Orel Jehovah's Witnesses await Supreme Court decision


by Oleg Sivozhelezov

RAPSI, 14 October 2016


The Supreme Court of the Russian federation will announce on 18 October its decision on the results of consideration of the appeal of the decision finding the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Orel to be extremist and subject to liquidation, a RAPSI correspondent reports on Friday from the courtroom.


By decision of the Orel provincial court of 14 June 2016, the petitions of an administrative lawsuit by the district division of the Ministry of Justice for the forced liquidation of the local religious organization, because of its being ruled extremist, were granted.


The attorney for the Jehovah's Witnesses noted at today's session that as the result of an inspection conducted on 1 April 2013 by the Ministry of Justice, instances of the violation of the legislation on combating extremist activity on the part of the local religious association were revealed.


"This administrative case is based on the accusation of possession and distribution of extremist literature, which is rather peculiar. Over the course of many years, this religious community has used only texts of sacred scripture in its worship service, but law enforcement agencies took an interest in the local religious organization and immediately extremist literature was discovered," the attorney stated, adding that parishioners posted in the rooms lists of forbidden materials in order to prevent their circulation within the religious community.


The Jehovah's Witnesses' attorneys also mentioned that one of the main reasons for the adoption of the decision for liquidation of the local religious organization was the discovery on 16 November 2015 of four leaflets of extremist contents from the federal list on a table under the tablecloth in a building rented for parishioners, located in the village of Kroma of Orel province. The lawyers explained that this circumstance was mistakenly assessed as the conduct of extremist activity by Jehovah's Witnesses, although law enforcement agencies did not establish to whom the confiscated literature belonged and how it turned up in the building.


Representatives of the religious community on the whole characterized the circumstances that formed the basis for the decision of the court of the first instance as unproven.


"Even if instances of possession and distribution of extremist literature in only one village were proven in the requisite way, forced liquidation of the whole local religious organization would be a disproportionate measure of accountability," the lawyer explained.


The sides in the case began the debate, and after the statements of two attorneys for the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Supreme Court decided to postpone the session to 18 October.


Jehovah's Witnesses is an international religious organization with its headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. The Jehovists' website reports that the Witnesses have existed in Russia more than 100 years. Beginning in 2004, a number of congregations and local divisions of Jehovah's Witnesses in regions—in Belgorod, Samara, and Rostov provinces and in other constituent elements of the Russian federation-- were ruled to be extremist and closed. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 October 2016)

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