Mental health and religious rights: Mockutė

In Mockutė v Lithuania [2018] ECHR 200, Ms Neringa Mockutė complained about breaches of her right to privacy and her right freely to exercise her religion during a period of involuntary hospitalisation.


In 2003 Ms Mockutė suffered a breakdown and was forcibly admitted to Vilnius Psychiatric Hospital, where she was diagnosed with acute psychosis and remained for 52 days. During this time a documentary was aired on national television which featured Ms Mockutė’s doctor, mother and sister, referred to the centre where she practised meditation of the Osho religious movement and discussed Ms Mockutė’s situation, referring to her by a pseudonym, “Violeta”.

The programme claimed, inter alia, that

the followers of Osho in Vilnius held sex orgies. As to the applicant’s identity, the journalist also mentioned that ‘Violeta obtained a master’s degree abroad, had an important job in State service‘ and that the person was ‘currently being treated at a psychiatric hospital’ … Violeta’s family state that a couple of weeks before the tragedy Violeta would meditate all day and practically not speak to anyone else. She is currently being treated in a psychiatric hospital… After two months of meditation, Violeta was placed in a psychiatric hospital, in a state of acute psychosis” [20].

In 2006 she brought a successful civil claim against the hospital for, among other things, unlawful deprivation of liberty, violation of private life and violation of freedom of religion. However, in 2007 the Court of Appeal overturned the findings on privacy and religious freedom and reduced the amount awarded her in damages.

The arguments

Before the Fourth Section ECtHR, relying on Article 8 (respect for private and family life) ECHR, Ms Mockutė complained that the psychiatric hospital had revealed highly personal and confidential information about her private life to journalists and to her mother. Further relying on Article 9 (thought, conscience and religion), she alleged that she was prevented from practising her religion on account of a restrictive hospital environment and the unsympathetic approach of her doctors.

The Government contended that there had been no interference with her private life: the domestic courts had found no “substantial evidence” that it had been possible to identify her from the television broadcast. By explicitly identifying herself as the “Violeta” in the television broadcast, Ms Mockutė had, in effect, outed herself [90]. But in any event, the information discussed in the programme had contributed to a legitimate public debate. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lithuania had experienced fundamental institutional, cultural and societal changes and society’s initial attitude to new religious movements had been rather negative: “More thorough coverage was therefore necessary to establish a link between society, which was largely uninformed about such things, and new religious movements, the Osho movement being one of them” [91]. As to Ms Mockutė’s complaint that Vilnius Psychiatric Hospital had told her mother about her treatment, her mother had already been aware of Ms Mockutė’s condition [92].

The judgment

Article 8

The Court concluded that the disclosure by the Vilnius Psychiatric Hospital of highly personal and sensitive information breached Ms Mockutė’s right to respect for her private life guaranteed by Article 8 §1 [99]. The Court was also ready to concede that the hospital’s disclosure of information about her health to her mother, whichever form it might have taken, also amounted to a breach of Article 8 [100].

The Court noted that the Lithuanian legislation included stringent obligations about patient privacy. Article 52 of the Law on the Health System explicitly forbade health-care specialists from violating the rules of confidentiality of information about a person’s health which they had acquired in the course of their professional activity and Articles 2 and 11 of the Law on the Legal Protection of Personal Data gave particular protection to information about a person’s religious beliefs, health or sexual life [102].

In the present case, it was clear that Ms Mockutė had not consented to any disclosure. Furthermore, the Court could not see what were the legal grounds justifying the release of the information, whether under Lithuanian law or under Article 8 § 2. The interference with Ms Mockutė’s right to respect for her private life was therefore not “in accordance with the law” [103]. Similar considerations applied to the disclosure to Ms Mockutė’s mother [104].

Given that that was the case, the Court did not have to determine whether or not the interference pursued a legitimate aim and, if so, whether it was proportionate to the aim pursued [105] and held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 8 [106].

Article 9

The Court pointed out that freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 9 was “one of the foundations of a ‘democratic society’ within the meaning of the Convention”, not only for believers but also for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned and that it entailed, inter alia, “freedom to hold or not to hold religious beliefs and to practise or not to practise a religion…” [117]. Moreover, though in democratic societies in which several religions coexisted it might be necessary to place restrictions on free exercise in order to reconcile the interests of the various groups and ensure that everyone’s beliefs were respected, the state’s duty of neutrality and impartiality was incompatible with any power on its part to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs or the ways in which those beliefs were expressed – and states parties enjoyed only a limited margin of appreciation and had to advance convincing and compelling reasons to justify any interference with the freedom of individual conscience [118].

During her detention in Vilnius Psychiatric Hospital, Ms Mockutė had had to submit to

“the unyielding authority of the psychiatrists who were trying to ‘correct’ the applicant so that she abandoned her ‘fictitious’ religion, and whom she felt constrained to obey, even on pain of receiving a diagnosis which would make her unemployable … The applicant therefore has demonstrated that pressure was exerted on her to change her religious beliefs and prevent her from manifesting them” [123].

Given that she had been detained in a manner that was not “prescribed by law” [128], it was unnecessary to inquire further whether Ms Mockutė’s detention had pursued a “legitimate aim” or was “necessary in a democratic society” [130]. The Court held by five votes to two (Yudkiviska and Ranzoni JJ dissenting) that there had therefore been a violation of Article 9 [131].

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Mental health and religious rights: Mockutė" in Law & Religion UK, 28 February 2018,

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