Violations of the freedom of religion and belief for MISA yoga practitioners in Romania
For almost a decade Soteria International has been raising awareness among international and European politicians and Human Rights NGOs about violations of the freedom of religion and belief in Romania in the case of the spiritual movement MISA and its founder Gregorian Bivolaru.
To remind briefly the case: on 18 March 2004 Romanian conducted an unprecedented, massive attack on the spiritual community of MISA yoga school, using brutal force and weapons against its peaceful inhabitants. The attack was broadcasted nationwide, marking the beginning of one of the most devastating and sinister defamation and marginalization campaign in Romanian media directed against the movement MISA and its followers.
During time, Romania refused to at least look at the human rights violations in this case, and continued with the discrimination of MISA participants.
However, on 26.04.2016 European Court for Human Rights has ruled in favor of MISA participants who were affected by the attack in 2004. ECHR unequivocally states that Romanian authorities have majorly violated human rights when handling the case of MISA!
ECHR decided that the Romanian police operation violated:
- Article 3 - prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment (the yogis were subjected to ill-treatment during the police operation on 18 March 2004 and of the lack of an effective investigation).
- Article 5 § 1 – right to liberty and security (the yogis had been detained arbitrarily on 18 March 2004 during the search, during their transfer to the offices of the prosecution service and when they had been questioned).
- Article 8 - right to respect for private and family life (the way of house and body searches carried out, the seizure of their personal items and the broadcasting in the media of footage filmed during the police operation).
There are several striking elements in ECHR decision. Among others it states that the operation of 18 March 2004 was planned much beforehand by Romanian authorities, that it was not an emergency response to a threat. Romanian authorities have kept the movement under surveillance for a long time prior to the operation and thus were aware of the nonviolent character of its members. Despite that, Romanian authorities “failed” to inform the executioners of the operation that it is not a military commando operation, but merely a probe searching operation, thus use of such force was not necessary. One of the most serious findings of the ECHR was possible diversion by prosecutors of the object of the search warrant issued by the Court of Appeal: "The Court noted other shortcomings in preparing the operation. Thus, although the warrant issued by the court of appeal the subject of the search was limited to the seizure of information, it seems that this has not been made aware to the Gendarmerie. The latter were informed about an operation to fight drug trafficking and prostitution and therefore have committed a force specific to this type of operation with increased risk."
This statement once again proves the position adopted by Soteria International in this case and namely that the abovementioned operation was specifically intended to destroy the movement through intimidation, use of force and harassment in court using false pretext of combatting illegal activities. Framing the operation in such a way, gave Romanian authorities the “excuse” to claim that the case is not about freedom of religion and belief, when human rights NGOs were bringing up MISA case.
There is another element in ECHR decision which comes in support to what Soteria International has been vehemently criticizing Romania for. In the follow up of the 18 March 2004 events there were hundreds of complaints submitted to Romanian authorities by yoga practitioners of MISA against unlawful and abusive measures of the commando and prosecutors. ECHR notes that Romanian authorities have not even tried to regard those complaints and to duly investigate what happened and dismissed all those complaints without ground. This once again proves to us that the premeditated nature of the operation was to swiftly annihilate the movement paying no regard to democratic values and human rights considerations. It also proves that Romanian authorities have acted in a discriminatory way towards yoga practitioners – a fact that Romanian authorities have denied all this time.
On the same day, 18th March 2004, having found no incriminating evidence, prosecutors resorted to forceful extortion, using physical and psychological intimidation and manipulation from one of the minors (17 y.o. at that time) who was residing (temporarily) in the spiritual community. Based on this forced statement, which the respective minor has withdrawn as soon as she was released from police and could contact her lawyer, prosecutors built a court case, which was dismissed in the first trial court and in the appeal court. However the Supreme Court of Romania annulled previous courts’ decisions and ruled against Gregorian Bivolaru in a very abusive trial. Romanian authorities continued with abuses and in January 2016 wrongfully included Bivolaru in the list of Europol’s Most wanted fugitives.
Drawing a parallel with what happened in 2004 and the fact that human rights violations committed by Romanian authorities have been proven now by the ECHR decision, Soteria International reiterates that the inclusion of Gregorian Bivolaru in the Europol’s Most Wanted list is yet another premeditated abuse by Romanian authorities. Just as in 2004 Romanian authorities illegally and disproportionally used force with the purpose of intimidation, also now Romanian authorities illegally and disproportionally use European instruments and mechanisms to intimidate and annihilate the spiritual movement MISA, by targeting its founder Gregorian Bivolaru.
Soteria International hopes that European authorities will not tolerate such “bullying” behavior from Romanian authorities, especially since Romania’s ascension to the EU was conditioned by MCV in the field of Justice, which obviously still lags much behind.
Here you can find the press release of the ECHR regarding the MISA yoga school case:
“Amarandei and Others v. Romania (no. 1443/10)
The applicants are 26 Romanian nationals who are members or supporters of the “Movement for
Spiritual Integration into the Absolute” (MISA), a not-for-profit association registered under
The case concerned the applicants’ allegations of abuse during a police operation to search a number of buildings belonging to the association.
On 18 March 2004 a police operation was carried out in 16 apartment blocks housing members of MISA who were suspected by the public prosecutor’s office at the Bucharest Court of Appeal of making fraudulent use of computer software to produce and disseminate pornographic images on the Internet and of sending members of the association abroad for the purposes of prostitution.
Around 130 members of a military anti-terrorist squad took part in the operation. According to the applicants, the operation began with the doors and windows being broken while most of them were asleep. Heavily armed and masked members of the armed forces allegedly burst into their rooms and forced the applicants to lie on the floor until the arrival of the prosecutors, who refused to show a search warrant or to inform the applicants of the reasons for the operation. The applicants’ mobile phones and numerous personal items were confiscated. The applicants also allege that they were insulted and humiliated and were deprived of food and water. They were only allowed to go to the toilet accompanied by a law-enforcement officer and were forced to leave the door open. The operation was allegedly filmed and extracts were broadcast in the media. That afternoon, the applicants were taken to the offices of the prosecution service for questioning. They were allegedly threatened and insulted with a view to obtaining statements, which were partly dictated by the prosecutors, relating to their intimate private lives and implicating the leader of the MISA. The applicants further allege that they were not informed of the reasons for their detention and were refused access to a lawyer. They were released after several hours in detention and no charges were brought against them. The Government contest the applicants’ version of events, stating in particular that no verbal or physical violence was used during the searches or the transfer to the prosecutor’s office, or when the applicants were being questioned.
On various dates the applicants lodged a number of complaints concerning the abuse to which they had allegedly been subjected on the day of the operation, the conduct of the prosecutors and the members of the armed forces, and their detention. The proceedings resulted in decisions not to prosecute which were upheld by the competent higher courts.
Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), the applicants complained of being subjected to ill-treatment during the police operation on 18 March 2004 and of the lack of an effective investigation. Under Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security), they alleged that they had been detained arbitrarily on 18 March 2004 during the search, during their transfer to the offices of the prosecution service and when they had been questioned. Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), they complained about the house and body searches carried out, the seizure of their personal items and the broadcasting in the media of footage filmed during the police operation.
Violation of Article 3 (degrading treatment) – in respect of LA, MA, NC, OD, VE, EF, ML, AL, IL, RMM, LO, SO, AMP, BCP, RP, IR, ES, DS, CS, SRS, TT, CT and FMT.
Violation of Article 3 (investigation) – in respect of LA, MA, NC, OD, VE, EF, ML, AL, IL, RMM, LO, SO, AMP, BCP, RP, IR, ES, DS, CS, SRS, TT, CT and FMT.
Violation of Article 5 § 1 – in respect of LA, MA, NC, OD, VE, EF, ML, AL, IL, RMM, LO, SO, AMP, BCP, RP, IR, ES, DS, CS, SRS, TT, CT and FMT.
Violation of Article 8 – in respect of all 26 applicants
Just satisfaction: EUR 12,000 each to LA, MA, NC, OD, VE, EF, ML, AL, IL, RMM, LO, SO, AMP, BCP, RP, IR, ES, DS, CS, SRS, TT, CT and FMT.
EUR 6,000 to MM and EUR 4,500 each to IMB and LM in respect of non-pecuniary damage.”