The European Court of Human Rights has declared it to be unlawful for Russia to ban publications of the spiritual practice Falun Gong and materials that shed light on the ongoing persecution targeting the faith in China. In a ruling issued on January 31, the Strasbourg Court held that the country’s ban on four Falun Gong informational materials, including its main book “Zhuan Falun”, violated freedom of expression as defined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Pervomayskiy District Court in Krasnodar first issued the ban in August 2008, shortly after Beijing hosted its first Olympic event. The ban was applied to the Falun Gong book, two pamphlets meant to introduce the practice and promote a worldwide Olympic torch protest to highlight human rights abuses targeting the faith, and an investigative report on the Chinese regime’s state-led forced organ harvesting.
The Strasbourg Court found that the Russian legal authorities did not conduct a legal analysis of the publications’ texts nor did they substantiate the claimed harms of disseminating the materials. The court also stated that the Russian courts failed to assess the necessity of banning the publications with regard to their context, nature, and wording, and their possible harmful effect.
The European human rights court ordered Russian authorities to pay two plaintiffs 7,500 euros each as compensation and a combined 3,096 euros for any costs and expenses related to the case, along with any applicable taxes. Russia withdrew from the Council of Europe in mid-March 2022 and refused to comply with the European human rights court’s judgment issued afterward.
Levi Browde, executive director of the Falun Dafa Information Center, welcomed the European court decision, adding that he hopes to “remind the Russian authorities that it never works out to collaborate with the CCP”. The restrictive environment in Russia has drawn U.S. concerns in the past. In July 2021, after a Russian court upheld a ban on the Khakassia regional branch of Falun Gong, the State Department spokesperson Ned Price issued a statement expressing deep concerns over the act of repression.
Currently in Russia, Falun Gong adherents have continued to face pressure for adhering to their beliefs. In November, the Mezhdurechensk city prosecutor’s office filed a lawsuit seeking to ban several Falun Gong publications. The court ruled in favor of the adherents in December, but the prosecutors appealed the decision. A hearing at the Kemerovo Regional Court is scheduled for March 2.