Hasan and Chaush v Bulgaria
(Application N° 30985/96) 24 EHRR 55
The case concerns the alleged enforced replacement of the leadership of the Muslim religious community in Bulgaria and the ensuing administrative and judicial proceedings. The applicants invoke Articles 6, 9, 11 and 13 of the Convention and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention. The Commission’s report of a year earlier had expressed the unanimous opinion that there had been violations of Articles 9 and 13 of the Convention, that it was not necessary to examine separately the applicants’ complaints under Article 11 of the Convention and that there had been no violation of Article 6 of the Convention or Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.
Hasan was Chief Mufti of the Bulgarian Muslims from 1992 and Chaush was a Muslim teacher, then secretary of the Islamic Institute in Sofia. The previous Chief Mufti had been ousted following the democritisation process following allegations of collaboration with the Communist regime. However, in November 1994, the previous Chief Mufti held a separate meeting changing the statutes and making himself Chief Mufti. A group subsequently occupied the Offices of the Chief Mufti and seized all their papers and assets. The government refused to support the applicant, Hasan the Chief Mufti, as they had acknowledged the statute of November 1994, claiming that there could not be two Islamic organizations. Following negotiations with the Directorate of Religious Denominations, a reunification meeting was held in 1997 and a decision by the Government decreed that the renegade Chief Mufti had not been entitled to lead Bulgarian Muslims in the intervening years.
The applicants complained that the state had interfered with their right to organise their faith and the Government countered that they had in no way hindered expressions of religious belief e.g. prayer and other manifestations. The Court maintained that it is not every act of manifestation that is guaranteed as a right of religious expression, but that the ‘personality of the religious ministers is undoubtedly of importance to every member of the community. Participation in the life of the community is thus a manifestation of one’s religion, protected by Article 9 of the Convention.’ ‘Where the organisation of the religious community is at issue, Article 9 of the Convention must be interpreted in the light of Article 11, which safeguards associative life against unjustified State interference.’