RUSSIAN SUPREME COURT FINDS EXTREMIST AND LIQUIDATES RUSSIAN DIVISION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Sect's property converted to state use
Interfax-Religiia, 20 April 2017
The Supreme Court of the Russian federation found the Russian Jehovah's Witnesses to be an extremist organization and prohibited its activity on Russian territory.
As an Interfax correspondent reports, thereby was satisfied the administrative lawsuit of the Russian Ministry of Justice for ruling the religious organization "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" to be extremist and for banning its activity and for liquidating it.
On Thursday in court the lawyer for the Ministry of Justice of the RF, Svetlana Borisova, declared that the lawsuit was filed in order to strengthen legality, prevent violation of the interests of security, and prevent extremist activity in the RF.
"The religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses has indicators of extremist activity. They pose a threat to the rights of citizens, social order, and public safety," she emphasized.
The authors of the plaintiff's declaration also asked for converting immoveable property that belongs to the Jehovah's Witnesses to state use. The court granted this request.
The justice ministry demanded prohibiting the activity of the Administrative Center as well as of 395 local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses.
The ministry's lawyer told the court about a large quantity of administrative violations of law, which are particularly displayed in the distribution of extremist literature by regional representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Despite the entry into the list of extremist literature, incidents of the distribution of forbidden printed materials were established, particularly of the periodical publication 'Watchtower,'"she said.
In addition, representatives of the Ministry of Justice call the prohibition of blood transfusion, which Jehovah's Witnesses promote, a threat to personal safety.
On his part, Judge Yury Ivanenko asked the plaintiff in what way specifically the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia poses a threat to public safety and order and to what extent is it proportional to the demand to liquidate the organization.
"I suggest that it is absolutely necessary to stop the activity of the Administrative Center, since its activity is insufficient to stop the distribution of extremist literature in the RF. The threat to public safety and order consists the fact that an indeterminate circle of persons receive information about the activity of the organization," the justice ministry's lawyer said.
"If this activity is not prohibited, the distribution of extremist materials will continue. Besides, the activity of the organization violates the right to receive unhindered medical help," she added.
In their turn, representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses earlier asked the Russian Supreme Court to receive from them a counter suit "for the ruling of the religious organization to be victims of political repressions." The court refused to receive the lawsuit although it emphasized that judicial control of the activity of the organization will be carried out from written objections to the justice ministry's suit.
An attorney for the defendant complained that back before the issuance of the judicial decision, the Jehovah's Witnesses had been subjected to prosecution. The organization's attorney also declared that "the majority of established instances of the distribution of forbidden materials are slander." "It is an established fact that the forbidden materials were planted on us. All of the arguments of the Ministry of Justice are built on unfounded accusations, forgeries, and false testimonies," he said.
Representatives of the defendant also complained that the Ministry of Justice demands the banning of 395 local organizations, some of which have not at all committed any violations and there are no accusations against their activity.
The leader of Russian Jehovah's Witnesses, Vasily Kalin, declared that the present judicial proceedings attract attention and evoke condemnation on the part of the world community.
The lawsuit against the religious organization was filed 15 March, and at the time, by order of the Ministry of Justice, the work of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia was suspended because of extremist activity until the consideration of the lawsuit in the Supreme Court. The press service of the ministry told Interfax that the lawsuit was filed on the basis of the results of an unscheduled documentary inspection, conducted from 8 to 27 February 2017, of the consistency of the activity of the religious organization Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia with the goals and tasks declared in its charter.
The Jehovah's Witnesses organization has regularly been the object of attention of monitoring agencies in all regions of Russia and in addition its activity has been banned in a number of regions.
Previously, the Supreme Court of the RF has ruled decisions for the liquidation of territorial divisions of Jehovah's Witnesses in Orel, Stary Oskol and Belgorod, Abinsk of Krasnodar territory, Samara, Birobidzhan, and other cities to be legal. Local divisions of the organization have frequently been held administratively accountable for distribution of extremist materials, in Tiumen, Abinsk, Samara, Saransk, Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod, Gelendzhik, and other cities. (tr. by PDS, posted 20 April 2017)
SUPREME COURT BANS ACTIVITY OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES IN RUSSIA
RIA Novosti, 20 April 2017
The Supreme Court of the RF on Thursday ruled to be extremist the activity of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and banned its work, a RIA Novosti correspondent reports from the courtroom."
"The Supreme Court of the RF ordered to grant the lawsuit of the Russian Ministry of Justice and to recognize as an extremist organization the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, to liquidate it, and to forbid its activity on the territory of the RF," Judge Yury Ivanenko said.
The court also ordered to convert the property of the organization to state income.
The Jehovah's Witnesses center may appeal this decision in an appellate instance and in the event of filing an appeal the order about the prohibition of the organization will, for the time, not take effect. However the Ministry of Justice earlier had already suspended the work of the center until the final resolution of the dispute in court.
Consequences of the decision
If the decision of the court takes effect, then members of the Jehovah's Witnesses can be held accountable for extremism on the basis of part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the RF, "participation in the activity of a religious association for which a court has adopted a decision that has already taken legal effect for liquidation or ban of the activity because of conducting extremist activity."
Thereby devotees of the Jehovah's Witnesses may be threatened with prison for a term of two to six years.
Position of the Ministry of Justice
During the trial it became clear that the Ministry of Justice specifically accuses the Jehovah's Witnesses of refusal of blood transfusion.
"An expert analysis was conducted on informational brochures of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and specialists came to the conclusion that the information contained therein represents a threat for health," the lawyer for the ministry, Svetlana Borisova, said.
She also appealed to the case of a sick child who was refused a blood transfusion, since this contradicted the religious views of his parents, members of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization.
The Ministry of Justice is sure that the work of the Jehovah's Witnesses engenders a threat to the protection of the rights and interests of society and social security, the ministry's lawyer pointed out. According to her information, by decision of Russian courts 95 brochures of the Jehovah's Witnesses have been ruled to be extremist, as was the activity of eight organizations in the regions of Russia.
Also in the course of the trial the court heard testimony of several former members of the organization, who declared that "total control" was established over devotees.
A witness from St. Petersburg, Natalia Koretskaia, who was a member of the organization from 1995 to 209, described how its members "live in complete total control of devotees by the Administrative Center."
Jehovah's Witnesses formally follow a canonical observance of rules, but in reality the issue is the total control of the personal life of a person, his intimate life, education, and job," the witness said.
Another former member of the organization, Pavel Zverev, declared that because of the leadership of the Jehovah's Witnesses he was left without higher education.
"In the organization it is considered that getting higher education is not useful for the interests of the organization. As a result of this conviction, I remained without education and I have suffered from this in my career," Zverev said.
Position of Jehovah's Witnesses
Lawyers for the Jehovah's Witnesses reject all the claims of the Ministry of Justice. In particular, lawyers for the defendants note that refusal of blood transfusion is not extremism—such deeds are absent from the law on combating extremist activity. The lawyer noted that the Ministry of Justice introduced the example of only one case when doctors proposed to the parents two alternative means of treatment, one of which provided for blood transfusion. But the parents wanted to treat the child with medicines.
"Every citizen, whether he is a Jehovah's Witness or not, has the right to refuse blood transfusion and to choose treatment by means of taking tablets," the lawyer for the organization noted.
The lawyers also denied the presence of extremism in the literature of the Jehovah's Witnesses. They said that the claims were advanced on quotations from the Bible, and besides the agencies of the government had not reviewed the question of the presence of extremism in these brochures after the insertion of changes into legislation about such crimes.
Jehovah's Witnesses also maintain that in conducting searches, Russian legislation was violated; specifically, they were conducted in the absence of both members of the organization and lawyers, and several of the discovered materials had been planted.
Now the work of the Jehovah's Witnesses center is suspended by order of the Ministry of Justice until the court makes a decision. The organization has challenged this order in the Zamoskvoreche court of Moscow.
The Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia is the chief organization managing the affiliates of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.
The Jehovah's Witnesses note that the Supreme Court decision directly affects about 400 registered local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, as well as all 2277 religious group throughout the country, uniting 175 thousand adherents of this religion.
Confiscation of Property
In its lawsuit the Ministry of Justice asks not only for the liquidation of the organization but also for confiscation of the property of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses.
According to information of the organization itself, the issue is property that is owned by Jehovah's Witnesses from Spain, Sweden, Norway, and Austria, and it does not belong to the Russian organization.
The Ministry of Justice denies these claims, but it does not specify just what property it is talking about. (tr. by PDS, posted 20 April 2017)
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