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MOSCOW (AP) -- A judge postponed a trial Friday on banning Jehovah's Witnesses from Moscow because the prosecutor fell ill, a day after church officials said the defense won a major victory.
The case to outlaw the Jehovah's Witnesses from operating in Russia's capital will resume Monday if the prosecutor is feeling better, the judge said.
The Moscow prosecutor's office says the Jehovah's Witnesses are a cult that destroys families, fosters hatred and threatens lives. It seeks to have the group banned under a controversial religion law that gives courts the right to outlaw any religious group that they find guilty of inciting hatred or intolerant behavior.
The law was passed under heavy pressure from the Orthodox Church, which is protective of its religious dominance in Russia and has accused the Jehovah's Witnesses of ``aggressive proselytism.''
Defense lawyers argue that Jehovah's Witnesses are not forced to practice their religion, and that any ban on the group would defy the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
On Thursday, Judge Yelena Prokhorcheva denied five of the prosecutor's motions, which included widening the investigation against Jehovah's Witnesses to two other Russian cities and asking the judge to remove herself from the case for a perceived bias toward the defense.
Jehovah's Witness spokesman Judah Schroeder said the decisions had left prosecutors ``frustrated.'' He seemed cautiously optimistic about the trial's outcome.
If outlawed, the Jehovah's Witnesses would no longer have the right to hold public services, rent property, or distribute literature in Moscow.
The Jehovah's Witnesses claim to be the fifth-largest Christian group in Russia, with about 10,000 members in Moscow and more than 250,000 across the country.
SUMMARY OF THIRD DAY OF TRIAL
The trial resumed on 11 February at 2:15 p.m. with a series of surprise motions by the prosecution, including two demands that Judge Prokhorycheva remove herself from the case.
The prosecution first asked the court to order release of medical records regarding two deaths in Kazan (Republic of Tatarstan). The prosecution suggested both deaths were caused by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Prosecutor Kondratyeva also wanted the court to review a video from a television news story about one of these cases. On questioning by defence attorney Krylova, the prosecutor admitted she had no information that either family belonged to the Moscow Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The judge dismissed the motion, refusing to authorize a ‘fishing expedition’ into territory beyond her jurisdiction.
The second motion followed. The prosecutor now wanted the judge to reinstate as a public representative, counsel for the Committee for Rescuing Youth from Totalitarian Sects Citing the ruling already made on February 9 about this issue, the judge dismissed the request.
With barely a pause, the prosecution next asked Judge Prokhorycheva to remove herself from the case. Prosecutor Kondratyeva alleged there were doubts as to the judge’s impartiality; she had a personal interest. When questioned, the prosecutor had no evidence of a personal interest. She was upset by the judge’s dismissal of her previous motions. The judge denied the third motion.
The trial resumed at 3:00 p.m. Defence counsel Leontyev continued. With each question, the prosecutor refused to answer. She repeated the phrase, ‘I’ve already said everything I intend to say in my application, and I have nothing more to add. I’ll explain the rest in my closing statement.’ A tug-of-war ensued. At various points, the judge dismissed some questions and directed the prosecutor to answer others. At one point, prosecutor Kondratyeva stated her evidence was still not ready and she would say more in her conclusion. The judge intervened and put on the record the prosecutor was refusing to adhere to procedure. Procedure requires disclosure. The prosecutor requested a short break.
On returning, the prosecutor now asked the judge to remove Canadian lawyer John M. Burns as a representative in the case since he was a “foreigner.” He had been participating by order of the court since 29 September 1998. (Burns is a trial lawyer and member of W.Glen How, Q.C. and Associates, a Canadian law firm that has long specialized in religious liberty and international human rights.) After pointing out Russian law clearly provides for non-Russians to appear as representatives, the judge dismissed the motion.
In a desperate move, the prosecutor again asked the judge to remove herself from the case, citing the judge’s refusal to remove Burns and her warnings to the prosecutor. The day ended at 5:00 p.m. with the court dismissing this motion.
The hearing resumed on Friday, 12 February at 10:20 a.m. Prosecutor Kondtratyeva announced that she was ill and could not proceed. When asked if the prosecutor’s office could supply a substitute, she stated no. The trial adjourned until Monday, 15 February at 10:30 a.m.
from Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia
(posted 12 February 1999)
Today, the prosecution made five motions, including calling for the removal of the judge--all of which were denied. Frustrated that Judge Yelena Prokhorycheva insisted on following court procedure, Prosecutor T.I. Kondratyeva twice asked the judge to remove herself from the case.
The judge refused to remove Canadian human rights attorney John Burns from the defense team. Aware that the judge was losing patience with a theological debate in her court and in an attempt to gather additional "evidence," Prosecutor Kondratyeva asked the court to expand its jurisdiction to include the regions of St.Petersburg and Kazan. But the prosecution represents the Northern Administrative Circuit in the City of Moscow, and the judge restricted the court's authority to this region. The judge also refused to reverse her decision to remove the Committee for the Defense of Youth as a representative of the people. Members of the Committee, an anti-sect group with close ties to the Orthodox church, are principal witnesses for the prosecution.
With these motions settled, the defense tried to continue to question the prosecutor, who refused to answer. When the judge insisted on answers, Ms. Kondratyeva asked the judge to excuse herself for bias in behalf of the defense. With time running late and tension running high, the judge adjourned court until 10 a.m. tomorrow.
"We expect tomorrow to be interesting," said Galina Krylova, Russian human rights attorney with the defense. "When the rules of the court are applied, the prosecution falls apart. They just don't have a case."
Using Russia's new law on religion, the Moscow Prosecutor's Office had
brought civil charges against the Moscow Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses,
calling for its liquidation. Jehovah's Witnesses are Christians who
worship openly in nearly 200 lands.
Detailed information on the Moscow trial can be found at www.jw-russia.org.
(posted 11 January 1999)
NOT LEAVING THE WITNESSES?
by Irina Belasheva
Vrema Moscow News, 10 February 1999
Procurator again tries to liquidate the Jehovists
After a break of nearly three months the trial of the Moscow congregation of the religious organization of "Jehovah's Witnesses" resumed in the Golovin district municipal court. The case was initiated by the procurator of the north administrative district, who has the right to gain the prohibition of its activity in the capital and its general liquidation. In the opinion of the procurator, the Jehovists incite religious enmity, breakup the family, affect the psyche of children adversely, and urge the sick to refuse medical aid.
The court session opened yesterday in the presence of an enormous crowd. Observers pressed into the chamber of the Golovin court--reporters, rights defenders, pensioners, and those who demanded the prohibition of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Soon the sides in the case--representatives of the procuracy and attorneys for the defendants, the Moscow congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses--were practically lost among the public. So the judge, Elena Prokhorycheva, tried for almost a half hour to remove "outsiders" from the hall. Finally, only about twenty observers remained on the benches.
On the first row saw elderly women who had been there since early morning. They had come to the court in order to express their dissatisfaction with the provision to the "Witnesses" for their meetings of the Peter Alexeev House of Culture (northern district), which had previously been used for classes for children. On the second row there were observers from the Jehovah's Witnesses, approximately half of whom were speaking solely in English.
In November 1998 the case was postponed because the procurator, who had accused the Jehovah's Witnesses of "violation of the rights and libertys of citizens," did not produce concrete evidence of their guilt. This time they took care of the "details." On the procurator's table lay copies of Jehovist magazines "Awake" and "Watch Tower" with yellow markers. Opposite, at the table where the attorneys for the defendants sat, there were several boxes with the same magazines, books, letters, folders, and videocasettes. Using them the opposing side intended to demonstrate their legality.
At the very beginning of the case the ranks of the "accusation" were seriously thinned out. Lawyers for the Jehovah's Witnesses, Galina Krylova, Artur Leontiev, and John Berns, petitioned for the removal of the Committee for the Protection of Youth from Totalitarian Sects, a public organization, which also was seeking the liquidation of the congregation and during the previous session has been recognized by the court as a party to the case. The lawyers cast doubt upon the legality of the committee, which presumed to protect society from the Jehovists. The judge recognized that the committee has been included among the plaintifs by mistake (according to the law "On freedom of conscience and religious organizations (sic)" the public does not have the right to petition for judicial prohibition of religious organizations) and denied it the right to participate in the case as a party.
However, on other petitions the lawyers for the Witnesses were turned down. In particular, they did not get satisfation of their petition to dismiss the case altogether. In the opinion of Galina Krylova, the procurator was citing not concrete instances of violations of the law by the Jehovists but was citing an analysis of the religious literature and studies by Orthodox priests. "In essence, the procurator is trying to judge religion," Artur Leontiev noted. "This can result in turning the case into a theological argument."
The case will go on several days. Representatives of the district procuracy, Natalia Adamova and Tatiana Kondratieva, refused to comment before its conclusion. We have learned that in the event of an unfavorable outcome of the case in all judicial instances of Russia, the Jehovah's Witnesses intend to file suit in the Euoprean Court on Human Rights. Incidentally, in three previous cases, when similar suits against Jehovists from other countries were reviewed in Strasburg, the court recognized the right of the organization to exist and the lack of basis for attacks upon it. (tr. by PDS)
(posted 13 February 1999)
RUSSIA MAY OUTLAW RELIGIOUS GROUP
by Anna Dolgov, Associated Press writer
11 February 1999
MOSCOW (AP) -- A judge in a case on banning Jehovah's Witnesses from Moscow rejected all motions made by the prosecution Thursday, and church officials said prosecutors seemed to be growing ``frustrated.''
The civil trial marks the first time prosecutors have used Russia's controversial religion law to try to disband a religious group.
The religion law, adopted in 1997 under strong pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church, gives courts the right to outlaw any religious group found guilty of inciting hatred or intolerant behavior.
The Moscow prosecutor's office charges that the New York-based Jehovah's Witnesses are a cult that destroys families, fosters hatred and threatens lives. But the prosecutor hasn't produced any specific evidence so far, defense attorneys say.
On Thursday, prosecutors asked the court to be allowed to investigate the operations of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Russian cities of Kazan and St. Petersburg, where they claim problems have been registered.
The motion was denied, with judge Yelena Prokhorcheva saying her court only has jurisdiction in Moscow, said Jehovah's Witnesses spokesman Judah Schroeder.
Prosecutors also accused the judge of bias toward the defense and demanded that Canadian defense attorney John Burns be removed from the case.
These and other procedural motions brought Thursday were denied.
``The judge was getting quite impatient with the prosecution. Prosecutors were upset, frustrated ... and the judge was not amused,'' Schroeder said in Moscow.
Prosecutors also refused to answer defense attorneys' questions Thursday about the charge that Jehovah's Witnesses destroy families, Schroeder said.
Prosecutors could not be reached for comment.
They maintain that Jehovah's Witnesses create rifts between family members because of their practice of not celebrating national holidays, and threaten lives by pressuring sick people into refusing medical aid.
Russia's religion law also enshrines the Russian Orthodox Church as the country's main religion. The church is eager to see a ban on Jehovah's Witnesses, which it accuses of ``aggressive proselytism.''
Representatives of the church seemed cautiously optimistic Thursday about the outcome of the trial. Schroeder predicted that ``things would be coming to a head'' when hearings resume Friday.
Defense lawyers argue that Jehovah's Witnesses are not forced to practice their religion, and that any ban on the group would defy the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The trial opened in September, but was postponed in November when the judge told prosecutors they had not fully prepared their case and had withheld evidence from the defense. It resumed Tuesday.
If outlawed, the Jehovah's Witnesses would no longer have the right to hold public services, rent property, or distribute literature in Moscow.
That would be a major blow to the Jehovah's Witnesses, who claim to be the fifth-largest Christian group in Russia, with about 10,000 members in Moscow and more than 250,000 across the country.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES STAND TRIAL IN MOSCOW
by Celestine Bohlen
New York Times,
11 February 1999
MOSCOW -- Seven years ago, Nikolai Cherevatov, then a Moscow University student, told his parents that his search for religion had led him to Jehovah's Witnesses, one of the fastest-growing proselytizing religious groups in Russia.
"They were very upset," recalled Cherevatov, now 31 and a devout follower of the religious community that is now before a Moscow court, accused of inciting religious discord and threatened with a ban on its activities.
"Papa said they were agents of the American CIA who would give me a gun, and tell me to shoot my parents if there was a war," he said. "Mama said no good could come from a close reading of the Bible."
As a child in a Ukrainian village, Cherevatov spent Sunday mornings in the local Russian Orthodox Church with his grandmother. Later, when he joined the Young Communist League, he had to stop going to church. But as soon as religious freedom dawned in the ruins of the Soviet empire, he began exploring his faith.
His journey began inside Russian Orthodoxy, but in the end led him out of it -- a trajectory that has been repeated by hundreds of thousands of other Russian Christians, and set off alarms in the Russian Orthodox church about inroads into their flock made by what its priests call "totalitarian sects."
"The script is always the same," said Cherevatov. "I left my church, I betrayed the beliefs of my forefathers, of my country. But nobody ever asks why I left the church. It was not fanaticism that led to this choice, it was common sense. Now I have a comparison to make."
A 1997 law on religion restricted nontraditional denominations, and after that, the Orthodox church kept pressures on its rivals. Last August, Aleksei II, patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church, called for a ban on proselytizing faiths, particularly those that try to lure people away from the "religions of their ancestors."
The case now before a Moscow civil court is being closely watched by religious and human rights groups as the first significant attempt to use the law to restrict worship. Also watching will be Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who raised the case with her Russian hosts during a recent visit, and the U.S. Senate, which has on its books a law that links American aid to Russia to religious freedom.
If the judge agrees with the prosecutor, the Jehovah's Witnesses -- an aggressively proselytizing community with 130,000 believers in Russia -- could lose their legal status and be banned in Moscow, where 10,000 followers reside. Technically, their national status would not be affected, but many fear that such a ruling would only encourage local judges to follow suit, and not only against the Jehovah's Witnesses.
"If they are successful in this case, then it will be terrible," said Lyudmila Alekseyeva, president of the International Helsinki Federation, "because after that, they will feel free to attack other groups."
Mrs. Alekseyeva, long a campaigner for human rights, said that "in a closed society like Russia, people don't like anything that is not 'ours.' When I ask people what is so dangerous about the Jehovah's Witnesses, nobody can answer, but they are sure they are, anyway. But this is not a theological problem. It is a human rights problem."
The atmosphere at a hearing of the case on Wednesday, in a grimy court building in a neighborhood north of the Kremlin, carried faint hints of Soviet times when political and religious dissidents were shuffled from trial to trial.
On Wednesday, more than 100 Jehovah's Witnesses in wool coats and soggy boots gathered silently outside the courtroom doors. Many said they were prepared to wait as long as it took, even weeks, for the judge to reach a resolution.
"We cherish our truth," said Lena Sijanova, 27, who joined the Jehovah's Witnesses along with her mother. "And they are trying to take it away. But you cannot forbid people's right to their faith because that right comes only from God."
According to the complaint filed by a Moscow district prosecutor, the Jehovah's Witnesses have violated the 1997 law by preaching religious discrimination, breaking up families and withholding medical treatment -- all in the name of their "one true religion." After an exhaustive textual analysis of literature disseminated by the Witnesses' door-to-door proselytizers, the prosecutors concluded that "overseers," both in Russia and abroad, "not only control the spiritual environment of the congregation, but also subject the manner of life, thinking, psyche and conduct of every member of the sect."
"The sect has a strong anti-government, antisocial and anti-traditional as well as anti-Christian orientation," the prosecutors said. More than 21 witnesses are prepared to testify to the damage allegedly wrought by the Jehovah's Witnesses on their family lives and finances.
Written testimony has been provided by a top expert from the Serbski Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry -- notorious in Soviet times for its "treatment" of dissidents -- who found that "the teaching and activity of Jehovah's Witnesses contains factors that may lead to neuroticism and a state of depression."
But the essence of the case is strangely enough theological, presenting the unlikely scenario of a district court judge, born and trained in Soviet state atheism, sorting through arguments about the coming of Armageddon and views of relative religious superiority.
"It amounts to a theological discussion," said Albert Polanksi, the Moscow representative of the Witnesses' world headquarters. "And yet, Jehovah's Witnesses are recognized by the Council of Europe, and as Russia is a member, we should be fully protected."
Russia's religion law was amended slightly after an original version drew protests from the U.S. Congress and Pope John Paul II. According to the final version, churches and religions that have not been functioning in Russia for the past 15 years must re-register with the Ministry of Justice by the end of 1999. With that bureaucratic noose still hanging over their necks, many nontraditional religions have tried recently to tread softly in Russia.
(posted 12 February 1999)
MOSCOW -- The Russia United Methodist Church has been re-registered, allowing it to continue to open local congregations and use the word "Russia" in its name.
The registration recognizes the United Methodist Russia Annual Conference as a "centralized" religious organization, said Bishop Ruediger Minor, based in Moscow. The registration was completed Jan. 26 at the Russian Ministry of Justice.
The church, which now numbers an estimated 46 congregations, was compelled to re-register because of the 1997 religion law passed by the Russian Duma.
The Rev. R. Bruce Weaver, director of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries' Russia Initiative, called the registration "the most exciting news we have had in the Russia Initiative in its entire eight years. It enables us to be involved in mission and ministry legally and allows the Russian United Methodists to function as a church."
There had been some question about whether denominations existing in Russia in earlier times but not recently would be officially recognized. But Minor said the tendency has been to recognize both religious groups from the Soviet era and "groups that existed under oppression in an unofficial or 'underground' status through Soviet times, as well as those existing prior to the Bolshevist Revolution of 1917."
A Methodist, B.A. Carlson, began evangelizing in St. Petersburg in 1889 and organized a small congregation in November of that year. In 1907, the Rev. George A. Simons was appointed pastor and superintendent there, and the Methodist Church in Russia received legal status two years later.
The St. Petersburg archives provided the evidence that United Methodists needed to document the church's history in Russia. "These documents, letters, protocols and reports from police officers and local administrations gave a lively picture of Methodist life in St. Petersburg and northern Russia," Minor explained.
Simons reportedly "enjoyed" the fact that police informers infiltrated the audiences for his sermons and lectures, the bishop said. "Over-eager police officers arrested Methodist lay preachers for their 'propagandistic' work. The observation was made that sailors from the Russian navy were attending Methodist worship services, which was raising concerns about 'pacifist' influences."
Minor pointed out that the "sufferings and hardships of those mothers and fathers in the faith turned out to be a blessing for their spiritual grandchildren. Those documents gave ample proof of Methodism's existence more than 90 years ago."
The Rev. Randolph Nugent, the board's top staff executive, also expressed pleasure at the denomination being recognized as part of Russia's religious community. "We give thanks to God for the new development."
Reprinted with permission from the United Methodist News Service.
- from Christian Daily News, February 9, 1999
courtesy of Ray Prigodich
(posted 11 February 1999)
Russian authorities are trying to find out why three young girls threw themselves to their deaths from the window of an eighth floor Moscow apartment in an apparent suicide pact.
The girls, aged 11, 12, and 14, left a note saying they wanted to be buried together in the same coffin but did not give any explanation for taking their own lives.
With no obvious motive some Russian newspapers and television stations have suggested a sect - possibly the Jehovah's Witnesses - could be to blame.
'Nothing to do with us'
The Jehovah's Witnesses, who are fighting attempts by the Moscow authorities to ban them from the city, have denied any responsibility for the tragedy.
Tanya Kuznetsova, 11, Masha Pavlichenko, 12, and Alyona Strukova, 14, apparently jumped to their deaths from the eigth floor window of an apartment in the Moscow suburb of Balashika on Monday night.
They apparently jumped one after another, rather than simultaneously. Two died instantly while the third died later in hospital.
Looking for a motive for the tragedy, the private television channel NTV said the parents of the trio had ruled out any connection with drugs or religious sects.
'Sects approached the girls'
But the ORT television station said investigators had ruled out drugs or teenage angst as a motive and were looking into a sect called the White Brothers, which is active in Ukraine, and the Jehovah's Witnesses, who reportedly approached one of the girls.
But a spokesman for Russia's Jehovah's Witnesses, Alexei Nazarichev, said: "Incitement to suicide is no part of our practice or precepts."
He said they would not approach the children without the approval of their parents.
High suicide rate
The Jehovah's Witnesses are threatened with a ban under a legal procedure currently under way in Moscow.
Russia has one of the world's highest suicide rates.
Last year it was running at 37 suicides per 100,000, compared with 11 per 100,000 in the United States.
Adult suicides are often blamed on Russia's economic chaos or to alcoholism but child suicides remain rare.
courtesy of Victor Sokolov
(posted 11 February 1999)
SCHOOLGIRLS LEAP TO THEIR DEATHS IN TRIPLE SUICIDE
Moscow: Three schoolgirls aged 11, 12 and 14 threw themselves from the window of the eighth floor of a Moscow suburban apartment block.
Two of them, Tanya Kuznetsova and Masha Pavlichenko, died immediately when they struck a ledge jutting from the building. The third, Alyona Strukova, died in hospital later, the private television channel NTV reported.
The girls, who lived in the same building and were close friends, left a farewell letter in which they asked to be buried in the same coffin. The reason for their suicide on Monday remained unclear.
Their grief-stricken parents have ruled out any connection with drugs or religious sects, NTV reported.
But media reports said the police inquiry had turned towards the possibility of a sect, after ruling out drugs and unhappy love affairs.
According to a television report, investigators are looking into a sect called the White Brothers, which is active in Ukraine, and the Jehovah's Witnesses, which is said to have approached one of the girls.
Three years ago, on February 9, 1996, White Brothers leaders in Kiev were found guilty of "organising public disorder and civil disobedience" and sentenced to prison terms ranging from four to seven years.
According to a self-help group, the Organisation for the Rescue of Moscow's Youth, some 13,000 sects and religious movements have been registered in Russia since a law on freedom of religion was adopted after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
According to the organisation, sect members number in the millions and some are recruited at universities and schools.
from Sydney Morning Herald
(posted 16 February 1999)
In the trial to liquidate the Moscow Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, the prosecution asserts that if someone from another religion doesn't like what you believe, you have sown religious discord and should be banned.
Today was spent with the defense questioning the evidence presented by the prosecution on the first point of its accusation--that Jehovah's Witnesses sow religious discord. The only "evidence" presented thus far was the prosecutor's reading from the literature of Jehovah's Witnesses. T.I. Kondratyeva, the prosecutor handling the case today, agreed that nothing in the literature of Jehovah's Witnesses encourages violence or racial or social discrimination. But, according to the prosecutor, if someone feels insulted by what is written, discord is sown.
"If offending someone is grounds for banning a religion, them soon no religions--including the Orthodox Church--will exist in Russia," said A. I. Leontyev, an attorney for the defense, after today's proceedings.
Human rights groups have highlighted the protection of religious freedom under the European Convention on Human Rights, which was ratified by Russia on May 5, 1998. When this issue was raised by the defense, the prosecutor denied its application to Russia. Under further questioning, she admitted that individual Russians may seek its protection, but the religious community of Jehovah's Witnesses may not. Actually, Article 25 of the Convention guarantees the right of appeal to individuals and to organizations.
Only the first of more than a dozen points in the complaint has been reviewed. No witnesses have been called. Court was adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m.
Using Russia's new law on religion, the Moscow Prosecutor's Office brought civil charges against the Moscow Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, calling for the liquidation of the religion in Moscow. Investigations on charges brought by the Youth Salvation Committee began in 1996. Four criminal investigations found no evidence to support the accusations. If the prosecution is successful in this civil case, Jehovah's Witnesses will lose the right to express their beliefs publicly or to hold religious meetings. Contrary to prosecution assertions, Jehovah's Witnesses are known around the world for their peaceful, moral behavior.
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES FIGHT MOSCOW BID TO BAN THEM
by Gareth Jones
MOSCOW, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Lawyers for the Jehovah's Witnesses defended the religious group on Wednesday against charges that it breaks up families, in a court case widely seen as a litmus test for human rights in Russia.
Prosecutors are trying to ban the group in Moscow under a controversial new religious law which has drawn international criticism as a throwback to Soviet-style intolerance.
``The prosecutors accuse us of promoting religious discord, of breaking up families and posing a threat to society but they have yet to come up with any evidence,'' said Judah Schroeder, a spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses.
``Yesterday the prosecutor said Russian minds were not prepared for our kind of religious literature. This amounts to a call for reimposing censorship. Who is to decide what Russian minds are allowed to read?'' said Schroeder.
The trial began last September but was postponed due to the prosecution's lack of evidence and resumed only on Tuesday.
If the Jehovah's Witnesses lose their case, under Russian law they will be disbanded as a legal organisation in Moscow despite their plans to appeal against any such ruling.
``We will take our case, if necessary, to the European court in Strasbourg but in the meantime we would lose our buildings here and would have to go underground,'' Schroeder told Reuters.
The Jehovah's Witnesses have existed in Russia for more than a century and today have about 250,000 members in the country, including 10,000 in Moscow.
Human rights activists say the case has repercussions for all minority religious groups under Russia's 1997 law ``on freedom of conscience and religious organisations.''
The law, criticised by the United States and the Vatican as discriminatory, requires all religious groups in Russia to re-register by the end of 1999. Unregistered groups lack full legal rights and cannot conduct missionary or educational work.
It gives the courts the right to disband any religious group they find guilty of inciting hatred or intolerant behaviour.
The law's defenders, who include most of Russia's political establishment and the powerful Orthodox Church, say it is needed to counter the influence of dangerous sects trying to exploit the spiritual vacuum left by the fall of Soviet communism.
Schroeder said that even if it loses the Moscow case, he hoped the Jehovah's Witnesses could re-register nationally.
A body called the Committee for the Rescue of Youth initiated the case against the Jehovah's Witnesses last year, accusing them of luring young people into their ranks without the knowledge or consent of their parents.
The committee has also said some young people have ended up in psychiatric hospitals or committed suicide as a result of their involvement with the Jehovah's Witnesses -- accusations denied by the group.
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES UNDER FIRE IN RUSSIA
by Maura Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
10 February 1999
MOSCOW -- Prosecutors launched a drive yesterday to outlaw Jehovah's Witnesses, accusing the denomination of fomenting religious strife at the start of a trial that could have sweeping implications for all faiths in Russia.
The case is the most prominent test so far of the country's 1997 law on religion, which is designed to curb the activities of foreign religious organizations seeking new members in Russia.
Prosecutors brought charges under an article seeking to outlaw dangerous cults. The indictment accuses the Jehovah's Witnesses of inciting religious discord, splitting families, promoting suicide, and denying medical care to the critically ill.
Human rights advocates have warned that, although Russia's constitution officially protects freedom of worship, a ruling against the Witnesses could be used to outlaw any religious group that falls out of favor with authorities.
"This is a major test case," said Diederik Lohman, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch. "If they win this case, they can easily use it as a precedent to close down groups throughout Russia."
The ruling in the trial, being held in a small, stuffy local district courtroom in northern Moscow, will technically apply only to that district of the city. But both sides say its impact will be felt throughout Russia.
"The central issue is whether the government can classify any religious group they want to close down as a cult," said Lawrence Uzzell, Moscow director of the Oxford-based Keston Institute, which monitors religious freedoms in former Communist countries.
The central accusation against the Witnesses is that they "foment religious strife" by claiming to be "the only true religion." That is an assertion made by nearly every faith, Uzzell said.
"Any religion that claims to be in possession of a divine revelation -- as all major world religions do -- could be outlawed if they should fall out of favor with the authorities," he said.
Prosecutors have said that they hope to call dozens of family members of Jehovah's Witnesses to testify about the group's practices.
"We believe they are violating Russia's civil laws," the lead prosecutor, Natalya Adamova, said. "When you propagandize against other religions, you should stay within certain boundaries and not insult the other faiths. We think that's what they are doing."
Prosecutors cite literature that refers to people outside the Jehovah's Witnesses as "adherents to the world of Satan." They also cite the Witnesses' prohibition of blood transfusions as evidence for the charges of promoting suicide and denying medical care.
Critics have noted that the charges are based on general assertions of the group's beliefs and practices, not specific cases of alleged wrongdoing.
"What they are trying to do is close them down purely on the basis of what they write and what they say," Uzzell said. "That's discriminatory. It's treating some religious ideas more favorably than other ideas."
Russia's religion law has its roots in Soviet-era repression of all faiths. Certain groups, including the Russian Orthodox Church, were allowed to worship in a restricted manner, but they were forced to register with the authorities and could not actively recruit new members, even their own children.
The religion law, promoted by the Orthodox Church and signed by Boris N. Yeltsin in September 1997, recognizes only four faiths as "traditional" in Russia: Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
The law requires groups perceived to be "foreign" to demonstrate a continuous 15-year presence in Russia before they are permitted to worship publicly.
Jehovah's Witnesses, unlike many religious groups, were active in Russia
before the Bolshevik Revolution. Several thousand members were exiled to
Siberia during the Stalinist era. The group has been expanding rapidly
in recent years, and claims 100,000 committed members.
JEHOVAH'S WITNESS LAWSUIT TESTS RUSSIA'S RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
February 9, 1999
MOSCOW (CNN) -- In a case that could determine the limits of religious freedom in Russia, prosecutors argued before a Moscow court Tuesday that Jehovah's Witnesses should be banned from the capital.
Citing a controversial new law that gives courts the power to outlaw any religious group convicted of inciting hatred or intolerance, prosecutors have charged the Jehovah's Witnesses with "instigating religious strife."
They say the religious sect, founded a century ago in the United States, threatens lives by pressuring sick people into refusing medical aid. Prosecutors say the group also creates rifts between family members with its practice of not celebrating national holidays.
There are an estimated 10,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow, and more than 250,000 across the country.
Jehovah's Witnesses claim no one is forced to practice their religion and stress that any ban on the group would defy the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
"If we lose and we are banned and liquidated, other parts of Russia will follow suit, so for us the stakes are extraordinarily high," said Jehovah's Witness Judah Schroeder.
A judgment against the group could lead to the banning of other sects, including the Mormon Church and the Seventh-Day Adventists.
Orthodox Church threatened?
Jehovah's Witnesses say the trial is not about theology, but turf.
"It is clear that the Russian Orthodox Church is concerned about the growth of non-traditional religions that have come into Russia in the past few years," Schroeder said.
The Orthodox Church supports the new law, which enshrines it as the country's main religious group.
Metropolitan Kirill, one of the Orthodox Church's Moscow leaders, accused Jehovah's Witnesses on Tuesday of "intruding on the people's spiritual world and exerting psychological pressure," the Interfax news agency reported.
"There have been cases when this pseudo-religious manipulation of the public contained a material factor, that is, human souls were virtually bought or dragged by other dirty methods into the orbit of the teaching," he said.
If banned, Jehovah's Witnesses would be forced underground, unable to hold public services or rent property -- conditions similar to what the group experienced under communism.
Correspondent Steve Harrigan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(posted 11 February 1999)
The trial to liquidate the Moscow congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses resumed today under heavy media attention. Fifteen camera crews from media outlets around the world met up in the crowded halls of Golovinskiy People's Court. Concern over the impact that the court case will have on minority groups moved the governments of Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and others to send representatives to monitor the trial.
The defense motion to dismiss the charges for lack of evidence was denied, as was its move to present a counter suit for damages. The prosecution spent the day reviewing the doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses. Yet when the judge asked for proof that the doctrine causes religious discord, Prosecutor T. I. Kondratyeva could only answer that Russian minds are unprepared for this type of religious literature.
Some human rights groups see the prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses as harassment. However, repeated government investigations have found nothing. On the contrary, they have revealed Jehovah's Witnesses to be exactly what they say they are "a peaceful group desiring to practice their religion openly and freely." Interestingly, the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment on a case involving Jehovah's Witnesses, Tsavachidis v. Greece, on January 21, 1999. The court affirmed previous decisions that Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion and belief and of religious association, applies to Jehovah's Witnesses. Russia ratified the European Convention on May 5, 1998, thus recognizing the authority of the European Court. Therefore, the prosecution risks bringing sanction to Russia for its action against Jehovah's Witnesses.
Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian group that has been in Russia for more than 100 years. They have nearly 14 million supporters worldwide, some 250,000 in Russia, and about 10,000 in Moscow. They are known around the world for their morality, attention to family, and nonviolent stance.
Detailed information on the Moscow trial can be found at www.jw-russia.org.
(posted 9 February 1999)
MOSCOW SEEKS BAN ON JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Opponents say the powerful Orthodox church is behind the move
by Andrew Harding in Moscow, BBC
A trial has begun in Moscow in which the authorities are trying to ban Jehovah's Witnesses from the city.
It is the first case to be tried under a controversial new law on religious freedom. Human rights groups say it is an important test case which could have a lasting impact on minority religions across Russia.
The authorities in Moscow are throwing the book at the Jehovah's Witnesses, accusing them of breaking up families, promoting suicide, failing to recognise other religions and promoting religious discord.
Sects and cults
Supporters say the law protects Russia from foreign sects and cults which have poured into the country since the collapse of communism. But critics say it will curb the rights of legitimate minority religions.
Judah Schroeder, a Jehovah's Witness spokesman, said the authorities had no evidence against his organisation and he claimed the case was being orchestrated by Russia's powerful Orthodox Church in an attempt to stifle competition.
If the Jehovah's Witnesses lose the case, a ban will be imposed on all their activities in Moscow. As a result other religious groups are watching the trial closely, fearing that a successful prosecution could set a dangerous precedent.
Foreign governments have repeatedly criticised the new law, which says that religious organisations must be present in Russia for 15 years before they can publish or distribute literature or bring in foreign missionaries.
courtesy of Gleb Glinka
(posted 10 February 1999)
by Sergei Borisov
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 3 February 1999
[At the conclusion of the first day of the Seventh Christmas Readings, which began in the Moscow city hall on 24 January, Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus gave a press conference. Among the usual questions from reporters pertaining to religious education and problems of RPTs, unexpectedly and loudly there arose the question about what the patriarch thinks of the appearance within Orthodox churches of members of RNE, dressed in uniforms with fascist symbols, and of the fact that Metropolitan Mefody of Voronezh even blessed the banners of RNE with a sign that looks like a swastika. The primate of the Russian church said that RPTs does not support any parties or movements, much less fascist ones, emphasizing at the same time that nowadays there are believers in many political movements, whom the church cannot refuse Orthodox nurture. Nevertheless, attempts of radical political organizations to cover their activity with a pseudo-Orthodox phraseology are continuing. And not every bishop, priest, or layperson is able to identify in the patriot who is spouting beautiful words about Russia and the church the extremist who actually is professing a complex of occultic views of the world that are thoroughly hostile to Christianity.]
It is no accident that the question of the position of the Russian church with regard to Russian National Unity (RNE) has resounded recently. Many radical nationalistic groups, hoping to escape the odium of political marginality, are trying to secure the support of the Moscow patriarchate, and if they cannot manage to do this, then at least they want to imitate and create the appearance of cooperation between the conservative clergy and the neo-Nazis. Thus, recently the Tomsk division of RNE spoke out in defense of Bishop Arkady, who had been transferred from the local see, claiming that Master Arkady was being opposed in the intra-church conflict by priests with "non-Russian surnames." However, in an interview with NGR reporter, Bishop Arkady himself declared that he had no contacts with RNE and moreover he had not authorized them to collect signature in his support.
The author of these lines has had occasion to observe how "operatives" from RNE conducted themselves in the Holy Virgin (Diveevo) monastery during the celebration of the translation of the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov, who had been summoned there in order to "maintain order," but hardly by the monks themselves. The "black shirts" tried to organize the pilgrims inside the church into strict rows, without taking account of age or health or the spiritual mood of those who had come to this sacred place. In general one gets the impression that in the Nizhny Novgorod diocese, where the Diveevo monastery is located, a distinctive union of local Orthodox leaders and the neo-Nazis is being formed, without the knowledge of the elderly Metropolitan Nikokai, who himself went through the war with fascism and was wounded during it. Thus, one of the summer issues of the local diocesan newspaper printed a wideranging interview of the leader of the regional division of RNE, who described the patriotic and church activity of the Barkashovites.
So who are these "new Orthodox" who are dressed in black uniforms with swastikas on their arms?
However, the leaders of RNE, in contrast to the ordinary members who have fallen into their web, are not reluctant to display the essence of their ideology. This was evidenced in the recent speech by the leader of RNE in the newspaper Russkii poriadok and his interview that was in the newspaper Zavtra (no. 45, Nov. 1998).
In it Alexander Barkashov himself describes his organization, making a brief excursus into the history of RNE, explaining several questions of the ideology and future policies. At the same time he called special attention of readers to the fact that RNE is a closed "religious order." And although he did not disclose just what kind of religion he has in view, Barkashov introduces in subsequent material in the paper curious facts that sometimes remind one of the plot of a science fiction story.
According to Barkashov, a vigorous magic war is being conducted against RNE, that includes an "exchange of energy strikes." On one side in this war is RNE, and on the other side is a certain "General Rogozin," who is famous for his declaration that he is protecting the president of the Russian federatin by means of occult knowledge. Why they have not used them, however, remains a puzzle, since this question is not illumined in the paper. But nevertheless it is solemnly and unequivocally stated that if "General Rogozin" continues his combat activity on the astral front, Barkashov will use magic to reduce him to dust. "If they want to fight by occult means in the future, I will send them to the devil's mother. They had better take that to heart," Barkashov declared with self-assurance. At the same time the leader of RNE noted that members of his organization know well the approaches and methods of the opposition, although they do not use them for fear of disrupting world harmony. "We can do that too, but we will not boast. We will resort only to methods which employ religious practice. In contrast to all these witches and psychics we will not attack anyone simply because we do not like him or he said something bad about us."
Members of RNE themselves are convinced that Orthodoxy is the sum of "Eurasian Nordic mysteries," and to a great extent they organize their religious concepts on the basis of books by one of the ideologues of contermporary political gnosticism, Alexander Dugin, who at the end of the 1980s delivered lectured for members of the Pamiat society, sometimes along with Barkashov, on the so-called "White Vedanta," a complex of religious and occultic views that resurrect "nordic" mysticism. In this context, the visits by Barkashovites to Orthodox shrines takes on special significance: it is quite possible that members of RNE are going there not for repentance and prayer but in order to "revive the energy of the relics" for magical manipulation by following the practices of the adherents. This explanation is quite likely, especially when one considers that in the occultic tradition Orthodox saints are viewed as "wizards" who were initiated from the Cosmos or "mother earth," whose worship "magnifies occultic powers."
However, whether to engage in occultism or not is a personal matters for RNE members. The real question is different: how shold Orthodox monasteries react to the suggestions of the magical and occultic society "to provide help in reception of pilgrims," "to maintain order," and the like? After all, that such "helpers" can visit the Holy Virgin monastery strictly for purposes of repentance and the hope for forgiveness of sins, and not in the capacity of persons who are maintaining order is an obvious moral axiom for the Orthodox person.
At present the RPTss has many ill-wishers for whom the subject of "Orthodoxy and Nazis" provides productive basis for the most unconscionable speculation and discrediting of the church and Orthodoxy. Under such circumstances any misstep in relations with such an odious group as RNE can cause the church substantial harm, creating the possibility of exaggerating the actual or casual cooperation of the extremeists with Orthodox churches and monasteries and thereby providing a regular propagandistic attack upon RPTs. In the situation, Orthodox pastors and bishops should not deal casually with the "business propositions" of extremists, even if they are talking about love for Russia and Orthodoxy and the like. The Apostle John appealed to Christians: "Beloved; do not trust every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they be of God, because many false prophets have appeared in the world" (I Jn 4.1). (tr. by PDS)
(posted 8 February 1999)
The oldest of the new sects is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). They appeared in the first third to the middle of the last century and then spread throughout practically the whole world, by engaging not only in evangelistic and preaching activity, but commercial activity as well. In 1998 a new Mormon appeared in the world every eighty seconds. By a most approximate calculation, there are more than 8,000 of them in Russia. They are known for polygamy, rigid hierarchical structure, and intolerance of "traitors" (see the short story by A. Conan Doyle "Study in Crimson Tones." The church's capital excedes thirty billion dollars. Many Mormons work in buraus and archives, copying out names of ancestors, in order to "rebaptize" them into the "true faith." They make considerable use of Old Testament and New Testament terminology, but they have nothing in common with traditional confessions.
The Watchtower Society, "Jehovah's Witnesses," rejects any earthly authority, military service, civic oaths, state holidays, and the like. Its members consider themselves citizens of a united theocratic state with its center in Brooklyn (USA), from where more than twelve million subjects are "nurtured" throughout the world. The Watchtower magazine, which comes out twice a month, is distributed throughout the world in a printing of 26 million copies in 67 languages. On the basis of materials of the magazines, Jehovist services are conducted in the "Kingdom Halls" (in Moscow alone there are more than sixty), which can be led by any man over the age of twenty. They deny the Christian Trinity and the deity of Christ, and they do not believe in the immortality of the soul. They are awaiting Armageddon, the final battle of the forces of good and evil, after which 144,000 faithful will ascend to heaven and will rule those who remain on earth. In order to achieve a place among the elect, each Jehovist must proclaim his belief on average of no less than ten hours a month, and any interruption wipes out the work already done and one must start again. Jehovism reached Russia for the first time in 1914. By approximate calculation, now in Russia alone the Jehovah's Witnesses number more than 100,000 persons. Their administrative center is located in the settlement of Solnechny, outside St. Petersburg. Jehovists now are the largest of the nontraditional sects in Russia.
The founder of the sect, Ron Hubbard, loved to repeat: "Make money, make money, make more money, make yet more money, force others to work so that they will produce money for you." In 1950 Hubbard published a book, Dianetika. Contemporary Science of Spiritual Health, which can be found in book stands from Hong Kong to Kaliningrad. In his time Hubbard has declared himself antichrist, affirmed that Scientology's ascent to power will prevent the second advent of Christ. Scientologists were received in Moscow and Russia with open arms, although lately Russians have cooled to the severe Hubbardists. In 1977 Hubbard was accused, but not convicted, in the USA of theft of secret documents. In 1978 in France he was sentenced to prison for swindling, but he managed to steal away from the country. Scientologists penetrated Russia by creating here a "detoxification centers" and "drug centers" dedicated to the struggle with drug addictions. Prominent politicians, parliamentary deputies, cosmonauts, and the like participated in the sensational presentations of "dianetics" and the aforementioned centers. The press treated Hubbardist methods an the solution to drug addiction. And only in 1996, after numerous tests and studies, the minister of health categorically forbade the use of Hubbard's methods in the state medical system. In Germany, USA, Greece, Great Britain, France, and Belgium, Scientologists have been either prohibited or placed under surveillance by the secret police in order the protect the health of the nation.
UNIFICATION CHURCH (MOON'S SECT)
Its other name is the Moonist church, the official name is the Association of the Holy Spirit for the Unification of World Christianity (in literal translation from the Korean: Spiritual Association for Unification of World Christianity), and also, since 1997, the Wolrd Association of Families for Peace in the Whole World and Unification. The sect is rigidly hierarchical: the inner circle is Moon himself, the next circle is Moon and his own family, further out are their twelve children, then the club of brothers-in-law. The movement was founded in 1954 by Moon San Yan (or its western variant Song Yung Moon). The followers call the movement "Tung il do" or simply "Tong il." It includes more than 300 organizations which are engaged in commerce, business, industry, politics, science, and even religion. Three years ago 2,000 Russian schools were using the Moonist textbook "My World and I." Moonist seminars have trained, and continue to train, more than 60,000 school teachers. Moon controls the influential newspaper Washington Times. The church became well known in the west at the beginning of the seventies, and in 1984 Moon was jained in USA for failure to pay taxes. It is claimed that in order to establish blood relations with Moon, young men and women drink a cocktail which contains the blood of Moon and his wife. The Moonists claim that they have about three million followers in the world, 70,000 of whom are in Russia. An exotic charm is given to the Moonites by the mass weddings, although the number of "brides and grooms," as a rule, has been substantially exaggerated. In 1997 Venezuela joined the countries persecuting the Moonites, depriving them of registration as a religious organization.
SOCIETY OF KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS
The movement really began in USA and has been headed by Abhai Charanda, but the base of the tradition was established by "His divine mercy Swami Bkhaktivedanta Shril Prabkhupad." He was supported by the leader of the beatniks Alan Ginsberg and one of the Beatles, George Harrison (The Beatles even produced a recording sacred to the Krishnaites, "Life in the Material World"). Extortion of money became one of the main tasks of rank-and-file Krishnaites ("I want to give you this beautiful book free, but you should donate to the movement about fifty thousand dollars. . . ."). On the eve of the death in 1977 of Prabkhupad he named eleven successor gurus and ordered them to divide the world among themselves. Violence against children, blackmail, and drugs are all used for control of followers and further extortion of money. Whoever wants to save their souls much repeat 1728 times a day the mantra: "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare." Distribution of prasad (a special food) on the streets, including at hot spots of the former Soviet Union, is not simply an act of charity; it is an act of communion with Krishna, an act of the spread of the faith. Officially Krishnaism has been active in USSR from 1989. Some data show that now in Moscow and the region there are more than 30,000 Krishnaites, and in Russia, more than 100,000. In 120 Russian cities officially there are 120 registered Krishnaite temples.
MOTHER OF GOD CENTER
Other names: Fund for New Holy Rus, Church of the Transforming Mother of God, Russian Universal Church of Mary. It began operating in USSR approximately in 1988. The founder and head--"patriarch," "magriarch," and finally "matriarch"--was Ioann Bereslavsky, whose secular name was Veniamin Yakovlevich Yankelman (whose literary pseudonym is Veniamin Yakovlev). He wrote more than twenty volumes of "revelations" and other compositions. Along with like-minded persons he worked out the doctrine of the Testament of the Mother of God. From the very beginning the movement operated with actively anticommunist slogans, although in one of the Mother of God newspapers there was published an interview with Marshal Yazov under the title "Dmitry Yazov, Man of God." Bereslavsky's works are known under the general title "White Gospel." Jesus Christ has been relegated to second place, while Mary the Mother of God occupies first place for Bereslavsky. After a number of conflicts with other sects, the followers of Mother of God moved to "Marirengrad," as they renamed Petersburg, but they could not find peace there. One of their first struggles came with the White Brotherhood followers, headed by Marina Tsvigun. Now they have settled down, but they are actively seeking supporters among the marginal members of the Marina churches and sects abroad. The distinctive teaching of Bereslavsky is the religious perception of the world through sexuality, while women and mothers are "vampires" for them and the most insulting word for them is "mother," and "mama" is beyond obscene. In 1991 the followers of the Mother of God publicly exorcised the spirit of Lenin from the Kremlin. Their ideal is a theocratic state headed by a martyred monarch like Nicholas II, while for the time being they actively have supported Yeltsin and the free market and maintain ties with the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.
We have briefly characterized only a few of the most active and notable sects which are playing or trying to play some role in the contermpoary Russian spiritial and political life. Others also exist: "Transcendental Meditation," the "Family," the Church of Christ, the World Wide Church of God, the Local Church, "Word of Life," "White Brotherhood" (whose leaders only recently got out of prison and still have not managed to show themselves as before), "Vissarionites," "Ivanovits," the "New Age" movement," and a number of other, lesser known and less influential groups. Besides this, we have not taken account of the so called traditional Russian sects, whose roots arose in the middle to end of the last century (I point those who are interested to the book by Alexander Etkind, "Khlyst," which recently appeared from the "New Literary Review" publishing house).
Our task has been to identify a problem and not to paint sectarian scenes. This is a problem with which now our state, society, church, and finally the individual is wrestling. Many sects call themselves families. But what is the family? The basic unit of society? Or the core of insanity, a cancer, which can strike the national state organism which is suffering from immune deficiency? Police measures cannot be avoided. (tr. by PDS)
(posted 7 February 1999)
By Abdumannob Polat, Chairman, Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan; Director, Union of Councils' Central Asian Human Rights Information Network (Excerpts)
HRWF (03.02.1999) - Since December 1997, for the first time in decades, the authorities have been blaming Muslim activists in Uzbekistan for killings and attempts to establish an Islamic state in the country by force. Masked men cut off the head of a senior policeman and stuck it on a fence in Namangan, the major stronghold of Islamic thought in today's Central Asia. Several months before this crime, several officials, including the Deputy Hokim (Governor) of the province, were also murdered. The police, terrified, detained hundreds (by some reports, thousands) of people. At the only gun battle that occurred during this campaign, a suspect and two policemen were killed. A third officer was fatally injured. A suspect named Tolib Mamajonov was wounded during the battle and arrested. The authorities claimed that an armed Islamic cell of so-called Wahhabis(1) was responsible for killing the policeman. In the light of the general practice of the authorities of Uzbekistan in combating crime and of previous charges against independent or opposition activists which were developed without any proper grounds, the current accusations regarding the killings in Namangan are suspect.
According to information obtained by the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU) and many other human rights activists in Namangan and Tashkent, there are at least 120 possible prisoners of conscience from the Farghona (Fergana) valley, who are jailed on what are likely fabricated charges, such as possession of narcotics and weapons. Most of them were jailed and tried after the December 1997 killings. Trials are still going on. Reportedly, police during arrests or searches planted weapons and narcotics, a widespread practice in Uzbekistan used to combat crime, as well as dissent. Human rights monitors claim that Tolib Mamajonov is the only murder suspect among the jailed Wahahabis who could have some association with the crimes that occurred in Namangan over the last couple of years. But according to people who knew Mamajonov, he had no affiliations with the Islamic activists and many advocates strongly doubt his guilt. However, at a June 1998 trial that was widely publicized by the government, Mamajonov said that he killed a police officer and referred to jihad(2). Many human rights advocates think that the suspect was promised a lesser sentence if he admitted guilt and made [a] statement about jihad. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to death. This is not surprising because in many other common criminal cases, authorities tend not to keep the promises they make in order to get the testimony they need.
WHO ARE THE MAIN TARGETS OF HARASSMENT OF MUSLIMS OR CHRISTIAN SECTS?
The government considers independent Islamic activists as the main threat to the regime and stability in the country. Therefore, harassment of advocates and supporters of the independent Muslim clergy and Islamic missionaries from foreign states is much stronger than that of Christian missionaries and other non-Muslim activists.
It is believed that there are at least 120 Muslim prisoners in the Farghona valley jailed on what are likely fabricated charges of narcotics and weapons possession. However, many Western people and institutions that focus on Central Asia are much more aware of intolerance in Uzbek society and government toward foreign Christian missionaries than they are of the larger scale of harassment of the independent Islamic community.
Surely, monitoring and advocating religious freedoms of minorities, non-violent sects, and missionaries [is] important. Christianity has strong spiritual and political influence in developed democracies. But non-proportional attention to these issues accompanied with a lesser interest in the religious freedoms of the majority population in Central Asia discredits this extremely important idea. Many people in the region negatively view the much stronger levels of advocacy on the part of Western governments and organizations of Christian sects and missionaries than of Muslims who suffer on a larger scale.
The collapse of communism left a vacuum in the spiritual life and ideology of Uzbekistan. The government is trying to cultivate a new secular ideology based on historical traditions and heritage, but it may take years or even decades for this ideology to be accepted and put down deep roots. There is no opportunity to advocate openness and pluralistic democracy. Not surprisingly, there are attempts underway to fill this vacuum with Islamic thought. The attempt has succeeded, at least to some extent. In 1989-94, Uzbekistan's leadership considered the secular democratic opposition as the main threat to the authorities and stability. The government had been in general much more tolerant of independent Islamic movement and education, with the exception of the persecution in 1992-93 of the most radical groups in Namangan and Quoqon. So, a mosque became the only place where people could hear views out of total state control. Islamic thought, including its interpretations independent from the authorities, began to fill out [the] existing "ideological vacuum." Now it is independent Islam that is being singled out as the greatest threat to stability in Uzbekistan.
The real threat of fanatical Islam spreading from the south has fed into the Uzbek government's use of a highly inflated specter of Islamic extremism to justify its denial of multi-party democracy, openness, and freedom of expression and media in the country. The same threat forces leaders of the Central Asian nations to seek support, including probable military support, from Russia. NATO and the US are far from Central Asia, and they are not closely interested in the region, except when it comes to Caspian oil and gas.
A continued lack of openness and freedom for secular democratic ideas in Uzbekistan could definitely lead to a confrontation between the government and the Islamic movement. Unfair persecution of Muslims who advocate independence from government control could lead to genuine Islamic extremism. Instead, the country needs to promote gradual reforms, step by step liberalization, tolerance towards other religious views and different interpretations of Islamic practices. This seems to be the only way to maintain the current level of stability and prevent a future disaster in Uzbekistan and all of Central Asia.
Source: Kent James, Westminster Chapel Azerbaijan Project
courtesy of Ray Prigodich
[There is a complete text of the report at the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.]
(posted 7 February 1999)
In a case that has garnered worldwide attention, the Moscow Prosecutor's Office has called for the liquidation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow. Postponed from November for lack of evidence, the trial will resume February 9, 1999, at the Golovinskiy People's Court.
When the Russian Federation law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" passed in September 1997, it created a stir internationally. The prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow is the first case to be tried under the new law, and many are concerned about what this trial means to other minority groups. "We cannot stand aside, we are obliged to act," said Lyudmila Alekseyeva, president of the International Helsinki Federation, a human rights organization. "If we lose this case, it will be the turn of other religious minorities, and then perhaps of independent trade unions and political organizations." During her recent visit to Russia, Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State, expressed her concern over restrictions in Russia on groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses.
If the prosecution is successful, a ban will be imposed on all activity of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow. This includes the right to express their beliefs publicly or even to meet with others of like faith. "We are deeply concerned that the prosecutorís unjust action against Jehovah's Witnesses may be the beginning of the religious persecution feared by many when the new law on religious associations was passed," said V. M. Kalin, director of the Witnesses' Administrative Center in St. Petersburg. Mr. Kalin speaks from experience. He and his family were sent to Siberia in 1951 because of their religious beliefs. He was not rehabilitated until 1993.
Contrary to prosecution assertions, Jehovah's Witnesses are respected throughout the world for their honest, law-abiding behavior and their strong family relationships. Active in more than 200 lands, Jehovahís Witnesses have about 10,000 associated with their Moscow congregation, and more than 250,000 across Russia. This Christian group has been active in Russia for more than 100 years.
Starting today, Russia watchers will be able to access a Web site with
details on a court case of international interest. The Web site "Jehovah's
Witnesses in Russia" can be found at http://www.jw-russia.org and will
have postings in Russian and in English.
[editor's note: this site appears to have some severe bugs ]
A Moscow city prosecutor wants a court to ban all religious activity of Jehovahís Witnesses in Moscow. This government-sponsored action relies on Russiaís new controversial law On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations.
The trial started in September but was postponed several times and is now scheduled to resume on February 9, 1999. Referring to the Soviet era, Yuriy A. Rozenbaum, a lawyer who helped draft Russia's 1991 law on religion, commented"ìthat such persecution is resumed in our country is at the very least brutal. This is a political and not a legal case." Representatives of the European Union, the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, various human rights organizations, and the international media have all expressed concern over the impact this trial will have on freedom of belief in Russia.
Regular postings will be made to the site as events unfold. This Web site will provide the international community, researchers, scholars and others with
Current information on the trial(posted 4 February 1999)
A verbatim transcript of the court hearings
Copies of documents filed with the court
General information about Jehovahís Witnesses in Russia, including photographs and documents from Russian archives about Jehovah's Witnesses during the Soviet years
News stories and editorials from various media outlets in Russian and in English
Judicial decisions involving Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, Europe, and elsewhere
Coprighted material. For private use only.
If material is quoted, please give credit to the publication from which it came. It is not necessary to credit this Web page.