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14 Dec 2023

Social Justice Center Wins Kobuleti Boarding School Case at ECtHR

On November 30, 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a judgment in a case involving the attempted opening of a Muslim boarding school in Kobuleti, which satisfied the main demands of the applicants. The case was litigated by the Social Justice Center (SJC) and the European Human Rights Advocacy Center (EHRAC), with USAID Rule of Law Program and PROLoG Program support. 

The applicants alleged that Georgian state authorities failed to take adequate measures to protect them from unlawful mob action, hate speech, and other discriminatory actions by private parties aimed at preventing them from opening a Muslim boarding school. In August 2014, the applicants rented a building in Kobuleti to use for a school.  However, their attempts to open the school were repeatedly blocked by local residents with the connivance of the police and other local authorities. They alleged that various illegal actions were taken against them, including verbal abuse, barricading the school entrance, and at one point, slaughtering a pig in front of the school and nailing its head to the entryway.

The SJC filed the case with the ECtHR in 2019. After reviewing the case, the Court found violation of Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 9 (freedom of religion) in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) with respect to applicants 2 through 8.  It found a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No 1 (protection of property) with respect to applicant number one. The Court found that the authorities did not adequately protect the private life, dignity, and religious beliefs of the applicants. They were targets of hate speech, threats, and humiliating treatment during organized protests and the government actors failed to act to protect them. In particular, the police’s inactivity created feelings of fear and insecurity and resulted in the applicants being unable to open the school. As for the violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, the Court noted that the first applicant, having rented the building, had a right to freely use it. The authorities’ failure to protect them from the citizenry, and the failure of Kobuleti Water Ltd. and the Kobuleti municipality to connect the school building to the sewage system, hindered access to the school building.

The Court held that the state is to pay the applicants EUR 2,600 for non-pecuniary damages, and EUR 5,000 for their costs and expenses. SCJ considers the case to be a major victory in the fight against discrimination on religious grounds and has created a solid precedent which will be a powerful tool that can be used for defending the rights of religious minorities in the future.


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