IN BELGOROD REGION JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES CONGREGATIONS FOUND TO BE EXTREMIST
by Vsevolod Inyutin,
Kommersant (Belgorod) 12 February 2016
On the basis of a lawsuit from the prosecutor's office, the Belgorod provincial court ruled that two of the largest local congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses are extremist and issued a decision to liquidate them. The oversight agency said that representatives of this cult "violated the integrity of the family," and they distributed texts with citations to forbidden literature. Representatives of the organization promise to challenge the decisions of the court, which in their opinion were based on unreliable testimonies from a person who supposedly was rewarded by the Russian Orthodox Church "for struggle with sectarians." Experts do not see legal reasons for prohibiting the Belgorod Jehovists.
The decisions for the liquidation of the organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in the two largest cities of the province—Belgorod and Stary Oskol—were made on the same day, 11 February, and they took effect immediately. According to information from the press service of the provincial court, both congregations were ruled to be extremist and their activity was found to be in violation of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." An official representative of the provincial prosecutor's office, Olga Moiseikina, said that personnel of the agency proved in court that Jehovists "violate the integrity of the family." They produced as examples complaints from school teachers who described how a Jehovist mother "beat [her children] with a willow branch and set them in a corner" and forced them to follow the teachings of the Witnesses. She also argued with the teacher that they should not attend classes in Orthodox culture which are practically obligatory in Belgorod province.
"A woman also appealed to the prosecutor's office, whose Jehovist grandaughter had registered her in a home for the elderly. The activity of this organization led to conflicts within the family because of religious disagreements," Mrs. Moiseikina summed up. She said that the Witnesses also provoked public discontent. Residents of Stary Oskol and a neighboring village also appealed to the agency and asked to stop the activity of Witnesses missionaries, who claimed "that their religion is most correct." However the agency considers that the most egregious thing is that several Jehovists refused blood transfusions, which ended in their death. "After an auto accident, a man was brought to the hospital, and his relatives, who attended meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses, refused blood transfusion in writing. A similar thing happened with a woman who presented at the emergency room with poisoning. In both cases, the outcome was fatal. In several other cases, doctors either managed to persuade the patients to have a transfusion or in the end it was not required," the representative of the prosecutor's office reported. In addition, ministers of the cult were found in possession of literature with references to prohibited texts and websites, especially the official portal of the Jehovah's Witnesses. It was these arguments that were determinative for the court that the provincial prosecutor's office labored to designate.
The Russian representation of Jehovah's Witnesses intends to challenge the liquidation of the congregations in the Supreme Court. "The decisions of the court are based on unreliable evidence. For example, the testimony of a young man named Sukhobrus. He maintained that he visited a Jehovah's Witnesses church and there he was given extremist materials. Who it was and when he was not able to say. Meanwhile, lawyers discovered on the Internet a photograph in which Sukhobrus was receiving an award "for struggle with sects" from a local, highly-placed priest of the Russian Orthodox Church," the press secretary of the Russian representation, Ivan Belenko, told Kommersant. Mr. Belenko emphasized that the prosecutors "did not introduce any evidence regarding the organizations themselves," but they described for the court only "physical persons who were not members in them." "In any case, the court liquidated only two specific legal entities but it did not forbid people to confess their faith, as the Russian constitution guarantees," he added.
The head of the SOVA Center for News and Analysis, Alexander Berkhovsky, called Jehovah's Witnesses "one of the religious organizations that have suffered most" in Russia. "Back in 2009 they were banned in Taganrog. There the consequence was even a criminal trial. Adherents of this cult continued to assemble and law enforcement officials took this as the continuation of activity of a prohibited organization. Much of the Witnesses' literature has been ruled by courts to be extremist, and recently at the border a bunch of their books were seized—this was a translation of the Bible, which was not just that of the Jehovists but also the synodal version," Mr. Berkhovsky explained. In his opinion, the prosecutors did not identify legal grounds for finding the congregations to be extremist. "Almost all religions of the world consider their teaching to be uniquely correct. The Jehovists have not written anywhere that it is necessary to divorce if a husband or wife professes a different religion. In addition, the law does not in any way forbid reference to extremist literature and all citizens regardless of their convictions have the right to refuse medical aid," he explained. The expert does not believe that the Jehovah's Witnesses will succeed in the Supreme Court: "Nobody has yet managed to beat back such claims once they have been confirmed by a court." (tr. by PDS, posted 20 February 2016)
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