Religious organizations have the right to freedom of assembly
Bektashi Community and others v. “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” 12.04.2018 (νο. 48044/10, 75722/12 and 25176/13)
Religious Union has demanded recognition of its continued legal status under the new legislation and its request was rejected by the national courts. Infringement of Article 11 (freedom of assembly) in the light of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion).
The applicants are the Bektashi Community, a religious association, and two of its members, Mr E. Brahimaj, an Albanian national, and Mr A. Sulejmani, a Macedonian national. They both live in ‘the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’, in Tetovo and Gostivar. Mr E. Brahimaj holds the highest position in the hierarchy of the community.
The case concerned their complaint that, when new legislation entered into force in 2007, the domestic courts had refused to allow the association to retain its status as a religious organisation and to accept its fresh application for registration.
The applicant association operated as an officially recognised religious organisation from 1993.
When new legislation on the legal status of churches, religious communities and groups entered into force in 2007, the association requested that the registration court recognise its continuing legal status. Its request was however refused on a formal ground, namely it had not been registered prior to 1998, but only listed in 2000. It then made a fresh application for registration under the new legislation, but in 2010 this request was also refused, mainly because the courts found that its name and doctrinal sources were identical to those of another already registered religious organisation and that this could create confusion among believers.
Relying in particular on Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention, the applicants complained about the domestic courts’ decisions refusing to recognise the association as a religious organisation or to register it anew.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT
Violation of Article 11 read in the light of Article 9 – in respect of the applicant association
Just satisfaction: 5,000 euros (EUR) (non-pecuniary damage) and EUR 2,000 (costs and expenses) to the applicant association(echrcaselaw.com editing).