Suspicion that orders from above are behind trial of Jehovah's Witnesses



Personnel of monitoring agencies, law enforcement agencies, and power structures in several regions of Russia are displaying heightened interest in Jehovah's Witnesses.


In several regions of Russia, not entirely lawful means of harassment are being employed against peaceful believers.


The well-known rights advocate in Orel, Dmitry Kraiukhin, suggests that the religious organization was "closed" not so much for "extremism" as on political orders. "As a result, 175 thousand extremists may appear in the country practically overnight. Who needs this is unclear," Kraiukhin told our newspaper [Moskovskii Komsomolets—tr.]. "By the way, protocols concerning administrative violation were drawn up twice before this against Jehovah's Witnesses because they conducted meetings of more than one person without notification. Both times the decision was challenged only at the level of the Russian Supreme Court."


"If believers will continue to maintain their faith and attend meetings where they read the Bible, they will be criminally prosecuted. Participants in meetings are threatened with up to six years in prison and organizers of mass events are threatened with up to ten years," explain the Kursk Jehovah's Witnesses, who are in shock from the lawsuit of the Russian Ministry of Justice.


More than 1500 in Kursk and Kursk province do not understand why there is an attempt to apply the law "On combating extremist activity" to them, although there are no more or less specific accusations of extremism against them. Earlier publications of Jehovah's Witnesses fell under the effect of the law on extremism, which were subsequently banned. The believers note that any religious organization, not just Jehovah's Witnesses, could wind up under a ban, since the law interprets "extremism" extremely vaguely. It is possible to become extremists if some consider that the Jehovah's Witnesses' faith is true, although all people consider their confession to be uniquely true. The character of religious literature is determined by expert means, but here also there arises a number of questions.


"Expert analyses are conducted by people who are not versed in this field and do not have philological, theological, or religious studies education. One gets the impression that they wrote the conclusion on orders, on the basis of which even children's publications are ruled to be extremist. We have to refuse to use the brochures and books," a Jehovah's Witness adherent in Kursk recalls.


Jehovah's Witnesses say that their adherents often try to expose personnel of law enforcement agencies not only in Kursk but also throughout the country. Often the upholders of order are "caught" with forbidden literature in their hands, which they are planning to plant. Criminal actions by police are preserved on video, after which comes the closing of local religious organizations. However these incidents are not given attention in court.


The unwillingness to allow Jehovah's Witnesses a response evokes strong puzzlement among Kursk believers. "We want to describe for society what really is happening. Unfortunately, we are not even asked. Representatives of local organizations throughout the country were not summoned to the hearing in the Supreme Court. It turns out that we are being judged for nothing. 175,000 believers in Russia, along with their relatives and friends, will turn out to be criminals and will be prosecuted by law for reading the Bible and conversing about their faith."


Kursk Jehovah's Witnesses do not intend to go to the barricades; they simply want for the human right to freedom of religious confession, guaranteed by the constitution of the RF, to be respected. In their opinion, there is nothing bad in their activity—enlightening society as Jesus Christ commanded—and after all they respect human rights and do not transgress boundaries. However, if one believes history, it is the Jehovah's Witnesses who will become the first in the list of those who fall under the yoke of power.


In the opinion of the director of the Sova Center for News and Analysis, A.M. Verkhovsky, bans on the literature of Jehovah's Witnesses and prosecution of believers for distributing it are illegal and the actions of authorities to ban the international organization in Russia have the character of religious discrimination.


Of course, everybody must decide how to treat one or another confession, to whom to listen, and whom to follow. But in accordance with common sense, the question arises whether a ban of a religious organization on the whole territory of Russia is justified. Will the law be respected, as well as the Russian constitution?  (tr. by PDS, posted 18 April 2017)


Some paragraphs in this article are quoted verbatim from a regional edition of Moskovskii Komsomolets, 14 April 2017

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