Supreme Court rules against Jehovah's Witnesses


by Oleg Sivozhelezov

RAPSI, 18 October 2016


The Supreme Court of the Russian federation ruled the decision finding the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Orel to be extremist and subject to liquidation to be legal, a RAPSI correspondent reports on Tuesday from the courtroom.


The Supreme Court ruled the decision of the Orel provincial court of 14 July 2016, which satisfied the petitions in an administrative lawsuit of the regional directorate of the Ministry of Justice for the compulsory liquidation of the local religious organization because of the recognition of it as extremist, to be legal.


Today's session continued at the stage of judicial debate. The attorney for the Ministry of Justice insisted that the incidents of the performance by Jehovah's Witnesses of illegal activity are undisputed and the reasoning of the court of the first instance was reasonable and confirmed by the materials of the case.


The attorney for the ministry noted that attorneys of the local religious organization had earlier expressed disagreement with the substantive decisions of the courts, particularly the recognition of the brochure "How to maintain happiness in marriage" to be extremist literature. In addition, the state agency considers that the arguments about the peaceful character of the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses are refuted by the fact of the inclusion of about 80 items from the religious organization in lists of forbidden literature.


The representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the prosecutor's office voiced the final position in the case, according to which the court of the first instance adopted a legitimate and reasonable decision that is irrevocable.


At the previous session, attorneys for the religious community characterized the circumstances as a whole on which the decision of the court of the first instance was based as unproven.


The attorney for the local religious organization expressed the opinion that finding the decision of the Orel provincial court to be legal will lead to the formation of negative tendencies in law enforcement practice. Representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses considered that in a number of cases connected with the prohibition of religious communities actually a simplified procedure for the liquidation of a local religious organization has been introduced inasmuch as the results of the operations of law enforcement agencies connected with the discovery and seizure of forbidden materials are almost impossible to challenge.


The debates also included the argument that liquidation of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Orel is a measure that is disproportionate to the circumstances of the case and restricts the rights of citizens to freedom of religious confession. . . . (tr. by PDS, posted 18 October 2016)




The session of the Supreme Court of the RF, which began on 18 October at 10:00 a.m., concluded at 11:20 with the decision to liquidate the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Orel, the press service of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia reports.


The session was attended by about 70 persons. Earlier the Jehovah's Witnesses reported about a number of plants (in July and November 2015) of "extremist materials" in a house of worship rented by the local religious organization in the village of Kromy in Orel province, where a group of local believers (around 20 persons) had conducted their meetings peacefully for several years.


Thus, for example, on 16 April 2015 a police officer and two agents of the FSB (M.S. Poliakov and A.A. Drakin) just before the start of a worship service conducted a search of the rented premises, during which no forbidden objects were discovered. However one of the FSB agents tore off a tread of the steps in front of the stage and pulled out a plastic file in which there were neatly folded printed items that the audience did not know about. Among the publications that were found was an item that was included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The fact that the FSB agent tore off the tread of the steps and the fact that no other hiding places were checked for the presence of any objects and the fact that the inspection was ended after the extraction of this file with the publications speaks of only one thing: the FSB agents knew beforehand about the presence of this package there, which had been planted by unidentified persons. On the basis of the "discovery," the directorate of the Russian Ministry of Justice for Orel province issued to the local religious organization a written warning about the impermissibility of conducting extremist activity.


Several months later, on 26 November 2015, the story was repeated with the very same persons, only this time there were four publications from the Federal List of Extremist Materials and they were "discovered" under a tablecloth on a small table standing on the stage.


After this, on 6 December 2015, during a major worship meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses, five or six agents of the UFSB and UMVD for Orel province entered the building. Several of them had arrived before the start of the service and they walked along the corridor and into the hall. At 10:30 they gathered together at one of the entrances into the hall and after reporting that they had a warrant for conducting a search they broke up the service. Believers were ordered to take all their things out of the hall. It is noteworthy that the agents of law enforcement agencies who participated in the search were the same as in the village of Kromy: an agent of the Russian UFSB for Orel province, V.V. Potapov; an agent of the Russian UMVD for Orel province, F.V. Zhuravlev; and agents of the Russian UFSB for Orel province, Captain A.A. Drankin and Captain M.S. Poliakov. A police report of the search was composed but nothing had been found. Several hours later three FSB agents returned to the hall as visitors, but they were politely asked to leave.


Nevertheless, the authorities tried to charge the local religious organization under article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the RF. The organization was threatened with a fine of 500,000 rubles, but the provincial court overruled this decision. But the directorate of the Ministry of Justice for Orel province still filed in court a lawsuit for the liquidation of the local religious organization, arguing that the organization continued to conduct extremist activity despite the warning that had been issued.


This same local religious organization had been fined 100,000 rubles twice because it had not given notice of the conduct of their religious holidays, but the Supreme Court quashed these fines on the basis of a petition by the commissioner for human rights in the Russian federation.


The local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Orel has its own rich, positive history. Thus, for example, for many years in a row the administration of the city of Orel expressed thanks to the believers "for regular and conscientious labor in cleaning up the city of Orel." The believers received certificates of appreciation which said: "Your sincere and unselfish labor has made our city cleaner and more comfortable." (tr. by PDS, posted 18 October 2016)

Background articles:
Orel Jehovah's Witnesses await Supreme Court decision
October 14, 2016
Jehovah's Witnesses lose in Orel
June 15, 2016
Jehovah's Witnesses prevented from meeting even before court hears case
May 13, 2016

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