Protestant legal experts discuss Jehovah's Witnesses' plight


Portal-Crredo.Ru, 29 March 2017


--Roman Lunkin, for Portal-Credo.Ru: Beginning in 2009 in Russia there have occurred systematic prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses, their literature has been ruled to be "extremist," and their religious organizations have been prohibited. The Russian Ministry of Justice is asking the Supreme Court to completely ban their activity on the territory of all of Russia. What will be the consequences of this ban?


--Anatoly Pchelintsev: The consequences of ruling the Jehovah's Witnesses to be an "extremist" movement as a whole will, in my view, be catastrophic. Russia will be the first state in the modern world that has prohibited in it this completely peaceful religious denomination (we will not take North Korea and several middle eastern countries into account). This decision will be blatant arbitrariness, a violation of those obligations that Russia took upon itself before the international community, and a violation of our own constitution. Tens of thousands of people will find themselves under threat of criminal prosecution without being terrorists and extremists.


I cannot get it into my head how personnel of the prosecutor's office, special services, and Russian Ministry of Justice could decide that it is possible to deal so severely with more than a hundred thousand Russian citizens. After all, they have the very same constitutional rights as the other citizens of the RF, and after the fall of the Soviet Union they even were recognized as victims of political repression and received corresponding certificates. Now it turns out that all of this remains only an empty declaration on paper.


Against the background of the Yarovaya Law, discrimination against believers has acquired a monstrous scale, as was not even in the soviet times, since in the time of the USSR it was at least understandable, from a logical point of view, that religion was being destroyed as a "class enemy." Now supreme democratic principles and adherence to human rights have been declared, but in practice it turns out to be exactly the opposite. Do law enforcement agencies understand where they are pushing the state and society? Regarding this I have a great question.


--For many Russian believers it is not evident whether they should stand up for Jehovah's Witnesses. Why is this important for other confessions?


--My opinion is that persecution of any group of believers necessarily affects the whole situation surrounding religious liberty in the country. And the Jehovah's Witnesses are a large, Russia-wide organization that is in some sense significant in the sphere of religious policy. If the Jehovah's Witnesses are persecuted, then that means later "on the block" will come other religious movements also, for example, protestant churches. Orthodox "sect fighters" have toward them a negative attitude just as aggressive as toward Jehovah's Witnesses. And it is this kind of "sect fighters" who in the present time are discussing plans for adopting new legislation against "sects" in the Russian State Duma and the Federation Council. There are also "sect fighters" in the Expert Council for Religious Studies Expert Analyses under the Russian Ministry of Justice. I am not now talking about new religious movements, about Hindu movements, for example, the Society of Krishna Consciousness, who are being subjected to massive attacks in the press.


That does not seem little to anybody. Another question: will Orthodox believers remain unaffected by this disastrous policy? Isn't it necessary to talk about how Muslims are disturbed by prohibitions on wearing scarves in schools, difficulties in constructing mosques, and privileges on the part of the government only with respect to one religion?


Today in a whole number of regions of Russia—Moscow, Kaluga, Kuzbass, Bashkiria, Perm territory, Tiumen province, Samara, Krasnodar, and others—there already have begun inspections in protestant churches, with searches, examination of documents, attempts to open criminal cases and to find "extremist literature," or to fine for the absence of identifying markings on existing literature, and the like. Can one consider all these actions and deeds of law enforcement agencies accidental coincidences? I do not think so.


--Why, in your view, is it that the existence of religious liberty is so important for the life of any state, if it is, of course?


--The absence of worldview liberty, figuratively speaking, deprives a state of reason and it gradually withers. There is not one single example in history where a state and society would be successful in the absence of toleration and religious liberty. The history of our fatherland is a clear example of this. One of the driving forces of the fall of the Russian empire and subsequently the USSR was just this absence in society of freedom of conscience, and the desire to arrange everybody in an ideological single file. The curtailment of rights and liberties on the whole in the country is embodied most cruelly in persecution of believers, inasmuch as under an authoritarian system a group of people immediately arises which posits that some citizens do not have the right to existence, because they believe "not in that God" or do not worship him "just so." The group of people takes upon itself the right to decide who is a potential enemy and who is not. And we are already hearing such statements in the press on the part of a number of "experts." The wave of repressions provokes fighters with "sects" to mass denunciation with respect to other believers, which has already happened all over after the adoption of the Yarovaya Law. And already hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are being dragged by completely baseless prosecutions, and the police and prosecutor's office are seeking "extremism" in places where it does not exist and even cannot exist, by definition. Such a policy inevitably will lead to social upheavals.


Stalin and Hitler, with their concentration camps and mass murders, were not able to break the Jehovah's Witnesses, and they survived in conditions of the underground. Does the current government really wish to resemble the aforementioned tyrants?


One thing is obvious: for Jehovah's Witnesses, Armageddon has already arrived, and believers of other confessions are awaiting their own apocalypse, for what is happening is the matrix of the Antichrist. (tr. by PDS, posted 29 March 2017)

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