Right of Reply Agenda item “On the double standards approach in implementation of the OSCE commitments in the human rights dimension in some Western Participating States”, raised by the Russian Federation

Delivered by Ambassador Anne- Kirsti Karlsen at the Permanent Council, Vienna, 2 February 2023

I would like to exercise my right of reply to clarify the situation for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway.

The freedom of religion or belief stands strong in Norway and many different religious communities receive financial support from the state.

According to Norwegian law on religious communities, a community can have its registration withdrawn if this law is violated. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway, due to their exclusionary practices, have been found to violate children’s rights. For Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway this would mean that they can no longer claim state financial support for its activities. It would not hinder the community nor its members from exercising their religion in public or private, or to manifest their religion in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.

However, I should inform our Russian colleague that this case has been appealed by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway and on December 30, 2022, the Oslo District Court ruled that the decision on official registration will not be implemented until further notice. The court found the considerations and interests that Jehovah’s Witnesses have brought forward in their appeal to be relatively weighty. Thus, we have a well-functioning judicial system in Norway, where the right to appeal is prevalent and where you can have your case heard at several levels, without political influence.

I would therefore reject any accusations of double standards, or comparisons to the Russian Supreme Court’s 2017 decision to name Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization, preventing its members to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief, subjecting them to monitoring, harassment, fines and even prison sentences.