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Treatment of the Jehovah's Witnesses (1987)

Laws restricting freedom of religion were passed in Greece in 1938 and have never been repealed. 1 One requires that anyone wishing to operate a place of worship must first obtain two permits: one from the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, and the other from the local bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church.

In the village of Gazi in Crete, the local Greek Orthodox priest stated during a sermon in 1987 that "Jehovah's Witnesses have a hall right here in our village. I need your support to get rid of them." A few days later, windows were smashed and shots were fired at the local Kingdom Hall by persons unknown. Four Jehovah's Witnesses from the village applied for a Government permit which they felt might give them some protection. The Orthodox priest sent a letter to the security police in Heralklion, in which he requested that the Witness' meetings be banned. These letters started a long judicial process:

bullet The four were charged with violating the 1938 law.
bullet 1987-OCT-6: The Criminal Court of Heralkion acquitted them "because members of a religion are free to conduct permit being necessary" Unfortunately, the prosecutor appealed the decision to a higher court which found the defendants guilty and sentenced them to 2 months imprisonment and a fine equivalent to about $100 USF. The Witnesses appealed to the Greek Supreme Court
bullet 1993-SEP-20: The Supreme Court upheld the conviction. The Kingdom Hall was immediately sealed by the police. The four Witnesses appealed to the European Commission of Human Rights. on the grounds that Article 9 of the European Convention guaranteed freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and the right to meet with others in public or private.
bullet 1995-MAY-25: The Commission unanimously agreed with the Witnesses. They mentioned that "The applicants...are members of a movement whose religious rites and practices are widely known and authorized in many European countries." The Commission referred the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
bullet 1995-MAY-20: The case was heard in the European Court. The Witness' lawyer maintained that the conviction violated both the European Convention and the Constitution of Greece itself. The lawyer for the Greek government explained that the law was necessary to keep other religions in check, and that since 1960, the Jehovah's Witnesses has greatly increased in numbers in Greece.
bullet 1995-SEP-26: The 9 judges of the Court unanimously agreed that the Greek government had violated the European Convention. The defendants were awarded the equivalent of $17,000 US to cover their expenses. They criticized the Greek law which allows for "far reaching interference by the political, administrative and ecclesiastical authorities with the exercise of religious freedom." The state had imposed "rigid, or indeed prohibitive, conditions on practice of religious beliefs by certain non-orthodox movements, in particular Jehovah's Witnesses."

This is the second of two similar decisions involving the Jehovah's Witnesses and Greece. 2 The oppressive legislation remains on the books.

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Treatment of Evangelical Christians during IAAF Competition (1997)

An Evangelical Christian group was harassed and attacked by police during the International Amateur Athletic Federation's (IAAF) Track and Field competition. This occurred during the last week of the Athens games which ended on 1997-AUG-10.

The victimized group, "More Than Gold" (MTG) established a booth at the stadium, and obtained permission from IAAF officials to distribute a leaflet which contained a schedule of events, stories of Christian athletes, and an advertisement for the Athens '97 games.

On the third day of the games, the police stormed the booth and forced the volunteers off the Olympic stadium premises. The police gave no indication why they did this, other than to say that they were simply following orders. During the remaining week of the games, the MTG leaders were "endlessly harassed, pushed, and even followed home by plainclothes police."

A local human rights group offered to let the MTG volunteers pass out the literature at their booths, but the police again forced them off the stadium grounds. The police later roughed them up physically, and refused to identify themselves when asked to do so.

The MTG had arranged for a performance by a Seattle WA musical group Scarlet Journey The police ordered the group to leave the stage, angering the audience. MTG representative Johnathan Macris blamed the state church for the victimization. "The Greek Orthodox Church has tremendous influence in keeping evangelical Christians from sharing their faith in Jesus Christ with the people of Greece, despite the fact that Greece takes great pride in calling itself a Christian nation. This is a sad commentary for our country which boasts a heritage of tolerance and free expression."

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Treatment of Evangelical Christians Under Anti-proselytism law (1992)

The military court of the Greek Air Force found three of their officers Mr. Dimitrios Larissis, Mr. Savvas Mandalarides and Mr. Ioannis Sarandis guilty of proselytism. They were given sentences of about 12 months duration, which were converted into fines and then suspended if the officers did not commit any further offenses during the next three years. All three are members of a Pentecostal group which stress the importance of the "Great Commission:" attempting to convert non-Christians to their faith.   They were found guilty of violating a country-wide anti-proselytism law on 1992-MAY-18. Their convictions were upheld on appeal, by the Courts-Martial Appeal Court 1992-OCT-7. However their sentences were slightly reduced.

Section 4 of Greek Law No. 1363/38, as amended by Law No. 1672/39, states:

  1. Anyone engaging in proselytism shall be liable to imprisonment and a fine of between 1,000 and 50,000 drachmas; he shall, moreover, be subject to police supervision for a period of between six months and one year to be fixed by the court when convicting the offender.
  2. By ‘proselytism’ is meant, in particular, any direct or indirect attempt to intrude on the religious beliefs of a person of a different religious persuasion (eterodoxos), with the aim of undermining those beliefs, either by any kind of inducement or promise of an inducement or moral support or material assistance, or by fraudulent means or by taking advantage of the other person’s inexperience, trust, need, low intellect or naivete.
  3. The commission of such an offence in a school or other educational establishment or philanthropic institution shall constitute a particularly aggravating circumstance."

1,000 drachmas is worth about $3.50 US; 50,000 drachmas is worth about $175

Article 13, Phrase 2 of the Greek Constitution states:

"There shall be freedom to practice any known religion; individuals shall be free to perform their rites of worship without hindrance and under the protection of the law. The performance of rites of worship must not prejudice public order or public morals. Proselytism is prohibited."

The European Human Rights Commission brought their case before the European Court of Human Rights in 1997-SEP. They argued that the Greek laws had been unfairly applied, in order to protect the interests of the Greek Orthodox Church.

The court delivered its judgment on 1998-FEB-24. 5 The Greek state was found guilty of violating Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights.  Judge DeMeyer concluded that "The law in issue in the present case is contrary to the Convention in its very principle, since it directly encroaches on the very essence of the freedom everyone must have to manifest his religion." The Greek government was fined 1 million drachmas. 500,000 drachmas [about $1,750 US] went to each of Mr. Mandalarides and to Mr. Sarandis. Unfortunately, the law itself was not declared unconstitutional.

They commented that the Government's restrictions on evangelism were "couched in vague terms" and "without guarantee of equality of treatment." The leading counsel in the case,  John Warwick, called it "a historic victory."

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Treatment of the Turkish/Muslim minority in Greece:

The Turkish minority in Greece is almost entirely Muslim. Treatment of this minority by the government has both ethnic and religious overtones. The government of Greece does recognize the Muslim minority in that country, but "aggressively prosecutes and bans organizations and individuals who seek to call themselves 'Turkish.'" Turks have been in Greece since at least 1363 when the Ottoman army routed the Serb, Bosnian and Hungarian army. They are Greek citizens. In spite of the Treaty of Lausanne which guaranteed the Muslims civil and human rights, they are heavily discriminate against in many ways. 6,7

bullet Under Article 19 of the Citizenship Law, the Greek government "unilaterally and arbitrarily" revoked the citizenship of about 60,000 non-ethnic Greeks. This law was abolished in 1998, but persons persecuted under Article 19 have never been able to appeal for the return of their citizenship.
bullet In the past, the Turkish/Muslim community was allowed to elect their own muftis (religious leaders). Since 1990 these have been largely appointed by the government.
bullet The government has often held up or denied building permits to repair or expand mosques. Persons who have effected repairs without a permit have been prosecuted.
bullet Schools for the minority are poorly funded. "Ethnic Turks educated in Turkish universities" have not been hired as teachers for many years. The two Turkish language high schools in the country are hopelessly undersized.
bullet "...the ethnic Turkish minority also complain of police surveillance, discrimination in public employment, and restrictions on freedom of expression."
bullet The government altered the boundaries of two provinces to prevent representation of the ethnic Turkish minority.

Some improvements have been made in recent years. However, the freedoms of the Turkish minority continue to be severely restricted.

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Treatment of members of the Church of Scientology

On 1997-JAN-17, the Church of Scientology, which has operated in that country as Center of Applied Philosophy was labeled a danger to society and ordered to close by an Athens court. Judge Constandia Angelaki wrote: "It is an organization with medical, social and ethical practices that are dangerous and harmful. It claims to act freely so as to draw members who subsequently undergo... brainwashing by dictated ways of thinking that limit reaction capabilities." Scientology representative Heber Jentzsch wrote: "The case is a sham. It is unfortunately reminiscent of the former junta that ruled Greece as a totalitarian state and the assault today is simply because the mission is not 'orthodox' according to the prevailing vested interests in Greece." 

In 1999-MAY, the Third Court of Appeals dismissed all charges after the prosecutor asked that they be withdrawn.

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Other religiously-related activities:

bullet 2000: Identity cards: During the year 2000, much controversy surfaced in Greece over national identity cards. Every person over the age of 14 must carry one of these cards. These had traditionally contained a symbol which identified the religious affiliation of the holder. The government decided that future cards would not contain these symbols. They cited the findings of a human rights commission which said that any declaration of religion on identity cards would discriminate against Greece's 2 percent of non-Orthodox adherents, including Moslems, Jews, and other Christians. The Greek Orthodox church objected. In spite of massive protest rallies, the  government decided to proceed with the new cards. The European Union of which Greece is a member requires that any government ID cards not identify the person's religion. More details.
bullet 2000-JUL: Church taxation: The government announced plans to study taxation and ownership of church property. They are considering taxing the Greek Orthodox Church.
bullet 2000-DEC-15: Minority faith groups win court case: After a three year battle, 11 Evangelical Christian pastors have been acquitted of operating religious groups. In Greece, minority religious groups can only function if they first obtain an operating license; licenses are only granted by Greek Orthodox bishops. The pastors had operated without a license. In Greece, proselytizing is illegal unless it is an attempt to convert a person to Greek Orthodoxy. 8
bullet 2006-JUL:Neopagans opposed: Earlier in 2006, despite opposition from the Greek Orthodox Church, a group of Neopagans who follow the ancient Greek Pagan religion was allowed to organize as a cultural association. They held a Prometheus Festival on the slopes of Mount Olympus during late June. Father Eustathios Kollas who presides over the community of Greek priests, said: "What their worshippers symbolize, and clearly want, is a return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past. They should be stopped." According to The Observer there may be as many as 60,000 practicing pagans in Greece. 9

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  1. Anonymous correspondent, "Jehovah's Witnesses Vindicated in Greece". Awake! 1997-MAR-22, P. 14-16
  2. Kodinakis v. Greece 1993; described in P. 27 of The Watchtower, 1993-SEP-1. Manuoussakis and Others v. Greece, 1996-SEP-26.
  3. Hellenic Ministries' News Release: Persecution of Evangelicals at IAAF Games in Athens, issued 1997-AUG-10. Johnathan Macris can be reached at Hellenic Ministries' Greece office via Email:
  4. Hellenic Ministries' News Release: "European Court Finds Greek Government Guilty of Human Rights Violations," 1998-MAR-2
  5. Judgment, "Case of Larissis and others v. Greece,", European Court of Human Rights, (140/1996/759/958-960) Strasbourg, 1998-FEB-24. See:
  6. Human Rights Watch, "Turkish Minority Rights Violated in Greece," at:
  7. Human Rights Watch, "January 1999, Greece" at:
  8. ReligionToday news summary, 2000-DEC-15
  9. Helena Smith "Greek Neopagans vs Orthodox Church," The Observer (UK), 2006-JUL-02.

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Copyright 1997 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-JUL-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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