Jehovah's Witnesses fear that fines in regions threaten existence of national center


Kavkazskii uzel, 22 February 2017


A city court in Kislovodsk fined the Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization 500,000 rubles after the discovery in its premises of publications that have been ruled to be extremist.


The Kislovodsk prosecutor's office turned to the court after it conducted a verification of information reaching it about illegal actions of the religious organization. In its premises police personnel discovered and seized publications that have been ruled to be extremist. These included 11 copies of a 2009 publication that was included in the federal list of forbidden materials back in 2013.


The Russian nationwide list of materials ruled by a court to be extremist has been published in the information section of Kavkazskii Uzel. In accordance with article 13 of the federal law "On combating extremist activity," this list is "subject to periodic publication in news media."


On the basis of the results of the verification, the prosecutor of Kislovodsk opened a case of administrative violation of law because of the instance of violation of legislation on combating extremist activity. It was reviewed by the Kislovodsk city court, which decided to impose on the organization a fine of 500 thousand rubles, Bloknot-Stavropol reports today.


The Kislovodsk city court found the local Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization guilty of committing an administrative violation of law under article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the RF (production and distribution of extremist materials), and it also referred to information of the portal Novosti Kislovidsk of the city prosecutor's office.


Kavkazskii Uzel does not possess commentaries regarding the court decision from representatives of the organization that was fined.


Previously Jehovah's Witnesses in Kislovodsk appealed the actions of law enforcement agents during a search in their premises on 8 November 2016. The search was conducted by 15 siloviki [security personnel] who presented a warrant of a court sanctioning it. Only one believer was allowed to attend the search, the chairman of the local Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization, who was not able to control the action of the 15 siloviki, and as a result the law enforcement agents discovered in various parts of the building nine books, a report on the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia website of 8 November 2016 said.


The believers are convinced that these books were planted, noting that on the day before the search they inspected the building to determine the absence of forbidden literature within it. The search itself was conducted on the pretext that there may be in the building technical equipment that had been stolen from some organization. Stolen equipment was not found during the search, the report says.


Jehovah's Witnesses declare that cases against their local organizations may be used for closing the whole Russian affiliate of the organization.


Jehovah's Witnesses declare that cases against them are fabricated in the provinces, and this becomes a precedent for closing the affiliate in Russia as a whole.


On 2 March, a year will have passed since a warning about the impermissibility of conducting extremist activity was issued to the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. In it a deputy in the office of the prosecutor general of Russia threatens to close the centralized religious organization in the event of the appearance in the course of 12 months of new incidents of extremist activity, while during this time cases of falsification of evidence against local organizations have substantially increased, primarily by means of plants of printed extremist materials in houses of worship, a report posted on the website of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia on 14 February 2017 says.


It says that in 2016 alone, no fewer than 46 such plants occurred, several of which were recorded by surveillance cameras, and statements to law enforcement agencies on this matter have not produced results.


Kavkazskii Uzel has written previously about complaints about pressure by Jehovah's Witnesses from various regions of Russia, including Stavropol territory. In particular, on 24 August 2016 Jehovah's Witnesses complained about the disruption of a worship service in Budennovsk. A search was conducted by a group of persons in civilian clothes, who demanded that the service cease; they did not identify themselves but they presented a warrant of a court for conducting operational search events, Jehovah's Witnesses said. One of the reasons for pressure on Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, according to an expert of the Institute of Human Rights, Lev Levinson, is the refusal to serve in the army by members of this international religious organization. Anatoly Krasikov, the director of the Center for Study of the Problems of Religion and Society of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is sure that the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses violates the Russian constitution.


In addition, Kavkazskii Uzel has reported a number of criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses, initiated particularly in Taganrog and Abinsk. Believers in these cities also were accused of distributing extremist literature, although Jehovah's Witnesses themselves think that they are being persecuted for their religious convictions. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 February 2017)

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