Since religious worship involves the practice of religion, and missionary activity is essential to the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses, abandoning this in fact constitutes submission to orders of authority that violate the human right to freedom of religion. The situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia may justify granting them refugee status because of the risk of religious persecution.
The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw, in two judgments of 13 November 2020, IV SA/Wa 639/20 and IV SA/Wa 640/20, revoked for reconsideration the decision of administrative bodies of both instances to refuse refugee status to Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia.
Asylum seeking women came to Poland in 2018 due to concerns about religious persecution in their country. In Russia, in 2017, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation outlawed the Russian religious community of Jehovah’s Witnesses and issued a decision to confiscate the religious association’s property. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been recognised as an extremist organisation in Russia. Those who engage in active religious activity face fines, imprisonment, harassment and confiscation of property. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are subjected to violence and discrimination in their daily lives.
Asylum seeking women have carried out missionary activities in Russia. This is indeed part of the religious practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Individually, they have not been imprisoned or fined in Russia. Meanwhile, they were summoned for questioning in relation to their religion, the police interviewed neighbours about them, and after the police became aware of their religion, a police car started appearing regularly outside their home.
The Head of the Office for Foreigners and the Refugee Board have concluded that they do not meet the conditions for refugee status. In the opinion of the authorities, they have not proved that they are of interest to the authorities, as they have not yet been imprisoned or experienced violence, and there is no mass persecution of all Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The Refugee Council also indicated that asylum seeking women could stop their missionary activities in Russia, which would protect them from the possible risk of persecution.
The Association for Legal Intervention took part in the proceedings before the administrative court. The Association claimed that persecution on religious grounds could consist of the inability to freely profess and practise one’s religion. Asylum seeking women were actively involved in missionary activities, which exposed them to harassment from the authorities in Russia. The Association argued that they could not be required to conceal their religion in order to protect themselves from persecution in their country.
The Voivodship Administrative Court in Warsaw shared the argumentation of the Association. In its ruling of 13 November 2020, IV SA/Wa 639/20 (analogously in the ruling of the WSA in Warsaw of 13 November 2020, IV SA/Wa 640/20), indicated that
since worship involves the practice of religion, and missionary activity is significant in the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses, abandoning this constitutes de facto subordination to orders of authority that violate the human right to freedom of religion.
The Court found that the detention and questioning in relation to religion, followed by the appearance of a police car outside the home of asylum seeking women, constitutes persecution. The Voivodship Administrative Court in Warsaw revoked the decision of the administrative authorities of both instances for reconsideration.
The Association for Legal Intervention was represented before the Court by an attorney Małgorzata Jaźwińska.
The judgement is available below: