May 25, 2021 | Willy Fautré | Freedom of Religion and Belief | HRWF

A German court has condemned FECRIS (European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sect) for defaming the general movement of Jehovah’s Witnesses in public statements made in the framework of its conferences from 2009 to 2017 that were posted later on its website.

On 27 November 2020, the District Court of Hamburg released its verdict in the case Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany v. FECRIS (File ref. 324 O 434/18) about a long list of 32 claimed defamatory statements: 17 were fully justified and one was partially justified by the Court.

Facts of the case

On its website – – the Defendant has published reports from its annual conferences as well as articles in the German language, that are disputed. Among others:

“On May 19, 2017, report on the European conference in Brussels, “Cult undue influence and the process of radicalization, a question for debate” (hereinafter: “2017 Brussels Report”; Annex K1; applications 1.1–1.6)

On June 21, 2016, report on the European conference in Sofia, “Women in cults, gurus and victims” (hereinafter: “2016 Sofia Report”; AnnexK17; applications 1.7–1.18)

On March 24, 2014, report on the European conference in Brussels, “Cults and the False Debate on Human Rights” (hereinafter: “2014 Brussels Report”; Annex K27; applications 1.19)

On October 13, 2012, report on the conference in Salses-le-Château, “Apocalyptic cults: failed utopias and consequences for followers” (hereinafter: “2012 Salses-le-Château Report”; Annex K30; applications 1.20–1.21)

On May 7, 2011, report on the conference in Warsaw, “Systematic abuse in cults: testimonies and evidence” (hereinafter: “2011 Warsaw Report”; Annex K33; applications 1.22–1.26)

Report on the conference in St. Petersburg, “Destructive Cults and Human Rights” on May 15 and 16, 2009 (hereinafter: “2009 St. Petersburg Report”; Annex K34; applications 1.26–1.29)

Report on the conference “State responsibility to protect citizens against destructive cults” in Pisa on April 12, 2008 (hereinafter: “2008 Pisa Report”; Annex K36; applications 1.30–1.31)

Article entitled “Cults and European Values” (Annex K37; application 1.32)

On account of the statements in dispute, the Plaintiff sent a warning notice via its authorized legal representatives on May 18, 2018 and asked the Defendant to submit a declaration of discontinuance that carried a penalty (Annex K39). The Defendant did not react to the warning notice.” (Source: The court decision, available in German and in English on HRWF website).

Court decision concerning the 32 disputed statements

  • “Under penalty of a Court-imposed administrative fine for each case of infringement – or, in the event this cannot be collected, administrative detention or administrative detention for up to six months – the Defendant shall refrain from distributing and/or causing to be distributed the following regarding the Plaintiff and its members, as has been done on” and the Court listed the litigious statements concerned.”
  • Additionally, the Court ruled that “the value of the matter in dispute is set at EUR 176,000.”
  • FECRIS is ordered to pay Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany EUR 2,217.45 in prelitigation costs.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses must bear 46% and FECRIS 54% of the costs of the lawsuit.
  • “The judgment is provisionally enforceable with regard to the operative part under point I. of the judgment, but only against provision of security to the amount of EUR 94,500; otherwise, in each case, against security to the amount of 110% of the respective amounts to be enforced.”