Leader of Jehovah's Witnesses reviews case against them



Vladimir Oivin: What is the essence of the accusations of the Russian Ministry of Justice against your religious organization?


Yaroslav Sivulsky: The lawsuit says that the Ministry of Justice is asking the Supreme Court to liquidate the Administrative Center as a legal entity, to prohibit its activity, and along with that to liquidate as legal entities all 395 local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in all constituent entities [subjects] of the Russian federation, and to confiscate their property as government income. In essence, this will mean the prohibition of our entire religion in the whole territory of the Russian federation. This is an unprecedented event in the life of our country, because nothing like it has ever happened before.


The lawsuit says that in the course of recent years, several of our local religious organizations were liquidated—in Abinsk, Belgorod, Samara, Orel, Birobidzhan, and so forth--and the Administrative Center has not reacted to the warning of the prosecutor general's office that was issued on 2 March 2016. They warned us that we should not be engaged in "extremist activity" through our local religious organizations, but we "did not respond in the necessary way." Now, on the basis of these incidents, the legal entity of the centralized religious organization should be liquidated.


--And in this case what does the Ministry of Justice mean by "extremist activity"?


-- Several of our publications were included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials. There are 88 of them there already. We have observed during several recent years that the prosecutor general's office, with the help of very peculiar expert analyses performed by experts who are very distant from religious studies and particularly from an understanding of the nature of religious consciousness and from linguistics—former mathematicians of the likes of the notorious Krokovaya—has declared our publications to be "extremist." Of course, after this our fellow believers have not used these publications any longer, but law enforcement agencies have conducted special operations for laying and planting these publications from the Federal List in our houses of worship. Then they come with witnesses, "discover" these publications, compose police reports, and turn to a court, where believers have already received punishment as administrative cases in the form of fines allegedly for their illegal activity. In essence, all of this is falsification, because they were plants. One can see on our website a film where the mechanism of a plant is recorded; there it is obvious how the materials are being planted and then police reports are composed on the basis of which local religious organizations are liquidated.


We are observing a deliberate criminalization of a whole religious confession: first our publications are criminalized, then the local religious organizations are outside the law, and finally the Administrative Center.


--Just what do your opponents view as indicators of extremism in your publications?


--Experts consider that our affirmations of the truth of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses in and of themselves should be regarded as "extremist" statements. Quite innocuous quotations—for example, a statement by Leo Nikolaevich Tolstory or something similar---are considered by experts as criticism of other confessions and as representing them in a malevolent form. For example, they found "extremism" in the so-called Children's Bible, where the event of the death of Jesus is described and, in particular, it says that religious leaders of that time crucified Jesus. So the expert draws the conclusion that in this way Jehovah's Witnesses present religious leaders in a malevolent light, which also is "extremism." From their point of view, this is a disrespectful attitude toward other confessions and incitement of religious strife. On the basis of such innocent phrases, very serious conclusions are made, which lie at the base of accusations of "extremism," and the corresponding publication falls into the list of extremist materials, with all the consequences that flow from that. Such a primitive, but very effective, technique has been worked out.


Everyone knows that Jehovah's Witnesses do not come out for rallies, do not protest, and do not participate in such oppositional movements and therefore it remains to resort to such means here.


--Are there precedents for a ban on the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses on similar bases in other countries?


--It is not known to us that in some country of the world Jehovah's Witnesses were charged with extremism. We are known in practically all countries of the world and nowhere do we have such legal problems with the exception of those countries where all Christian confessions are totally banned—these are Muslim or totalitarian regimes. And so, in all civilized countries our proclamation resounds freely. Even in neighboring Kazakhstan, in Astana, in the summer a huge international congress of Jehovah's Witnesses will be conducted. It would seem that Kazakhstan is not a very free country, as we think, but Jehovah's Witnesses do not have any problems there.


--What are the prospects of the case of your liquidation in the Supreme Court?


--It is hard to say.


--What will you do if a decision unfavorable to you is adopted?


--Of course, we still nourish the hope that the Supreme Court will investigate and understand that this is all absurd and the decision will be in our favor. But if that does not happen, then history shows that it is impossible to ban faith by a court. Jehovah's Witnesses have gone through bans in our country. They were banned in the past and you surely remember how overnight 8.5 thousand persons were exiled to Siberia (the anniversary of this event will be on 1 April). But this did not break the believers. They continued to read the Bible there, to proclaim, to assemble together, and to worship God.


Where else were Jehovah's Witnesses prohibited? In fascist Germany. They were the first prisoners of the concentration camps. Here, in essence, is what we face. Because the article on which we will be liquidated is very severe. That is article 282 of the Criminal Code of the RF. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 March 2017)

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