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Thlimmenos v. Greece (application No. 34369/97)

5 April 2000


Thlimmenos, a Jehovah’s Witness, was refused appointment by the authorities to a post of chartered accountant on account of his criminal conviction. This conviction consisted of disobeying, because of his religious beliefs (including pacifism), an order to wear the military uniform.


Violation of Article 14 (non-discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 9 (freedom of religion). The authorities had failed to treat Thlimmenos differently from other persons convicted of serious crimes. Thlimmenos’s crime was different as it resulted from the very exercise of his freedom of religion, and could not, unlike other convictions for serious criminal offences, “imply any dishonesty or moral turpitude likely to undermine his ability to exercise this profession” (§ 47).

Key jurisprudence

  • “The Court has so far considered that the right under Article 14 not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed under the Convention is violated when States treat differently persons in analogous situations without providing an objective and reasonable justification.” (§ 44)
  • “However, the Court considers that this is not the only facet of the prohibition of discrimination in Article 14. The right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed under the Convention is also violated when States without an objective and reasonable justification fail to treat differently persons whose situations are significantly different.” (§ 44)
  • Greece discriminated against Thlimmenos “by failing to introduce appropriate exceptions to the rule barring persons convicted of a serious crime from the profession of chartered accountants.” (§ 48)


Thlimmenos is a pivotal case for the recognition of indirect discrimination within the European Court of Human Rights. States clearly have a duty, under the Convention to “introduce appropriate exceptions” and “treat differently persons whose situations are significantly different”.

Unfortunately, the Court is yet (as of May 2007) to find another violation of the right not to be discriminated based on the reasoning in Thlimmenos of indirect discrimination. The closest the Court has come was in Price, in which a separate opinion agreed with the Court’s finding of violation, but argued there was a case for indirect discrimination, despite the applicant not claiming under Article 14.

Related cases

  • Chapman v UK
  • Price v UK