TSAVACHIDIS v. GREECE
Case struck out of Court’s list
Respect for private life Article 8
Freedom of religion Article 9
Court had earlier considered systems of secret surveillance, and adequate and effective safeguards against abuses of such systems. Also, Court had earlier ruled on the application of relevant Greek legislation to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Settlement in question was based on respect for human rights.
In a judgment delivered at Strasbourg on 21 January 1999 in the case of Tsavachidis v. Greece, 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 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 a 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 GRD 1,500,000 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.
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 would nevertheless be open to the Court, having regard to its responsibilities under Article 37, Section 1 of the Convention, to decide to continue its examination of the case if it were not satisfied that the settlement in question was based on respect for human rights as recognised in the Convention or its Protocols (Rule 62, Section 3).
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 (4 HRCD 90 ) and Manoussakis and Others v. Greece (7 HRCD 844 ) – 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.
Judgment was given by a Grand Chamber of 17 judges, composed as follows:
Elisabeth Palm (Swedish), President, 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 (FYROMacedonian), Tudor Pantiru (Moldovan), Egils Levits (Latvian), Judges, and Mr Christos Yeraris (Greek), ad hoc Judge.
Relevant provision of Rules
Rule 62 (Friendly Settlement)
3. If the Chamber is informed by the Registrar that the parties have agreed to a friendly settlement, it shall, after verifying that the settlement has been reached on the basis of respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and the protocols thereto, strike the case out of the Court’s list in accordance with Rule 44, Section 2.
Tsavachidis v. Greece"
["Τσαβαχίδης κατά Ελλάδας"],
Human Rights Case Digest: The European Convention System,
Vol./Τόμ. 10, Issue/Τεύχος 1, January/Ιανουάριος 1999,
Tribunal: European Court of Human Rights
Application number: 28802/95
Application filed: 20 Sep 1995
Judgment rendered: 21 Jan 1999
Decision or Judgment:
- [French] Tsavachidis c. Grèce - Arrêt de Grande Chambre
- [English] Tsavachidis v. Greece - Grand Chamber Judgment
Other Court or Tribunal Document:
[French/Γαλλικά & English/Αγγλικά, PDF]
Tsavachidis v. Greece (21 January 1999),
Strasbourg, Application No. 28802/95 (ECHR)
Gabriel Tsavachidis was also accused of operating a church “without the necessary permission from the local church authorities and the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs.”
But this case contained an additional element. Mr. Tsavachidis had been placed under secret surveillance by the National Intelligence Service because of his religious affiliation. A newspaper exposed a confidential Intelligence Service report, which contained “allegations prejudicial to Greek citizens who were not members of the Greek Orthodox Church.”
The European Commission of Human Rights found that Mr. Tsavachidis’ privacy had been violated by the unwarranted surveillance. The Greek government stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses “are not subject to secret surveillance on account of their religious beliefs” and agreed that they “will never be subject to such surveillance in the future.” Greece also agreed to cover Mr. Tsavachidis’ court costs. This offer of a friendly settlement was accepted.
The European Court of Human Rights, when rendering its judgment on this settlement, reinforced its earlier decisions on Kokkinakis v. Greece and Manoussakis and Others v. Greece, identifying Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “known religion” entitled to practice their religion freely and reminding other Council of Europe countries of their obligations in this regard.
[Η Άποψή μας για την Εξουσία: Νομικές Υποθέσεις],Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Media Web Site,Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.