ECHR ruling on foreign missionary expulsions

12 Feb 2009

European Court of Human Rights holds that expulsion of foreign missionary on national security grounds is contrary to freedom of religion

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held in a judgment issued today, 12 February 2009, that Russia’s expulsion of an American missionary of the Unification Church on national security grounds was incompatible with its obligation to secure religious freedom.

STRASBOURG, 12 February 2009: The ECHR, in a judgment issued this morning (Nolan and K. v. Russia, no. 2512/04), held that Russia’s expulsion in 2002 of Patrick Nolan, then a missionary with the Unification Church, violated several articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, including Article 9 (freedom of religion). The Russian authorities had maintained that Mr Nolan’s activities as a foreign missionary were a threat to national security.

Mr Nolan, who had lived in Russia for nearly eight years, was refused re-entry into Russia in 2002 following a short trip abroad, notwithstanding the fact that he possessed a valid entry visa and his 10-month-old child, of whom he was the sole custodial parent, remained on Russian soil. The expulsion followed amendments to Russia’s national security doctrine identifying foreign religious organisations and missionaries as a ‘negative influence’ threatening Russia’s ‘spiritual and moral heritage’.

In reaching its conclusion, the ECHR held that ‘Article 9 of the Convention does not allow restrictions on the ground of national security. Far from being an accidental omission, the non-inclusion of that particular ground for limitations in Article 9 reflects the primordial importance of religious pluralism as “one of the foundations of a ‘democratic society’ within the meaning of the Convention” … It follows that the interests of national security could not serve as a justification for the measures taken by the Russian authorities’.

Furthermore, the Court held that Russia was in breach of Article 38 of the Convention (obligation to furnish necessary facilities for the examination of the case) as a result of its refusal to disclose a report prepared by the Federal Security Service that had served as the basis for Mr. Nolan’s expulsion.

The Court also held that the Russia was in breach of Article 8 (right to respect for family life) due to the resulting 10-month separation of Mr Nolan from his infant son, Article 5 (right to liberty) due to the overnight detention of Mr Nolan in the airport without lawful grounds after his attempted re-entry to Russia and Article 1 of Protocol No. 7 (procedural safeguards relating to expulsion of aliens) due to the fact that Mr Nolan had been expelled before he had the opportunity to seek a review of his case.

Drew Holiner, a member of the Russian Bar, represented the applicants.

For the ECHR judgement, please click here.

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Drew Holiner