France must return €4.6 million to Jehovah’s Witnesses

France must return almost €4.6 million it seized from Jehovah's Witnesses for taxes on donations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday.

The ruling comes a year after Europe’s top rights court said France had interfered with the religious freedom of the Christian sect when it imposed a tax on donations from followers.

France must reimburse 4.59 million euros ($5.7 million) for the taxes “unduly paid,” the court said in a statement, as well as €55,000 ($68,000) in costs and expenses.

The Strasbourg-based court, however, rejected a Jehovah’s Witness demand for €250,000 in damages — one euro for each of the sect’s followers in France — as well as another request for France to scrap altogether its efforts to collect taxes from the group.

The Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed the French government was trying to repress their activities by imposing in 1998 a tax assessment that amounted in total to €45 million ($56 million), covering the period from 1993 to 1996, though France seized only a fraction of that amount.

Philippe Goni, a Jehovah’s Witnesses lawyer, welcomed the ruling he said recognised the sect had been subject to “genuine discrimination” by French authorities.

“It’s a fresh victory for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have been denigrated and stigmatised since 1995,” he said, referring to a parliamentary report into French sects, which followers said aimed to marginalise the group.

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French minster orders closure of Cannes mosque over anti-Semitic remarks

France's interior minister said on Wednesday he had ordered the closure of a mosque on the French Riviera because of anti-Semitic remarks made there.

The French riviera town of Cannes
The French riviera town of Cannes. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

Gerald Darmanin said the mosque in the seaside city of Cannes was also guilty of supporting CCIF and BarakaCity, two associations that the government dissolved at the end of last year for spreading “Islamist” propaganda.

Darmanin told broadcaster CNews that he had consulted with the mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, before shutting down the mosque.

The move comes two weeks after authorities closed a mosque in the north of the country because of what they said was the radical nature of its imam’s preaching.

The mosque in Beauvais, a town of 50,000 people some 100 kilometres north of Paris, was shut for six months because the sermons there incited hatred and violence and “defend jihad”, authorities said.

Last October, a mosque in Allonnes, 200 kilometres west of Paris, was closed also for six months for sermons defending armed jihad and “terrorism”, according to regional authorities.

The French government announced last year that it would step up checks of places of worship and associations suspected of spreading radical Islamic propaganda.

The crackdown came after the October 2020 murder of teacher Samuel Paty, who was targeted following an online campaign against him for having shown controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a civics class.

In the interview on Wednesday, the interior minister said that 70 mosques in France were considered to be “radicalised”.

According to the ministry, there are a total of 2,623 mosques and Muslim prayer halls in the country.