Ban on Islamic book in Russia breaches freedom of expression

Siding with applicants, ECHR tests limits of Russia's religious freedom and anti-extremism legislation, sees no justification for book ban.


A Russian national, a publisher and a religious association suffered a violation of their ECHR right to freedom of expression, the European Court of Human Rights has unanimously held.

No justification

In a case testing anti-extremism legislation in Russia and a ban, claimants contested a ban  on the publication and distribution of Islamic books. The three applicants in the case, a Russian national, a publisher and a religious association, complained that the Russian courts had ruled in 2007 and 2010 that books by Said Nursi, a well-known Turkish Muslim theologian and commentator of the Qur’an, were extremist and banned their publication and distribution. The applicants had either published some of Nursi’s books or had commissioned them for publication. The court found the Russian courts had not justified why the ban had been necessary.

Courts fell short

The courts had fallen short, according to the ECHR, by merely endorsing the overall findings of an expert report carried out by linguists and psychologists. The courts had not made their own analysis nor, most notably, did they set the books or certain expressions considered problematic in context. They had also summarily rejected all the applicants’ evidence explaining that Mr Nursi’s books belonged to moderate, mainstream Islam. Overall, the courts’ analysis in the applicants’ cases had not shown how Nursi’s books, already in publication for seven years before being banned, had ever caused, or risked causing, interreligious tensions, let alone violence, in Russia or, indeed, in any of the other countries where they were widely available.

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