Results of high court decision wait to be seen


The incidence of the latter must be clearly proved.

Moskovskii Komsomolets, 30 October 2021


On 28 October the plenum of the Supreme Court adopted a number of directives, including a recommendation to change the practice of the consideration of cases that have a certain relationship with forbidden religious organizations: the mere fact of conducting religious rituals or religious profession cannot be viewed as criminal activity, the highest court emphasized.


In an explanatory video posted on the website of the court, Supreme Court Justice Elena Peisikova literally says the following: "This rules out criminal accountability of persons regarding whom it has not been established just which specific actions connected with the revival or continuation of the activity of an extremist organization they have committed and by which motives they have been guided."


The text of the document, which has been published in news media, also shows that the reference is to part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the R.F. and that the Supreme Court considers that the "exercise of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession, including by means of individual or collective profession of religion or conduct of divine worship or other religious rituals and ceremonies, if they do not involve evidence of extremism," is not punishable.


Are there in the country forbidden religious organizations with respect to whose members judicial decisions have been made or investigation is being conducted? There are. The question is more than relevant for many Russians like those who profess Christianity apart from the main confessions. Why has the Supreme Court begun considering this question again? Elena Peisikova also reports this: the directive was prepared on the initiative of and with the participation of the Council on Human Rights under the president.


The clear example, which many immediately recall, are citizens professing Christianity in the Jehovah's Witnesses version. In 2017, the activity of the organizational structure of the "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" and 395 of its regional divisions was ruled by the Supreme Court to be extremist. Cases have been opened and decisions have been rendered with respect to believers.


The Russian religious and public figure, the writer and theologian Andrei Kuraev, whom we asked to assess the significance of the decision which was adopted, expressed the hope that this document of the whole Supreme Court may be evidence of some serious changes in approach.


"I still hope that this is a serious change, although there also were earlier explanations from the Supreme Court that the police interpret incorrectly the "policy of the party and state" on this matter. That is, the Jehovah's Witnesses organization itself was not banned. Therefore a person should not be arrested simply for belonging to it. In this sense, the position of the court is absolutely correct: there cannot be collective accountability; each individual person's guilt in each specific instance must be proved. This guilt cannot be that they gathered together and prayed but that they disseminated views that are considered to be extremist. With this I can fully agree. It is a different matter that the conclusion itself, considering them to be extremists, is far-fetched and very unconscionable. Because the Jehovists are radical in only one respect: they are radical pacifists. That is, in this sense they just do not pose a threat," Kuraev says. He disagrees with the idea that the court's decision may affect only 200 Jehovists who have been convicted or are under investigation. "There are cases where the prayer meetings of Baptists have even been shut down."


He is not ready to agree that there already are serious changes in policy regarding religious organizations. "We consider that the courts are outside politics. Therefore the Supreme Court's decision is one thing and policy may be something entirely different. I am afraid that in Russia when there is a conflict between a legislative document and the order of an immediate superior, the latter will win." In order to make an assessment of the decision that has been made, the expert suggests that we wait and view the situation for several months, whether the arrests continue or those already arrested are rehabilitated. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 November 2021)


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