WATERSHED 5 APRIL
by Anton Chivchalov
Radio Svoboda, 3 April 2017
You probably do not know what is happening on 5April unless you read the recent text by Alexander Podrabinek on the Svoboda website. For the rest, I suggest that you get up to date as quickly as possible because the date is extraordinarily important. On this day the Supreme Court of the Russian federation may for the first time in the modern history of the country liquidate . . . a religion. Not a company, not a legal entity, not an organization—a whole confession, a whole faith.
By the stroke of a judge's pen, about 200 thousand believers of this confession may be declared outside the law, their religious property may be confiscated, and a mass of criminal cases will be opened against them throughout the country, with real prospects of prison terms. The issue is about one of the largest confessions in the country, the Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Prosecution of Witnesses has been going on for a long time, although there are no bases for it. This is not an extremist sect but serious Christians, who are no worse in any way than our Orthodox. It is all explained by the fact that they constitute competition for our official church," explains the chairman of the Civic Assistance committee, Svetlana Gannushkina. And rights advocate Liudmila Alekseeva called what is happening criminal.
Few know about this date and about the tectonic shift in Russian public life and thoughts that is being prepared. Although religious websites write about the situation (see how the main pages of the Credo and Religiia i Pravo websites look), the overwhelming portion of the intelligentsia remains in complete ignorance about what is happening. Even on the rights advocacy websites and opposition portals one finds almost no information on this subject. The problem is that all Russian intellectuals, rights advocates, and opposition figures may wake up on 6 April in a completely different country without noticing it. In a country in which the state has banned a religion—an unheard-of, absurd, savage thing by any civilized (European, democratic, humanistic, it should be stressed) standards.
On 15 March the Ministry of Justice filed in the Supreme Court a lawsuit for finding all 395 local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses to be extremist and for liquidating them, along with their parent organization, the Administrative Center, located outside St. Petersburg. This court is supposed to issue its decision on 5 April or a bit later—a month is given for everything, and this month is calculated from 15 March. Consequently, everything should be finished no later than 15 April. A temporary suspension of all activity has already been introduced at the request of the Ministry of Justice, as a temporary injunction for the period of the consideration of the case.
In a real sense, we are standing on the brink of a catastrophe, after which we will return directly to 1937.
In the event of a satisfaction of the ministry's lawsuit, confession of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Russian federation will become practically impossible. The issue is, I remind you, about a large, generally recognized religious movement, which operates freely and officially in all countries of Europe, without exception. But Russia has now managed to become the first country in the world in which the official website of the movement has been forbidden (which is among the three most popular religious websites in the world), the first country in which importation of its edition of the Bible is forbidden, and now it may also become the first country in which this movement will be banned as a whole for extremism, and people are accused of that who on principle refuse to bear arms. In order to prove that peaceful citizens are extremists, officials have had to take recourse to years-long titanic efforts, including false expert analyses and planting of compromising material.
The Jehovah's Witnesses may become the first victims, after which come the second and third. In the opinion of religious studies scholar Stanislav Panin, now new technologies of struggle with unwelcome religions are being rolled out on the Witnesses. Russia may enter a historical phase in which the state declares war on believers and on faith as such. "The only way out that the state has found is to declare the entire religious sphere potentially dangerous," says religious studies scholar Roman Lunkin.
In these very days, millions of fellow believers of the Russian Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the world are writing letters to the Russian president and other high officials, and hashtags with videos posted by them are roaming the Internet. All of this is a kind of gesture of despair, witnessing merely that judicial means of struggle have been exhausted. In a real sense, we are standing on the brink of a catastrophe, after which we return directly to 1937. And this will be done so quickly that nobody will notice. The preparatory work has been done, and what remains is a formality.
Anatoly Pchelintsev, a doctor of jurisprudence and member of the expert council of the State Duma, explains: "The Ministry of Justice has made a colossal juridical and religious studies mistake. All of history testifies to the fact that an attempt to ban and liquidate will lead to nothing. The Jehovah's Witnesses will simply exist in the underground." He said that even Orthodox clergy ask him in bewilderment what is happening. They now understand: tomorrow they may come for them.
We all must wake up as quickly as possible and realize what may happen by the day after tomorrow. (tr. by PDS)
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