HOW JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES CAST A SHADOW ON THE CUSTOMS THREAT TO THE BIBLE
by Galina Rozhko
Proved, 16 March 2016
A preliminary hearing on the lawsuit of the Leningrad-Finland transport prosecutor's office about ruling the Bible, seized at Vyborg customs from Jehovah's Witnesses, to be extremist materials was held in the Vyborg city court of Leningrad province.
The Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia has for a long time now several times gone to court with state agencies. Including also arbitration with the Vyborg customs, which recently did not permit into Russia a total of more than 10 million copies of literature that is distributed by this organization throughout the world. The basic reason for which the customs agents did not permit the Witnesses' print production into our country is "combating extremism."
State agencies began devoting special attention to combating extremist activity in 2002, when a corresponding federal law was adopted. And since one of the principal weapons of extremists is speech, including printed speech, the state created a federal list of extremist materials that the Ministry of Justice is instructed to conduct and add to. Because literature that can fall into the category of extremist began moving across the customs border, then it became necessary for customs agents to combat extremists alongside subdivisions of the border patrol and agencies of internal affairs and the prosecutor's office.
In the Uniform List of Goods of the Eurasian Economic Union whose import and export are subject to prohibition or restriction there is the category of goods whose movement is prohibited of printed and audio and video materials that contain calls for conducting extremist activity. Therefore if customs discovers in a cargo materials that are extremist, then it may open an administrative proceeding on the basis of an article of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the RF. Which is what happened to one of the batches imported by the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia when in the spring of 2015 the Vyborg customs initiated a case on part 1 of article 16.3 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of Russia. Finnish representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses, who sent their literature into Russia, along with the Russian organization, tried to appeal this decision by customs in court, but the arbitration court of the city of St. Petersburg and Leningrad province, on 1 September 2015, refused to satisfy the petitions submitted, not finding violations in the actions of customs.
However many more questions are evoked by situations when customs agents would seem not to have basis to consider one or another printed material to be extremist. In 2012 the Russian Federal Customs Service published a special order No. 2060 "On additional measures for implementation of federal law of 25 July 2002 'On combating extremist activity.'" This order provides that in the event of the discovery in materials passing through a customs boundary information calling for conducting extremist activity, but which is not included in the list of the Ministry of Justice, the customs agency should take samples and specimens for conducting expert analysis.
"Even if the imported book is not on the list, but in the view of the inspector it contains indicators of extremist literature, then customs oversight is exercised and a selection of samples is made for expert analysis. For example, on the basis of a special profile of threat. So 'Jehovah's Witnesses' is in and of itself an indicator: once some of their literature is in the list of the Ministry of Justice, that means that all of their literature is suspect," a source in customs explained to Proved.
This is the reason that customs agents, from time to time, stop loads that are somehow connected with the activity of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization and other audio, video, or printed materials evoke suspicion on the part of customs inspectors.
In addition we have discovered that customs control of such goods is by no means the greatest problem in distinction, for example, from the problem connected with sending materials for expert analysis. The point is that psychological-linguistic analysis, which is necessary for establishing whether some literature is in the category of materials of an extremist character, is conducted on commission by several experts who are specialists of a rather high level, who would be able to say whether the literature contains calls for extremism or not. But it turns out that it is almost impossible to find such experts in our country. As we were told in customs, in the list they received of expert institutions that would be able to conduct such an expert analysis, there were only a few such organizations in the whole country, while there were no expert services of the Central Forensic Expert Administration for customs among them.
And actually in the list of expert possibilities of the Central Forensic Expert Administration, published as of July 2015, there is no possibility of conducting analysis of goods to determine whether they fall into the category of extremist content within subdivisions of the administration. Therefore usually cases involving the necessity of finding literature extremist last a very long time.
We have learned that with respect to several books and brochures imported from Finland by the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia the decision on conducting an expert analysis has already been made, and now the fate of the literature stopped by Vyborg customs agents depends on experts: in the event that they find indicators of extremist literature, the prosecutor's office will initiate judicial proceedings on the basis of the expert conclusion. Then the court should decide whether the books contain information of an extremist character and that means they cannot be publicly distributed and are liable for inclusion in the justice ministry's list.
"So then on the basis of the expert conclusion a criminal case will be opened. But the investigative committee of the prosecutor's office will deal with these cases, since these cases are monitored. Customs does not have anything to do with such criminal cases and it cannot even conduct urgent investigative actions," customs explained for Proved.
Once again customs, specifically the Vyborg customs, stopped the import of Bibles into Russia in early 2016, not permitting a batch of books in the official translation of the Russian Orthodox Church (the Synodal edition) and also a batch of the "Study Bible" issued by the Russian Bible Society.
And now on 15 March 2016, representatives of the Leningrad-Finland transport prosecutor's office and the Jehovah's Witnesses again met in court, which was to decide whether the Bible is extremist materials.
"For the first time in history the prosecutor's office is trying through the court to prohibit the Bible itself. This seems to be unlikely against the background of the Russian president's promotion and signing in the autumn of 2015 of a law protecting Sacred Scriptures, including the Bible, from the purview of antiextremist legislation. Nevertheless the prosecutor's lawsuit is a fait accompli," the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia says in a press release.
A representative of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, Yaroslav Sivulsky, comments on this matter thus: "Russia is the only country where our literature is regularly considered to be extremist as the result, we think, of a number of judicial errors. In Jehovah's Witnesses' publications there is not nor never has been any extremism. The courts' decisions are based on prejudiced and biased expert analyses that are prepared by plant managers and experts in the field of mathematics. Despite the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses do not agree with such decisions and appeal them to higher instances, as law-abiding citizens they do not use such literature in their worship services."
The session in the Vyborg court attracted special attention because about 100 believers came to it.
"People who learned of the upcoming hearings and chose not to remain indifferent decided to attend this court session. Their extreme amazement and outrage with regard to this judicial proceeding also were expressed by famous rights advocates," the press service of the Administrative Center explained to Proved.
According to available information, the court provided lawyers the opportunity to attentively familiarize themselves with the arguments of the prosecutor's office in order to present their own counterarguments. The next session is scheduled for 26 April 2016. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 March 2015)
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