LAWYER: PROSECUTION WITNESSES IN AKOPIAN CASE DISCREDITED THEMSELVES
by Liudmila Maratova
Kavkazskii Uzel, 26 July 2017
In the Prokhladnyi district court, at trial in the case of a former leaders of the local organization of Jehovah's Witnesses*, Arkady Akopian, two witnesses for the prosecution gave testimony. They declared that they had heard Akopian uttering extremist speech. However the witnesses giving testimony were not able to describe the room itself in which they said they were, Akopian's attorney, Anton Omelchenko, noted.
Kavkazskii Uzel wrote that since 16 May the trial in the case of the former chairman of the Prokhladnyi local organization of Jehovah's Witnesses*, Arkady Akopian, has been going on. In the opinion of the prosecutor's office, Akopian made a speech in which he demeaned the dignity of representatives of other religions and distributed forbidden literature among his fellow believers. Akopian himself insists upon his innocence. On 4 July, two witnesses gave testimony in court, who reported that they attended the meeting where Akopian delivered the extremist speech. However billing of telephone communications, which was used by the investigation and added to the materials of the criminal case, showed that at that time they were in different places.
Akopian's case is proceeding against the backdrop of the decision of the Russian Supreme Court for the liquidation of 396 religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses*. On 17 July the Supreme Court ruled that the liquidation of their religious organizations was legal. Thus the organization is recognized as extremist and its activity in Russia is banned by the court. The Jehovah's Witnesses* have three months to appeal the decision in the presidium of the Russian Supreme Court and in the European Court of Human Rights. Materials about events connected with the lawsuit of the Ministry of Justice for the liquidation of the Administrative Center and local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia have been published by Kavkazskii Uzel on the page "Ministry of Justice against Jehovah's Witnesses" (the organization of the "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" is recognized as extremist and its activity is forbidden by court decision). Kavkazskii Uzel has prepared background information under the title "Jehovah's Witnesses—extremists or victims of lawlessness?".
There were about 20 believers in the courtroom of the trial on 25 July, who came in order to support Akopian, a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent reports.
The witnesses, Mikhail Maltsev and Oleg Ostapenko, according to their testimonies, attended a meeting at which Akopian "delivered an extremist speech," although at the same time they were unable to describe the room and could not answer on which side of the entrance was the wardrobe and what the benches in the room were made of, the attorney noted.
"Everybody who gave testimonies against Akopian either were never at the meetings at all or were there at most once. For example, according to reports received from believers, Ostapenko was at a meeting only one time on 27 March 2016. He wanted to bring forbidden literature into the meeting but at the entrance believers themselves took it away from him," Anton Omelchenko explained.
In the attorney's opinion, "the witnesses for the prosecution discredited themselves."
As regards the charge regarding forbidden literature, the prosecution itself confirms that "the literature was planted in the Kingdom Hall, where on the bulletin board there hangs a list of publications banned by the Ministry of Justice." According to the chairman of the "Administrative Center," Yaroslav Sivulsky, this was not the first time this method was used. In 2017 alone, sixty cases have been identified when forbidden literature was planted in houses of worship, where it then was discovered by investigating agencies, Sivulsky said.
"Just as soon as any publication is placed into the list of prohibited literature, we write letters to parishioners and we warn them, and then they immediately get rid of it and cease distributing it. Why would we harm ourselves? There are 95 publications in the list, but we have thousands of available publications. We can read those that have not been banned by law," the magazine Such Cases quotes Sivulsky.
According to information of the publication, according to the indictment read in court, on 20 March 2016, Akopian, "acting in execution of criminal intent," spoke disrespectfully about Muslims and Orthodox priests. At the same time, there are no audio or video recordings of Akopian's words in the materials of the case and an expert analysis was conducted only on the phrase written from the words of witnesses for the prosecution.
A week later, according to the account of the investigation, Akopian distributed to parishioners literature that had been entered several years ago into the federal list of extremist materials, and he asked them to distribute it among local residents. On the same day, law enforcement officers conducted a search in the Kingdom Hall and discovered forbidden literature and they seized a video recorder, but they returned it after some time without its tapes. At the same time, the tapes of the video camera were not quoted in the indictment, the publication says.
Arkady Akpian: "They teach us to love our enemies"
According to information of the publication, Arkady Akopian moved to Kabardino-Balkaria in 1988 as a refugee from Nagorny Karabakh because of the start of the Karabakh conflict.
The 69-year-old tailor said that he came to faith in Prokhladnyi at the age of 45 years. He noted that after studying the Bible he began, in particular, to treat his wife more gently.
"I honestly admit that earlier I was able to yell at my wife to humiliate her. She could express her opinion, but my word still remained in effect. But when I began studying the Bible, I came across the phrase: wives should respect their husbands. Then I posed to myself the question: what is required of me in order that my wife respect me? It is written in the Bible: 'Husbands, love your wives, as your own body.' I do not want to hurt and humiliate myself, and that means that I should love my wife as myself," he explained.
Akopian considers the accusations of extremism to be unfounded. "As I understand it, extremists are those who can use force, kill, or harm. But I am not like that. In the groups where we studied the Bible they teach us to live in peace and love with all people and to love our enemies. They may ban our organization and put me in jail, but that which is in my heart cannot be taken away," the publication quotes Akopian.
*The organization is recognized as extremist and its activity in Russia is forbidden on the basis of a court's decision. (tr. by PDS, posted 5 August 2017)
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