Ghent Court

The Shunning Court Case in Belgium

News

In a letter dated January 26th 2015, addressed to the Public Prosecutor in Ghent, Belgium, Patrick Haeck and about 15 other brave ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses took the initiative to file a complaint against the shunning policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The complaint mentioned that the behaviour towards disfellowshipped and disassociated members of this community was a violation of multiple Belgian laws:

  • How the Watchtower publications label ex-members is a hate crime;
  • Studying such publications in meetings is inciting to hate;
  • How the Watchtower publications use their mandate to shun such ex-members is discrimination;
  • Studying such publications in meetings is inciting discrimination;
  • Publicly announcing the names of such ex-members is an impairment of the dignity of the person.

A thorough investigation began in which the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to appear and even documented the view that the Public Prosecutor had nothing to do with their religion. 

On March 16th 2021, the Ghent Court of First Instance, otherwise known as the Criminal Court, decided that “religion does not stand above the law”. acknowledged the whole set of complaints as valid, and accepted shunning as a cause of damage and ordered an investigation by experts. 

On June 7th 2022, the Ghent Court of Appeal acquitted the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses of all charges brought against them by some 15 civil parties. The main argument was “freedom of religion”. An odd decision since religious freedom is part of the Universal Declaration of HUMAN Rights. People have the right to organize, and freedom of religion exists. But when organizational religious freedom conflicts with the individual freedom of religion, Human Rights, not the organizational right, prevails. The Ghent Court decided the other way around.

Ghent Courtroom
Image – Ghent Courtroom

Over time further clarity has been gained around the problem with the shunning policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The issue is not shunning but the mandatory element of the shunning policy.

Jehovah’s Witnesses communicated their “victory” purposely forgetting to mention that our lawyers forwarded the case to the Belgian High Court, called “Cassatie” in Dutch. If Cassatie breaks the ruling, another appeal court will be appointed to reconsider the case. If this new appeal court decision confirms the ruling, we have the possibility to go to the European Court. If this new appeal court decision breaks the ruling, Jehovah’s Witnesses have the option to go to European Court.

These possible rulings are creating the path to the European Court in Strasbourg

In the meantime, Shunning is a Crime is preparing for it. You can help by donating, sharing your story, and taking the survey.