Jehovah’s Witnesses and Health Privacy – Russia

JW Leaks has published court documents in relation to the medical and health privacy case of Avilkina and Others v. Russia heard before the European Court of Human Rights in 2013.

The case concerned alleged harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The applicants, a religious organisation and three Russian nationals who are Jehovah’s Witnesses: Yekaterina Avilkina, who was born in 2006 and lives in Nalchik; Nina Dubinina, who was born in 1959 and lives in Murmansk; and, Valentina Zhukova, who was born in 1956 and lives in the Leningrad region.

Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), the applicants notably complained about disclosure of their medical files to the Russian prosecution authorities following their refusal to have blood transfusions during their stay in public hospitals. In connection with an inquiry into the lawfulness of the applicant organisation’s activities, the prosecuting authorities had instructed all St. Petersburg hospitals to report refusals of blood transfusions by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Paragraph 33 of the Judgment states:

 “The applicants considered that, by requesting the disclosure of medical files in respect of patients who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, the prosecutor’s office had excessively and arbitrarily extended the meaning of the relevant provisions of the legislation in force at the material time. There had been no criminal action or suspicion of criminal activities on the part of the applicants which could have justified the disclosure. The prosecutor’s office had merely been “fishing” for information. In the applicants’ view the relevant legislative provision could not be interpreted in so unrestrictive a manner as to grant the law-enforcement agencies access to confidential medical information without any relation to a specific criminal investigation.”

The applicants, including a child, were represented by the Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, with assistance from the European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and an extensive legal team of lawyers from the USA, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

In the original press release relating to the incident, as released on on February 19, 2002,  under the heading “Outrage over prosecutor’s conduct”, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society published:

MOSCOW—Fears for the future of religious freedom in Russia were expressed today by John Burns, a Canadian attorney, during a test case in a Moscow court to liquidate Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“I am outraged that Tatyana Kondratyeva, the Moscow City prosecutor who brought this case, is roaming at will through confidential medical records, without the knowledge or consent of the patient or the patient’s family, reading them out in court and even discussing them on national TV. Prosecutors like that are loose cannons, answerable to no one but themselves. They are a menace to the future of justice in Russia.

“As an attorney with 20 years’ experience of litigation —mostly in medical cases— I have never witnessed such unabashed admission of the misuse of medical records. When our defence team protested, she declined to apologise, but just said, ‘So sue me!’ Well, she might be interested to know that we are now seriously considering doing just that.”

Documents relating to the case

Original Press Release relating to incident – Jehovah’s Witnesses (February 19, 2002) – pdf

Case of Avilkina and Others v. Russia – ECHR 1585-09 – Judgment (6 June 2013) – pdf

Case of Avilkina and Others v. Russia – Statement of Facts – ECHR 185-09 – (19 December 2008) – pdf

Case of Avilkina and Others v. Russia – ECHR 1585-09 – Official Press Release – pdf

Jehovah’s Witnesses – Official Press Release – pdf

jehovah's witnesses and health privacy rights

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