Salvation Army Claims Victory in Struggle with Russian Gov't

Salvation Army's Moscow branch won a long court battle against the Russian government over the group's legal status in the country.

|PIC1|After a five-year court struggle, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously ruled against the Russian state for refusing to approve the Salvation Army's registration application and for labeling it a "militarised organisation," reported the religious freedom group Forum 18 on Thursday.

The ECHR in Strasbourg, France, ruled on Oct. 5 that Russia must pay SA compensation of 10,000 Euros.

"This is an example for other churches in Russia - it tells them that they can hope for justice," said Salvation Army Moscow's Aleksandr Kharkov to Forum 18 on Oct. 11. "We are so glad that such a structure exists - somewhere to turn to."

The Salvation Army Moscow case was the first ruling by ECHR on a Russian religious organisation. Kharkov and the group's lawyers believe the case will be a precedent for others to follow.

In a statement on the Slavic Center for Law and Justice website on Oct. 6, the SA Moscow branch lawyers called the ECHR decision "historic" and said the primary impact of the ruling is "as an important legal precedent for the defense of citizens' and religious organisations' constitutional right to freedom of conscience in Russia and Europe as a whole," according to Forum 18.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), said in a statement following the court's ruling that the Russian government's "discriminatory" action against the Salvation Army represents a "serious" and "dangerous" attack against religious freedom.

Sekulow, who also serves as chief counsel of the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) and the Slavic Center for Law and Justice (SCLJ), stated that the ECHR ruling "rejected" the Russian state's action and "[cleared] the way for the Salvation Army to regain its humanitarian footing in Russia - providing much needed assistance and comfort to the people in that country."

The Salvation Army, which has helped the poor in Russia for ten years, had attempted unsuccessfully to settle the conflict outside of the court. However, the Russian government had declared the Salvation Army a subversive "paramilitary foreign organisation" as an excuse in its rejection of the group's re-registration application in 2000.

The Russian government has three months to appeal the court's decision.