Russian law enforcement plants evidence on Jehovah's Witnesses


by Anton Chivchalov

Religiia i Pravo, 13 April 2016


Throughout the country, a massive campaign is unfolding, during which law enforcement agencies are planting on citizens incriminating evidence in order to then fine them and limit their rights. Samara, Sevastopol, Arkhangelsk, Tiumen, Birobidzhan, Saransk, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka, Saratov and Yaroslav provinces, Krasnodar and Primore territories, Kalmykia, Dagestan, and Karachaevo-Cherkesia—the list grows practically every day. All incidents, of which there already now are more than 20 throughout the country, are well documented.


We are not talking about a dangerous mafia grouping, whose semi-legal methods it has been decided to stop, like in a movie about brave policemen. You would be surprised, but in all cases the victims of the campaign are peaceful, law-abiding citizens, who have never been convicted of a crime or even suspected of criminal activity. The targets of the attacks are officially registered local religious organizations, and the only "crime" of their members consists in their professing the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. This is happening in a secular state whose constitution says that no religion or ideology may be recognized as uniquely true.


Law enforcement agencies, usually the FSB, are planting in Jehovah's Witnesses' houses of worship literature that has been deemed extremist, and then they themselves "find" it. As is evident in the above video tape, often this is done by "decoy ducks," who may even attend services for some time and simulate sincere interest. This may be done either shortly before a search, or directly during it. An officer simply puts the literature into a shelf and "finds" it himself.


The latest tactic. According to a well-developed scheme, a prosecutor's office issues a warning and a court liquidates a local religious organization, which is the owner of the building. After a series of liquidations of local religious organizations, it is possible also to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, the central organization of the believers. And on 2 March 2016 the Administrative Center received from the Russian prosecutor general's office an official warning.


It is ironic that this warning demands the "elimination of violations" within a two-month period. What is understood as violations apparently is the distribution of "extremist" literature. Since the FSB is engaged in the distribution of such literature, by actively spreading it about Jehovah's Witnesses' houses of worship, it is this agency to which this warning should addressed. Although this will have no effect.


Why look for something that does not exist?


Falsification of evidence is an unpleasant affair, risky and dirty in all respects. It is always the last step to turn to when there remains no possibility of proving guilt by legal means. Then it is necessary to invent this guilt. It is amazing that law enforcement agencies, instead of protecting citizens from criminals, are spending resources in order to turn citizens into criminals. This is being done with energy worthy of much better use.


Not only in Russia but also in several other countries at various times attempts have been undertaken to prove the Jehovah's Witnesses' guilt of crimes against society or the state.  In Russia there is everything needed for this and even more. The law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" gives very broad possibility for liquidations of religious organizations on the most diverse grounds: infringement on rights of citizens and the integrity of the family, calls for violation of laws, inflicting harm on morality, violation of public order, use of psychotropic drugs and hypnosis, and many more of the like. Take and forbid, the grounds for this are massive.


But despite this, they never have managed in Russia to prove the guilt of Jehovah's Witnesses on any of these points. The Moscow trial in the Golovin court got bogged down and crumbled after several years of hard effort by anti-cultists. Moreover, the European court ordered the government also to pay compensation to the believers. And in 2011 the anti-cultists from Russia in the European court failed to prove a single point of their charges against Jehovah's Witnesses: destruction of families, mind-control, refusal of medical aid, and refusal to fulfill civic duties.


Here is what Anatoly Pchelintsev, doctor of laws, writes about the notorious "sectologist" Alexander Dvorkin:


"All publications which Mister Dvorkin has made are extremely emotional. As a rule, they do not contain representative data. They are not based on concrete facts but mainly on presuppositions. For example, he likes to maintain that in the sects they rape, kill, and effect alienation of property, but when we refer to official court statistics and statistics of law enforcement agencies, then we see that nothing of the sort exists."


It is for this reason that in Russia it was necessary to invent such a unique judicial (more accurately, pseudo-judicial) innovation as the article for "extremism," of which similar things do not exist in any other country. What is understood as extremism usually is that some religion considers itself correct and the others incorrect or at least less correct. Thus something that exists in all religions of the world, without exception, is selectively incriminating only for Jehovah's Witnesses and a few undesirable groups. It is absolutely illogical and immoral that peaceful citizens, who refuse on principle even to carry arms, are today put on a par with extremists, terrorists, and criminals.


Some journalists and officials sincerely believe that the Jehovah's Witnesses' literature is extremist and they are happy to describe how law enforcement agencies courageously seized one or another stash of literature, as if they were talking about drugs. Actually courts perceive "extremism" in such phrases as: "Although Josiah was young, he already understood that it is necessary to befriend those who serve Jehovah," or "People worship many things. But the Bible says that there is only one true God."


A report from the rights advocacy center SOVA says of illegal antiextremism in 2015: "Antiextremist legislation, with its vague wording, serves very well for persecution of political opponents or other groups that stand out from the mainstream. . . . Pressure is being increased . . . on the obviously harmless Jehovah's Witnesses."


After taking up such a dubious but effective trump card, the authorities at first tried to provoke Jehovah's Witnesses into themselves giving out to people "extremist" literature with their own hands. To this end they sent them provocateurs, as for example in Kirovo-Chepetsk in 2010 or Arkhangelsk in 2015. This tactic has been practiced for a rather long time now. However it has one drawback: believers never give out literature in massive quantity, and it is "mass" distribution that the law combating extremism demands. If one orders a box of literature, that is always suspicious.


So now this vicious tactic is been developed further. Having become finally convinced that proof of Jehovah's Witnesses' crimes does not exist (otherwise it would have been used vigorously in courtrooms) and it is difficult to provoke them to violations, the authorities have undertaken to falsify violations directly by planting literature by their own efforts. It is impossible to complain about such actions in court, as experience has shown, although law enforcement agents have carte blanche for any of the most aggressive actions with regard to believers.


Several sad conclusions


Fabrication of evidence is not a new invention. So how can one not recall here a gospel parallel when they first tried to find evidence against Christ, but not having found it they took recourse to false witnesses?  "The high priests and the whole Sanhedrin sought evidence against Jesus in order to put him to death, and they did not find it. For many gave false witness against him, but this evidence was not enough" (Gospel from Mark 14.55,56).


In soviet times Jehovah's Witnesses were accused of anti-soviet propaganda, spying for the USA, inciting imperialist wars, and other absurdities, which were invented in the quiet of KGB offices. Later these charges were dropped and the believers themselves were rehabilitated as victims of political repressions. But even then the KGB did not resort to such dirty work as plants in the homes of believers, and it tried to act, as they would say today, more creatively.


In some sense, the Jehovah's Witnesses have received a gift from the authorities, since the campaign of fabrication of evidence against them speaks to the fact that no proofs of their genuine, real crimes exists. The authorities have eloquently proven that they are not able to find any evidence against believers, and this with all their resources and opportunities. Journalists who want to cover this problem should take this into account. But at the same time the authorities have shown that to achieve ideological goals they again, as in the soviet years, are prepared to act by illegal methods.


The policy of plants leads to the moral degradation of law enforcement agencies, and the more widely it is practiced, the less room remains for honest people. When you are required to plant evidence on innocent people or to convict them, you are forced either to lay your badge on the table or fulfill a dirty and immoral order, inevitably compromising your own conscience. Alas, law enforcement personnel are more and more often choosing the latter.


This process, like gangrene, is capable of destroying and already has destroyed law enforcement agencies, which have practically ceased to be the preservers of law. This can have extremely negative consequences for the whole of society, which these agencies are supposed to protect. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 April 2016)


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