The applicants are 31 Bulgarian nationals, who are Ahmadi Muslims, a religious movement aligned with the Sunni tradition. The case concerns the refusal by the authorities to register a new religious association called the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as a denomination.
In February 2007 ten individuals, including nine of the applicants, decided to set up a new religious association called the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, to be based in the town of Sandanski. The 22 other applicants subsequently became members of the community. On 26 February 2007 Mr Metodiev, the first applicant, filed with the district court of Sofia an application for the registration of the new religious association in accordance with the Religions Act. The court sought the opinion of the government department for religious affairs. On 31 May 2007 the court denied the application for registration, basing its decision on the report it received from the department, on the grounds that the Ahmadis were to be distinguished from the Muslim religion, were known for their religious intolerance, refusal of modernity and polygamy, and were regarded as a sect by Muslims. The court noted that the constitution of the religious association did not specify its beliefs but merely copied aims and activities referred to in the law on non-profit legal entities. Lastly, it expressed the view that the registration of this association could provoke a schism within the Muslim community in Bulgaria.
Mr Metodiev appealed against this judgment on behalf of the association, complaining about a breach of its right to freedom of religion. The Sofia Court of Appeal upheld the judgment. The Supreme Court of Cassation dismissed the association’s appeal. It pointed out that the Religions Act – requiring a precise statement of the beliefs and rites of religious associations – sought to distinguish clearly between the different religions and to avoid confrontations between religious communities.
Relying on Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination), the applicants allege that the courts’ refusal to register their association under the Religions Act breached their right to freedom of religion. They also relied on their right to a fair hearing under Article 6 of the Convention.
Press release ECHR 181 (2017) 09/06/2017