Storm clouds gather over Jehovah's Witnesses


Kavkazskii Uzel, 2 April 2016


Security forces [siloviki] in Prokhladnoe and Stavropol planted materials considered extremist on Jehovah's Witnesses who were conducting a worship service, the Administrative Center of the religious organization in Russia declared. Believers consider that the authorities are implementing a targeted policy of struggle with the religious society.


As Kavkazskii Uzel wrote, on 28 March the prosecutor's office of Kabardino-Balkariia circulated a report that a court in the city of Prokhladnoe issued to local Jehovah's Witnesses a warning because of distribution of publications deemed to be extremist. The congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses tried to appeal this decision, but it was not able to secure its cancellation, the prosecutor's office noted. And on 23 March Orthodox activists of Stavropol conducted a series of pickets against the activity of the congregation.


On 27 March a group of personnel of security structures [siloviki] conducted a search in the building of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Prokhladnoe. Believers were prevented from documenting the search of the premises as they had been led out of the building beforehand. After this the persons conducting the search declared that they found materials that are included in the list of extremist materials, the 28 March report of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia states.


According to the report, believers conduct weekly inspections of their building in order to determine that there are none of the forbidden materials there. "Therefore they have no doubt that materials included in the federal list were planted on them. About 250 adherents of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses reside in Prokhladnoe," the report says.


Also, according to information of the Administrative Center, on 25 March a similar search was conducted in the house of worship of the Jehovah's Witnesses located in Stavropol. After the search, the discovery of extremist materials in the building also was announced. "The vicious tactic of planting has become a widespread phenomenon in many regions of Russia, which believers have now reported many times," the report concludes.


According to information of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Administrative Center, on 30 and 31 March, such searches also were conducted at congregations in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka and Saransk. Both also concluded with the discovery of prohibited materials. In the city of Okha of Sakhalin province, on 31 March a worship service of Jehovah's Witnesses was interrupted by an anti-terrorist inspection and believers refused to sign protocols of the search.


All books and brochures of Jehovah's Witnesses that are included in the list of extremist materials are based on the Bible, a correspondent of Kavkazskii Uzel was told by a representative of the Administrative Center of Jehovah' Witnesses in Russia, Yaroslav Sivulsky. "They take every instance when we say that our faith is correct, and they conclude extremism from this. But after all, every faith says this!" he declared.


He said that the actions of the security structures in Prokhladnoe were aimed at the discrediting of the Jehovah's Witnesses. "The chairman of the religious congregation was invited to go up to the second floor of the hall, and the rest of the believers were required to leave the premises. And at this time, when nobody was in the building, suddenly publications from the federal list were "discovered." At the same time, on the day before, the believers conducted an inspection of the premises and drew up an affidavit that no forbidden literature was being kept there. They do this regularly, after every use of the hall," Sivulsky explained.


A day before the search, the electricity to the premises was turned off, and therefore the video cameras did not record the actions of the siloviki, he noted.


"We have no doubts about the deliberate goal of such actions. The goal of this policy is recognition of the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses as extremist and its prohibition throughout the country," Sivulsky is sure. "All of this is being appealed, but unfortunately there are almost no chances of achieving a positive result, since the courts mainly take the side of the law enforcers."


The chairman of the congregation in the city of Stavropol, Yury Maslov, explained for a Kavkazsky Uzel correspondent that the Stavropol Jehovah's Witnesses also carefully examine their building, searching for prohibited texts. "We were sure that there was nothing in the hall. This was clearly planted. Literature was found where it never had lain, and nobody could have put it there and then hide. In addition, nobody would want to bring such a quantity, 21 copies, and then hide," Maslov noted.


Kavkazsky Uzel still has not obtained comment from representatives of law enforcement agencies regarding the Jehovah's Witnesses' statements.


Because of the warning from the court, the organization is on the verge of closure, explained the president of the Russian section of the International Society for Human Rights, Vladimir Novitsky.


"Usually, a deadline for removal of violations is established, and if they are eliminated then the warning lapses. The chief danger of such warnings is that if, in the opinion of law enforcement agencies, the religious organization does not eliminate the violations, or the warning is not rescinded by a court, and in the course of twelve months new instances of extremist activity are discovered, in the opinion of law enforcement agencies, the religious organization may be banned," he told the Kavkaszsky Uzel correspondent.


The actions of the siloviki in Prokhladnoe and Stavropol are not independent actions but the implementation of a completely formulated policy, thinks Lev Levinson, an expert of the Institute of Human Rights.


"This is similar to what Jehovah's Witnesses suffered before the war (World War II), in the 1960s, and later, when practically all Witnesses who professed their faith openly were subjected to persecution. Disruption of worship services and inspection of libraries during worship—this is not prescribed by any laws," he declared to a Kavkazsky Uzel correspondent.


However one should not talk about full-scale persecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the country, and indeed the punishment meted out to believers is substantially milder than in the soviet period, Levinson noted. Levinson called the persecution an attempt of the state to protect the Orthodox Church from competitors.


"The authorities are not protecting public interests and they are not prosecuting extremism. They are protecting only a religious monopoly. There are new religious movements that are working on a different field than the RPTs, for example the Society of Krishna Consciousness,"—people who go there and still do not go to church are persecuted much less," Levinson thinks.


The practice of selective persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses will continue in the future, the expert is sure. "They will begin on the outskirts and will try to get to the Administrative Center. If they were to begin right away with the Administrative Center, this would be a very big headache, that the current administration is not interested in," Levinson concluded.


That the pressure on the Jehovah's Witnesses in the Caucasus may be evoked "by the zealous and even envious attitude toward them by leaders of historically familiar confessions," the author of the blog "Wind from Asheron," Kiamal Ali, opines for Kavkazsky Uzel.


"They are afraid of an outflow of believers to competitors, dissipating control over believers and a loss of the privileges given them by the state, comfortable automobiles and offices and maybe even covert salaries in envelopes. I do not see any other explanation," he wrote on 30 March in a post devoted to the situation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Azerbaijan.


Kavkazsky Uzel has written previously about a number of criminal cases in other regions of the south of Russia regarding Jehovah's Witnesses.


In September 2009 the activity of the Taganrog congregation was banned by a court. According to the investigation, after the group was banned, believers continued to conduct worship services and the study of literature that had been ruled extremist. The defendants did not acknowledge their guilt, thinking that they were being persecuted for religious convictions.


On 30 November 2015, a quartet of defendants in a case of Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog was sentenced to suspended sentences and another 12 were fined. This decision was the results of the review of an original verdict according to which in 2014 nine of 16 defendants were acquitted of a charge of extremism. In March of this year, the Rostov provincial court concluded that the guilty verdict was reasonable.


Jehovah's Witnsses reported in July 2015 the beating of a believer by siloviki in Karachaevo-Cherkesia. In the same month, a court sentenced the elder of a congregation in the Kuban capital of Briukhovetsk to 12 days detention.


On 4 March 2015 the Krasnodar territorial court granted the lawsuit of the prosecutor's office for liquidation of the Abinsk organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. Believers were accused of distributing publications that are included in the federal list of extremist materials. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 April 2016)








On 23 November 2015 a law took effect, according to which "the Bible, Quran, Tanakh, and Kangyur . . . as well as their contents and quotations from them may not be ruled to be extremist materials." The adoption of this law was preceded by the uproar connected with the finding as extremist of a publication of the book "Prayer to God: its Significance and place in Islam," which consists of a translation of verses of the Quran and sayings ascribed to the Propeht Muhammed. That decision was issued by a court in Southern Sakahalinsk. The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, filed a complaint against the court's decision, as a result of which on 5 November 2015 the decision finding the book extremist was rescinded. He actively lobbied for the adopting of the law prohibiting the finding of sacred scriptures to be extremist.



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