WE WILL GO UNDERGROUND—WE WILL NOT ABANDON OUR FAITH
Thousands of members of the Kazan congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses are outlawed.
Experts are sure that they will not simply surrender.
by Damara Khairulina, Tatyana Mamaeva
Real Time, 21 April 2017
The Russian Supreme Court ruled the organization "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" to be extremist and it banned its activity. Thereby the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses will be prohibited and all property will be confiscated for state use. Experts questioned by Real Time suppose that the organization will without fail appeal the court's decision, and the ban on the activity will evoke a "hysterical" reaction. Representatives themselves of the regional committee of Witnesses declare that the adherents of the organization will be forced to go underground.
Yesterday the Russian Supreme Court found the Jehovah's Witnesses to be an extremist organization, liquidated it, and prohibited its activity on the territory of the country. Thereby the plaintiff's demand of the Russian Ministry of Justice was granted. The court ordered the immediate cessation of the activity of all 395 divisions of the Jehovah's Witnesses on the territory of the country and the conversion of the organization's property into state income.
Yet earlier, on 3 March, the Russian Ministry of Justice suspended the activity of the religious organization "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" because of its conducting extremist activity. On 6 April the ministry demanded through the court the confiscation of the organization's property.
The Ministry of Justice maintains that the organization distributes extremist literature. The ministry also found extremism in the activity of the local organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in Birobidzhan.
According to 2015 data, there were 408 registered local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses. In Tatarstan alone there are five. The earliest of the functioning registered groups was in the city of Zainsk (1996) and a year later a division appeared in Nizhnekamsk. In January 2001 a local religious organization was registered in Kazan and in 2002, in Nabereshny Chelny and Almetevsk.
They hang a label on us
Representatives of the Kazan division of Witnesses say that their organization is peace-loving and has no indicators of extremism. Moreover, the "Jehovah's Witnesses are people who submit to authority."
"Our fellow believers have never been observed in demonstrations of protest against the existing authorities or in the use of arms and violence. It is out of the ordinary and it has never happened," says Artem Emelianov, the chairman of the committee of the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses of Kazan.
"The most serious accusation is the existence of literature that has been ruled extremist. In Taganrog there was a trial and our fellow believes were given a suspended sentence for that. In Tatarstan we have not faced anything similar, which makes us happy," Vitaly Solianik, a representative of the organization in Kazan, added.
Speaking of whether the financing of the organization could go to financing extremist groups, Solianik noted that the Witnesses "continually give account before the Ministry of Justice" and that is theoretically impossible. And actually, in the data base Spark-Interfax scheduled inspections of the Ministry of Justice are recorded.
"We provide contracted expenses for every kopek. The Ministry of Justice verifies us and no violations have ever been found where we use means other than as intended. There have been no claims in this regard against us."
Representatives of the organization say that now the number of adherents of the Witnesses in Kazan may constitute about 1,000 persons.
"We are restricted. We cannot conduct congresses or rent facilities. If we make an agreement, the action is cut off," Emelianov says. "They hang on us the label of extremists. Supposedly our literature enflames religious hostility, which does not correspond to reality."
At the same time the Kazan Jehovists maintain that all literature that was previously ruled to be extremist is immediately removed after the bans.
Totalitarian, destructive sect
However the official position of the Russian Orthodox Church is unambiguous.
"Naturally, the Jehovah's Witnesses are a totalitarian, destructive sect, and it is as such a sect that the RPTs deals with them," the monastic priest Viacheslav told Real Time; he is the chairman of the Kazan diocese Department for Combating Drug Addiction and Alcoholism. "How are the Jehovah's Witnesses dangerous? They zombify people. They turn them against traditional confessions. They have a whole string of stupid prohibitions that are harmful for believers. For example, the prohibition on blood transfusion. In essence, they are not Christians, they interpret the Bible very freely, and they do not recognize Christ. I think that they are a far from poor organization; their center is located in America and so you can conclude who finances them."
The hieromonk also noted that the organization is not recognized "even by protestants."
"In various countries they are treated differently; where there is so-called 'liberty' they prosper. For example, in Ukraine there is a large sect. And what did this lead to? To Jehovah's Witnesses."
Representatives of Islam treat the Witnesses no less critically
"From the point of view of our Muslims, they do a great deal to, say, incite inter-ethnic strife. In particular, for a long time representatives of this group, sect, congregation went about apartments and offered also in Kazan colorful books substituting terminology. People took these books but then they came to the mosque with questions: 'What is this literature in which everything is turned upside down,'" Farid Salman, the director of the Center for the Study of the Holy Quran and the Pure Sunna.
It is rather difficult to become a Jehovah's Witness
Representatives of the Kazan division of the organization talk about the attitude toward them in society, that is often explained by prevailing incorrect stereotypes. For example, whether to accept the procedure of blood transfusion, each adherent has the right to decide for himself, Emelianov says.
"As regards blood transfusion, in many countries the method of blood transfusion is considered dangerous. There is the danger of contracting HIV, hepatitis, and various causes of allergic reactions. Many civilized countries reject this method. We also wish for ourselves only good. Each of our fellow believers chooses what fits them. There is no prohibition. That is a myth."
Emelianov calls a stereotype the opinion established in society that Witnesses sign over their property to the organization, and that people are forced to join the Witnesses by coercion.
"Actually, it is rather difficult to become a Witness. One must give up smoking if they smoked, reject the use of drugs, reject a profligate lifestyle, register one's marriage, and make serious changes in life. Not everyone is ready for such changes. And in order to cease to be a member if a person ceases to conduct a proper form of life. Nobody will persecute him—that's a myth."
The Kazan subdivision has published accountability and according to its data it is not especially wealthy, although many Orthodox parishes could envy such financial indicators. According to data of Rosstat, according to the results of 2015, the capital and reserve of the Kazan local religious organization was 13.6 million rubles. Of these, 5.2 million were tangible assets. In the year, the organization received income and other valuables of 5.1 million rubles. That is, approximately 5,000 for each member of the organization. There are not data on official finances of the other four Tatarstan organizations.
Is forbidden fruit sweet?
On the question of what Kazan Jehovists will do in the future, they answer confidently: "We will go underground; you do not abandon the faith." And at the same time Jehovists plan to defend their organization in court.
Vadim Kozlov, the executive director of the Kazan inter-regional center of expert analysis also suggests that the organization will really not surrender its position so simply, and that there is more than one judicial proceeding ahead.
"I think this is not the last (trial—ed. note), not the end. Because this organization has a powerful legal service. I think that international instances also will be involved including diplomatic channels on the part of the USA, where the headquarters of this organization is based. I think for our jurisprudence this is a precedent. It is quite possible that by analogy such decisions will be rendered for other organizations also that have indicators of the presence of extremism."
Confirmation of these words came on the day after the Supreme Court's decision. The European Service of Foreign Policy, that is responsible for the foreign policy of the European Union, declared that members of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization in Russia should enjoy the right to freedom of assembly without hindrance.
At the same time, the ban on the activity of the organization will lead to an increase in the number of its adherents, Alexander Mikhailov, a general-major of the FSB reserve, is sure.
"This is a real totalitarian sect, representing a danger for the physical and moral health of people. It is very aggressive in attracting devotees to itself. I even predict a formal increase in the numbers of this sect; a ban always has an attractive character" Mikhailov speculates.
Mikhailov recalls that liquidation of an organization has often been tried in Russia.
"Any prohibition, and especially in regard to totalitarian sects, creates conditions for the sect to go underground. What form will this take? I find it hard to say. Our legislation forbids, speaking conditionally, conducting religious rituals outside of houses of worship. We have already dealt with this in soviet times, when we pursued these sects with fearsome force about the expanse of the universe. But they still assembled in apartments.
The interlocutor is sure that the ban will inevitably evoke a counter reaction: "It will be hysterical and notable. The ban of an organization is not effective. People will not change their views." (tr. by PDS, posted 21 April 2017)
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