Strasbourg, France - Russia's ban on the Church of Scientology is illegal, the European Court of Human Rights said Thursday in a binding ruling.
The court said Russia cannot ban the Church of Scientology just because it has not been in the country for long and awarded each of the groups euro5,000 ($7,270) in damages. The groups together also received euro10,000 ($14,500) for costs, which they shared.
The case was brought to the Strasbourg-based court by two Russian Scientology branches that were refused listing as "religious organizations" because they have not existed for at least 15 years as required by Russia's Religions Act.
Though Scientology is not widely seen as a religion in Europe, the court said it was making its judgment based on national law.
The Russian Scientology branches - one in the city of Surgut, the other in Nizhnekamsk - had originally taken their case to Russian courts but lost.
The Church of Scientology of Russia said the ruling "sets another important precedent to protect the rights of all other religious communities in Europe," according to a statement from spokeswoman Nina de Kastro.
In 2007, the Moscow Scientology branch Moscow won a case in the Strasbourg court. The St. Petersburg branch has a case pending.
The Strasbourg court issues rulings based on the European Convention on Human Rights that are binding on the 47 member states of the Council of Europe.
The Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology, founded in 1954 by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, claims to have 10 million members in 165 nations.
It has been active for decades in Europe, but has struggled to gain status as a religion. Belgium, Germany and other European countries see Scientology as a cult or sect.