Voronezh Jehovah's Witnesses face new charge after successful appeal of old one


RIA Voronezh, 3 March 2017


The Voronezh provincial court overturned the decision about the suspension of the activity of the local division of the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses on Thursday, 2 March, the press service of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia told an RIA journalist. The penalty, which was determined for the division of Jehovah's Witnesses by the Lenin district court of Voronezh, has already been executed—the organization did not work for 45 days, the center noted. However the appellate instance "concluded that an incident of violation of the law was unproven and the testimonies of witnesses were contradictory," representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses explained.


In December 2016 the Lenin district court suspended the work of the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, finding it guilty of distributing extremist materials. Brochures that had been ruled extremist were found by police during a worship service of Jehovah's Witnesses in the "Energia" sports complex on 9 October 2016. Representatives of the Administrative Center of the organization criticized the actions of the siloviki who conducted the search and called the evidence "falsified."


Seven sessions were held in the provincial court before a decision was issued. Representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses said that the lawyers called the court's attention to the "obvious signs of fraud": four brochures that are included in the list of extremist [materials] were hidden between a wall and stand and also tucked under a carpet back during the night. Judge Svetlana Kurchevskaya carefully studied the materials of the case and testimonies of prosecution and defense witnesses, and concluded that the occurrence of a violation of law was unproven.


"The penalty issued by the Lenin district court, which was overturned, had already been executed. After 20 December 2016 the organization was unable to rent facilities for worship services for a period of 45 days and to conclude transactions for rental of facilities; it could not pay its bills or conduct meetings and make decisions. At the same time, about 3700 active Jehovah's Witnesses live in Voronezh province," the press service of the Administrative Center of the organization noted.


The Lenin district court of Voronezh began consideration of yet another administrative matter against the local organization of Jehovah's Witnesses on 16 February. The bases for the police report were the very same events that were the reason for the previous administrative penalty, suspension of work of the organization for 45 days. In this case the police viewed in the actions of the organizers of worship services a violation of the procedure for conducting meetings. In the opinion of siloviki, the organization violated article 20.1 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the RF by not informing authorities about the services (the same article includes the conduct of a rally, demonstration, parade, or picketing without notification). 


The Jehovah's Witnesses did not agree with the police report and appealed to the fact that according to law the requirement to notify state or municipal authorities about such a public religious event "and to bear other burdens established by law by virtue of the mere fact of its being conducted outside of places specifically designated for these purposes represents an illegal interference of the state in the area of freedom of conscience." If the court establishes the guilt of the organization for violating the procedure for conducting meetings, the Voronezh Jehovah's Witnesses face a fine of from 70,000 to 200,000 rubles. (tr. by PDS, posted 6 March 2017)

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