175,000 PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
by Anton Chivchalov
Radio Liberty, 25 April 2017
On 20 April, Hitler's birthday, Russia became the first European country to prohibit the religious confession of Jehovah's Witnesses. Hitler also tried to do this, but did not succeed. A bit later Stalin tried, with similar results. According to the decision of the Supreme Court, for the first time since 1918 in Russia the property of a whole religious confession with countrywide reach will be confiscated, and this is hundreds of buildings, built on the voluntary contributions of believers themselves. The confiscation is an important point of the plaintiff's declaration of the Ministry of Justice. People do not request money from the government and they build houses of worship at their own expense, but the government confiscates them because it does not like how they pray.
The cynicism of the situation simply cannot be comprehended. Back before the decision of the court, the police and FSB throughout the country conducted raids on houses of worship, searched believers, copied their passports, photographed them, and issued warnings about their criminal responsibility for "extremist" activity. I stress again: this began before the court's decision. Now that it has been announced, throughout the country hunting season has been declared.
Police, the FSB, as well as an infinite number of vandals and goons of all stripes, all are out on the hunt for believers, women, children, and babas [elderly women]. In Cheliabinsk the police have already dispersed a meeting of deaf persons. In Taganrog believers have already received criminal sentences for reading the Bible. Vandals have already broken windows and even tossed grenades into houses of worship. All of this has already happened, and all of this now will be multiplied.
We stand on the brink of a widespread religious genocide with unpredictable consequences. "The siege has now begun, since the confession has been 'liquidated,' but Jehovah's Witnesses will not renounce the faith," lawyer Anatoly Pchelintsev notes justifiably. Really, it is impossible to ban faith with the stroke of the pen. As a result the country simply has gained 175 thousand prisoners of conscience. In Pchelintsev's opinion, some will emigrate and some will go underground. Those who will not be able to do either will be imprisoned.
It is amazing, but the majority of journalists and practically 100% of the public do not understand the reasons for this trial nor its consequences. The situation is understood thus: a) the Jehovah's Witnesses are a dangerous sect that commits actions that are dangerous to society; b) when they are banned, they will cease to do these actions.
"It is the end of the world for Jehovah's Witnesses," RT writes naively. In reality the situation is as follows: a) the only basis for banning Jehovah's Witnesses is their "extremist," that is the incorrect, literature. Nothing concerning any other harmful acts has been discussed in court, except for questions of blood transfusion, but even on this issue the Ministry of Justice was not able to provide any evidence.
The only basis for a ban is the disputable, in the plaintiff's opinion, wording in the literature and biblical interpretation. "It is not quotations from the Bible that are considered extremist but the interpretation of what is written in the Bible," the justice ministry's lawyer, Svetlana Borisova, declared frankly in court.
Further: b) after the ban, in the future believers will believe just as they believed earlier. History does not know cases when Jehovah's Witnesses changed their convictions on order of the authorities. If someone thinks that with the aid of the ban believers can be "re-educated," remade to order, this is an extremely naïve prediction. It does not work.
The only thing that will change as the result of the court's decision: it is necessary to imprison people. And it is necessary to imprison not a rock group of three persons and not a single Pokemon hunter, but almost 200 thousand citizens of the country. It is an incredible number of people who no single civilized state has imprisoned in modern history. It will be necessary to build new prisons and a whole network of prisons. But in any case, a whole new page in the history of state-confessional relations is beginning.
Attorney Viktor Zhenkov told in court a morality tale: "In this courtroom there is a person who was born in prison. Because his mama, who was in the third month of pregnancy, was sentenced as an enemy of the people to eight years incarceration simply because she was a Jehovah's Witness. She gave birth in prison and the infant spent two years in the prison's children's home. His father could not take him because he had been exiled to Siberia. In 1991 the government acknowledged that the mother was a victim of political repressions, apologized to her, and assigned a pension. And now here in the court this man, born in prison, approached me and asked: 'Does the Ministry of Justice really want a repetition of this horrible history?' And I did not know what to answer. Even now I do not know what is motivating the representatives of the Ministry of Justice and those who are directing this trial."
Today several people continue to say: there will not be any imprisonments; simply a legal entity is being banned; personal rights remain with the citizens. This is a misconception deriving from bad information. Already warnings have begun for believers simply for reading the Bible and prayers in their own home (!) under threat of criminal prosecution. The FSB has already begun warning that all adherents of Jehovah's Witnesses will be prosecuted on criminal articles. Earlier in Taganrog, 16 believers already received criminal articles for simply reading the Bible, and not all of them were members of the banned legal entities. The Ministry of Justice itself frankly acknowledged at the hearings that criminal cases may be initiated against believers. Religious discrimination (forbidden by the constitution) has been officially introduced into Russia: believers of some religions may assemble for prayer, and others may not.
It is encouraging that ever more believers of other confessions understand that tomorrow they will come for them. Baptists, Pentecostals, and even Orthodox have spoken out openly in defense of Jehovah's Witnesses, and they have sent their appeals to the president. For many, their eyes have been opened to what is happening. It is necessary to open them faster; it may not make it.
Immediately after the decision of the Supreme Court there began to be discussed in the corridors of power which religion will be next. "All organizations who exist in our country, with the exception of traditional confessions, should be examined to find protection of the interests of traditional morality, traditional values of Russia, in institutions of respect for the family, concern for neighbors, and love of the fatherland. In my view, very many organizations today do not accord with this criterion," said the chairman of the State Duma Committee for Development of Civil Society and Affairs of Public and Religious Associations, Sergei Gavrilov.
Has everyone gotten the signal?
(tr. by PDS, posted 26 April 2017)
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