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Jehovah's Witnesses in Europe


Jehovah's Witnesses (this denomination dates back to 1931) originated in the United States in the late 1800s and have been present in Europe for over a century. There are around 2,000,000 active Jehovah’s Witnesses in Europe, but the number reaches almost 4,000,000 if all sympathizers are counted. In several European countries included in the research—such as Italy, France, Poland, and Spain—Jehovah's Witnesses are the second or the third largest Christian denomination.

Jehovah's Witnesses have been persecuted in different historical periods and in various countries, including Nazi Germany and in more recent years Russia. Even today, despite their extensive and historical presence, Jehovah's Witnesses are struggling for obtaining an appropriate legal status  in many European countries. Positive exceptions are Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Romania, where the Witnesses enjoy the highest possible legal recognition for a religious denomination, obtained sometimes after protracted litigation and determinations by the European Court of Human Rights. In other countries, their legal status is often perceived both by the community itself and by local experts as unfair. Italy is a noteworthy example of perceived inequitable treatment as, after 40 years of negotiation with the State, Jehovah's Witnesses—one of the largest Christian minority, with more than 500,000 members and associates—have not yet been granted an agreement (known in Italy as the “Intesa”). 

Throughout Europe, Jehovah's Witnesses are engaged in ongoing diplomatic and legal initiatives to obtain a more adequate legal status. In almost all the European countries considered by the research, controversies involving Jehovah's Witnesses are reported in matters of parental rights and of medical treatment. In religiously divided families, a frequent trend is to accord preferential treatment to a parent who adheres to the majority religion, sometime on the basis of stereotyping rather than objective analysis. Regarding healthcare, in several countries public institutions have endeavored to impose blood transfusions on Jehovah’s Witnesses without considering viable clinical alternatives acceptable to their conscience (see the 2010 World Health Organization recommendation WHA63.12 to implement the Patient Blood Management (PBM) protocol for all patients). In several countries Jehovah’s Witnesses also reported cases of discrimination as for building or renting places of worship.

In recent years, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Europe have obtained many positive judicial decisions in family and medical treatment cases, and in all EU countries an acceptable solution has been found to the disputes arising from their refusal to serve in the military.  Nevertheless, Jehovah's Witnesses continue to be the object of negative representation in many European media. In particular, they are frequently labelled as a “cult” (a term that is debated to be derogatory by many scholars) and are accused to take harsh measures against dissenters and former members who have left the congregation. Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly reject these accusations, which they attribute to a widespread misinformation and disinformation of   mainstream media, and  frequently resort to defamation actions against media outlets and anti-cult groups. Recently, for example, the Court of Hamburg (Germany) censured FECRIS, the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects, for defaming Jehovah's Witnesses.

                                                                                                                           Silvio Ferrari

Università degli Studi di Milano - FBK


Information about Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are available at


More specifically about their number see Jehovah’s Witnesses—2022 Country and Territory Reports, avaiable at


About the issue of patient blood management and bloodless surgery see

Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency (European Commission), Nørgaard, A., Kurz, J., Zacharowski, K., et al. (2017, March). Building national programmes of Patient Blood Management (PBM) in the EU: A Guide for Health Authorities. Brussels: Publications Office, pp. 9-10 (available at: https://op.europa.eu)

Steuer, W., & Dreuw,  H. (2016). Hemotherapy and Faith. Religion – Staat – Gesellschaft,  17 (1/2), pp.  203–231

On Jehovah’s Witnesses in Europe see

Besier, G., &  StokÅ‚osa, K. (eds.) (2016). Jehovah's Witnesses in Europe: Past and Present. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

About the struggles of Jehovah’s Witnesses to obtain legal status see

Besier, G., & Besier, R.-M. (2003). Jehovah’s Witnesses/Wachtturm-Gesellschaft: A “Pre-Modern” Religious Association in a “Modern” Society? Expert Opinion, in G. Besier, & E. K. Scheuch (eds.), The New Inquisitors. Bergisch Gladbach: La Colombe, pp 265­–346



1 promotion of rights
0 respect of international standards
-1 restriction of rights
0 no gap between religious majority and minorities
-1 high gap between religious majority and minorities
1 promotion of rights
0 respect of international standards
-1 restriction of rights
0 no gap between religious majority and minorities
-1 high gap between religious majority and minorities