"DO NOT DIG A PIT FOR ANOTHER. . ." [". .
. lest you fall into it"]
Ban of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia has become symbol of senseless discrimination against believers
by Roman Lunkin
Religiia i Pravo, 19 July 2017
The Russian government has, for the first time since soviet times, completely banned a specific religious movement and recognized that hundreds of thousands of believers—Russian citizens—are outside the law. The ban came on an extremely symbolic date. On 17 July (the date of remembrance of the murder of the tsarist family) a chamber of the Supreme Court of the RF left without satisfaction an appeal by the Jehovah's Witnesses and thereby the decision regarding their liquidation in Russia took effect in its entirety. After 20 April (Hitler's date of birth), Jehovah's Witnesses were required to suspend their activity. Now the property of the organization will be confiscated throughout the country and believers will be driven from their houses of worship.
The case of the Jehovah's Witnesses has for long years been the occasion for accusations against Russia of violation of freedom of conscience and of simple common sense. Believers have prepared an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and it is quite clear that the decision will not be in Russia's favor. On 18 July the European External Action Service condemned the decision of the Russian Supreme Court, noting the basic right, which religious groups should have. This is freedom of assembly, which believers have been deprived of.
The way the authorities have dispensed with this new religious movement, which many Christian confessions view with dread, will not pass without a trace for all of them. First, representatives of the government took advantage of theological differences among various religions and confessions, knowing that nobody especially would support Jehovah's Witnesses, and official representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church will condemn them with joy. Second, the Jehovah's Witnesses became a clear example of the fact that persecution of those who believe differently in Russia is based on an unvarnished lie. Such Orthodox activists as Roman Silantiev or Alexander Dvorkin base discrimination (leading to disruption of relations between religion and the state and inter-religious strife) on myths about "national security" and how spies exist everywhere and poor citizens supposedly do not know who is preaching to them.
The reporting is noteworthy on the program "Vesti-Moskva" on the "Russia" channel of 18 July 2017 about the ban of the Jehovah's Witnesses, where they were accused of proclaiming the truth of their religion and collecting donations, although these are also done by the Orthodox Church. In addition, Jehovah's Witnesses were also accused of forbidding blood transfusion, although this fact was not at all considered in the course of any judicial proceedings. And there are few who are interested in the fact that expert analyses considering brochures of Jehovah's Witnesses to be extremist were no less absurd and grotesque, from the point of view of science. The Supreme Court did not pay any attention to this.
The decision that was adopted about the ban of Jehovah's Witnesses, in the opinion of a member of the Council on Human Rights under the Russian president and attorney of the Slavic Legal Center, Vladimir Riakhovsky, may be called political. Hopes that common sense would prevail were not justified. Vladimir Riakhovsky says that it turns out that nobody considered the consequences of the decision that was adopted. After 17 July it is inevitable, not only that property will be confiscated, which is an unprecedented since soviet times nationalization of church property, but also that there will be criminal cases against members of religious congregations. Believers may wind up in confinement or receive suspended sentences (several families of Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog have already been sentenced to suspended terms).
The potential possibility of prison for believers in the country has frightened many other representatives of non-Orthodox Christian confessions, inasmuch as it is they who are most active in the missionary sphere and are most numerous. New religious movements are marginalized and can more easily change the form of their existence in society. Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Adventists immediately became the number one targets for radical "sect fighters." In the first place, following the logic of soviet atheists, all the might of the press and law enforcement system should be turned on Pentecostal Charismatics, since they have the most emotional services and clear theological conceptions of healing.
In connection with the action of the "Yarovaya Law" with respect to evangelical congregations (fines for illegal missionary activity), many churches have proven to be frightened and weakened, and their relations with society and local authorities have turned out to be under threat. Any of the provisions of the Yarovaya Law for control of evangelism and fines for distributing religious literature may affect not only protestants and Catholics but also Orthodox. Within the framework of the Russian Orthodox Church there are many quite diverse conservative and liberal groups, which also want to preach freely. Moreover, they will have full rights to do this in the future. For now the authorities are not applying the law with respect to Orthodox, but that is quite possible.
Ironically, a part of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine wound up in a similar situation, repeating the situation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. The Verkhovna Rada is considering draft law No. 4511 "On the special status of religious organizations whose administrative centers are located in a state recognized by the Verkhovna Rada as an aggressor state." An explanatory note to this bill says: "There exists in Ukraine a direct threat of external influence and destructive propaganda, with the use of the religious factor on the part of an aggressor state. In circumstances of external military aggression, this creates the potential danger of the emergence of new foci of conflicting and inter-confessional tensions and inter-religious conflict, and as a consequence this means the emergence of real threats to the national interests, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national security of Ukraine." Sect fighters in Russia say approximately the same about Jehovah's Witnesses.
In the event of the adoption of this bill in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UPTs), as part of the Moscow patriarchate, will have to show that the UPTs exists independently from the administrative center, that is, from the RPTs. And that the canonical subordination of the UPTs to the Moscow patriarchate is an internal determination of a religious organization in which the state should not interfere. This is the spiritual tie of the Russian church and the UPTs. Ukrainian deputies, like many Russians also, think that they themselves may carve up the religious field as they wish. In the event it is recognized as an organization with its center in an "aggressor state," the UPTs will have to coordinate its personnel policy with the authorities and will fall under the control of bureaucrats, and those who will not submit apparently will be threatened with criminal cases for lack of "patriotism."
In the course of judicial proceedings in the Russian Supreme Court, the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses did not manage to prove that the center has only a spiritual link with local congregations and the liquidation of the center should not lead to liquidation of all actually independent organizations. And the Jehovah's Witnesses became "non-patriots," who may be put into jail.
Regardless of the situation around Jehovah's Witnesses, the state in Russia, in the person of the police and prosecutors, received after the adoption of the Yarovaya Law the greatest power of government and control over religion without any reasonable explanation, and this is a deep pit for all preachers, each of whom is obliged to consider someone a "heretic," "schismatic," or "sectarian." Such is religious life. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 July 2017)
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