COMMENTARY: FOR THEM IT'S A LONG WAY TO THE SANHEDRIN
Appellate instance of the Russian Supreme Court wearily rubber-stamped absurd decision about banning and liquidating Jehovah's Witnesses
by Anton Chivchalov
for Portal-Credo.Ru, 17 July 2017
The session of the appellate instance of the Supreme Court of the RF, which considered today the appeal of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia for a ban of the organization, which occurred on 20 April, naturally produced no miracle. The session began with the rejection of all (!) petitions of the respondent (and they were not a few, although they were extremely legally crafted), after which the court simply "galloped around Europe" and issued a "verdict." The occasional statements by the lawyer for the Ministry of Justice, Svetlana Borisova, were extremely brief, and the court had no questions for her. In the end the panel of three judges left the decision of 20 April without changes, liquidating the Administrative Center and all 395 local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses. Now they face the process of confiscation of property.
Among the petitions that the court did not want to examine were completely new cases of attacks on believers, violations of their constitutional and simply elementary human rights, attacks of vandalism against them, and so forth. Believers have been fired from their job, harassed in schools, deprived of rights to alternative civilian service, had their gas and electricity cut off and their homes set afire, and have even been beaten. All of this was the direct consequence of the Supreme Court's decision of 20 April. People turned out to be second-class citizens in their own country, without any kind of rights, and the attorneys wanted to describe this at the supreme judicial platform of the country, without success.
Equally unsuccessful turned out to be the repeated attempt to involve in the case specialists—religious studies scholars and linguists—and also to question numerous witnesses of the fabrication of evidence and plants of kompromat, seemingly designed to show the "extremism" of Witnesses. It turned out that the court was not interested in any of this. The lawyer for the Ministry of Justice, on her part, confined herself to a couple of standard phrases about the great danger of the Jehovah's Witnesses for society and the state, again, as three months ago, not introducing any evidence of that danger other than vague phrases.
The attorneys also were not able to get from the court an answer to the question why it was ignoring the fact that in the case there was not a single victim and not a bit of evidence that some one of the Jehovah's Witnesses delivered "extremist" literature to others. And it was the "extremist" literature that was the alpha and omega of the whole accusation. The Ministry of Justice had no other arguments. It should be remembered that the whole case to and fro was based only on two decisions of provincial courts: the Rostov provincial court of 11 September 2009 and the Supreme Court of the republic of Altai of 27 January 2010. It was these two courts that inserted into the prohibited list 52 publications on the basis of which the entire subsequent whirl of repressions unwound.
Lawyers for the respondent tried in vain to get from the Supreme Court the possibility of involving in the case those 395 local religious organizations that have been banned, but for some reason they were not even allowed to participate in the hearings. How is it possible, the lawyers asked, that people are being judged behind their backs and are not given the right to a defense? This violates all known and most elementary legal norms. Attorney Yury Toporov even resorted to gospel parallels: "Jesus Christ was judged and convicted by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court. It was an unjust trial. Illegal. But even it did not dare to judge Jesus without his participation. But the judge of the first instance decided to act in this way." And the court in the next instance also acted in this way.
Although lawyers for the respondent have already noted that they plan to file an appeal in the European Court of Human Rights, the believers must prepare for the confiscation of their property. The court in Strasbourg will be slow, especially if one recalls that dozens of appeals of Russian Jehovah's Witnesses have been lying there for a long time without significant movement. The court could consider the case on an accelerated basis in view of new circumstances, but here it is not superfluous to recall that in 2015 Russia adopted legislation permitting it to ignore decisions of the ECHR under certain conditions.
The last time when something similar happened in Russia was almost 100 years ago, in 1918. At that time the government of bolsheviks decided to confiscate the property of a huge religious organization, the Orthodox Church, and to subject its members to repressions. In the 1990s, many believers, including Jehovah's Witnesses, were rehabilitated as victims of political repressions. And now history is repeating itself. Who will it affect next? Jehovah's Witnesses clearly will not be the only victims of the new machine of repressions, which is only slightly altered for the twenty-first century, but works on all those same tried and proven old-fashioned principles. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 July 2017)
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