Salvation Army Welcomes European Court Decision on Russia

The Salvation Army in Russia has welcomed the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg that the Russian state was in violation of the rights of the Church's Moscow branch.

Russia had previously refused to give the Salvation Army's Moscow branch legal status and had branded it a "militarised organisation".

The ECHR, however, ruled last week that the state must now pay the Church 10,000 euros in compensation, saying that the Moscow authorities "did not act in good faith" when they refused to register the Salvation Army in 1999.

Aleksandr Kharkov of the Salvation Army in Russia reacted "very positively" to the ruling, which came five years after it lodged the case.

"We would have preferred to have come to an agreement in a friendly manner, without recourse to the courts," he told Forum 18 News Service.

It is not clear whether Russia will appeal against the ruling. If it does decide to appeal it has three months to make a submission.

The latest ruling by the ECHR criticised the state's evaluation of the legitimacy of the Salvation Army's beliefs as well as the way that the state officials denied registration applications on the basis of petty faults and subjective demands. It also criticised the 1997 Religion Law's discrepancy between the religious rights of local citizens and foreigners.

After a new Russian law on religious associations took effect in 1997, the Moscow Justice Department did not re-register the branch on the grounds that its founders were foreign nationals.

The human rights court ruled there was no reason for Russia to treat foreign nationals differently from Russians when it comes to their ability to exercise freedom of religion, reported the Associated Press.

It also ruled that although members of the Salvation Army wore uniforms, "it could not be seriously maintained" that it was a paramilitary organisation advocating violence or undermining the integrity or security of the state.