities. According to various reports, Jehovah's Witnesses have been under increasing pressure from state authorities in various regions of Russia over a long period of time and it is considered an extremist organisation, its activities being prohibited.
In its assessment, the Supreme Administrative Court took into consideration the seriousness of the possible consequences of religious practice and the impact of those restrictions on religious freedom for the applicants' life as one could not reasonably be required to give up religious activities or conceal them when they returned to their country of origin. The applicants reported to carry their religious activities in Finland as they considered this to be their duty.
The Supreme Administrative Court stated that persecution can be considered a serious violation of fundamental human rights, such as prosecution for the practice of religion or being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. A ban on participation in religious activities may amount to persecution if infringements of the prohibition may result in such consequences.
Based on the individual circumstances of the applicants, the Supreme Administrative Court concluded that A, B and C have reasons to fear of being persecuted in their home country due to their religion. The applicants could not be considered to have the protection of the authorities when the fear of persecution is based on legislation and the activities of the authorities.
For more information please consult our