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repealed. 1 One requires that anyone wishing to operate a place of worship must first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
which he requested that the Witness' meetings be banned. These letters started a long
||The four were charged with violating the 1938 law.
||1987-OCT-6: The Criminal Court of Heralkion acquitted them "because
members of a religion are free to conduct meetings...no 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
||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.
||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.
||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.
||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.
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
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."
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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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
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
||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.
||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.
||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.
||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.
||"...the ethnic Turkish minority also complain of police surveillance,
discrimination in public employment, and restrictions on freedom of expression."
||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.
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
In 1999-MAY, the Third Court of Appeals dismissed all charges
after the prosecutor asked that they be withdrawn.
Other religiously-related activities:
||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.
||2000-JUL: Church taxation: The government announced plans to study taxation and
ownership of church property. They are considering taxing the Greek
||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
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
Anonymous correspondent, "Jehovah's Witnesses Vindicated in Greece".
Awake! 1997-MAR-22, P. 14-16
Kodinakis v. Greece 1993; described in P. 27 of The Watchtower,
1993-SEP-1. Manuoussakis and Others v. Greece, 1996-SEP-26.
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: [email protected]
Hellenic Ministries' News Release: "European Court Finds Greek
Government Guilty of Human Rights Violations," 1998-MAR-2
Judgment, "Case of Larissis and others v. Greece,", European Court of
Human Rights, (140/1996/759/958-960) Strasbourg, 1998-FEB-24. See: http://184.108.40.206/
Human Rights Watch, "Turkish Minority Rights Violated in Greece," at:
Human Rights Watch, "January 1999, Greece" at: http://www.hrw.org/
- ReligionToday news summary, 2000-DEC-15
- Helena Smith "Greek Neopagans vs Orthodox Church," The Observer (UK),
Copyright © 1997 to 2006 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-JUL-08
Author: B.A. Robinson