Le Monde.fr with AFP (05.07.2012) – On Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights (CEDH) decided that France must reimburse the French branch of the Jehovah Witnesses nearly 4.6 million Euros. This amount had been seized at the end of a reassessment of taxes owed on gifts made by faithful members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The court did not, however, award compensation for suffering to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claimed one Euro in damages for each member, a total of 250,000 euros, nor did it cancel the claim for the payment of back taxes initiated in 1998. Nevertheless, the CEDH estimates that « the renunciation of the recovery would constitute an appropriate from of reparation. »
In June 2011, the CEDH, headquartered at Strasbourg, had ruled that this payment of back taxes undermined freedom of religion. The repayment of taxes on the gifts made by adherents of the faith was for the period between 1993 and 1996 when such taxes went as high as 60%. The total amount under question was 45 million Euros. According to the court, article 757 of the general tax code, which the tax administration relied on to order this repayment, as well as the administration’s implementation of this article, had not been expressed « with sufficient precision as to be predictable. »
The lawyer for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mr. Philippe Goni, commended this decision for recognizing that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have « suffered genuine persecution » on the part of the French authorities. He issued a statement in which he declared: « It is a new victory for the Jehovah Witnesses who have been denigrated and stigmatized since 1995, the year of the first parliamentary investigative report on sects in France. The European Court condemns this « Franco-Française » distinction between traditional religions and the so-called sects. »
Reacting to the Court’s decision, the Inter-ministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances (Miviludes) served notice in a statement that it would continue « to exercise vigilance regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses because of denouncements of « sectarian deviations » that it regularly receives from former members or from relatives of members of this religious community.
Translation French-English by Human Rights Without Frontiers