Scholars criticize analysis of Jehovah's Witnesses' Bible


The prohibition of a religious book in Russia may become a first precedent in the world

by Eduard Burmistrov

Open Russia, 10 August 2017


In a Vyborg court in Leningrad province, a hearing regarding finding a version of the Bible that the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses (ruled by a court to be an extremist organization on Russian territory) issued to be extremist material has resumed. This was reported to Open Russia by the defense side.


In July 2015, on the border with Finland, Russian customs seized brochures of the religious organization, among which were 2,013 copies of "Sacred Scripture in the New World Translation," that is, the Bible in the Russian translation of Jehovah's Witnesses. In February 2016 the prosecutor of the Leningrad-Finland transport prosecutor's office, Alexander Ganikhin, filed a lawsuit for finding the publication to be extremist "in defense of the Russian federation and an undetermined circle of persons."


Consideration of the case began on 26 April 2016 and the court at that time made a decision to conduct a religious studies expert analysis and to suspend the conduct of the case until the announcement of its results. The expert analysis, which lasted nine months, was ordered in the Center of Socio-Cultural Expert Analysis, which was founded by Natalia Kriukova and Vitaly Batov. Kriukova is known for the fact that she concluded that the tee shirt "Orthodoxy or Death" and the film "Innocence of Muslims" are extremist.


In all, the expert analysis was presented 21 questions. The document is in the possession of the editorial office of Open Russia. In particular, whether the religious literature contains encouragement of readers to "refuse to fulfill duties established by the legislation" of Russia. The experts gave a positive answer. They pointed out that the doctrine of the Jehovah's Witnesses "attempts to isolate its devotees from the external society." In particular, the adherents of the religion are required not to bear arms. On the basis of this they refuse to serve in the ranks of the armed forces, the experts conclude.


In Russia there is in effect a prohibition against inspecting sacred texts of four confessions—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism—for the presence of extremism. Such amendments to the federal law "On combating extremist activity" were introduced by Vladimir Putin in 2015. Therefore the prosecutor's office decided to take a different route and one of the questions presented to the expert analysis touched on the proposition whether the "Sacred Scripture" is the Bible, Quran, Tanakh, or Gandjur . To this question the experts gave a negative answer, citing the fact that the book itself "lacks an indication that it is the Bible."


Among other arguments for finding the "brochures" (it is this way that it is called in the expert analysis) to be extremist, the experts cite the fact that in the book God is called by the name "Jehovah." Also, in the opinion of the experts, the Bible of the Jehovah's Witnesses does not correspond to the Synodal translation because the "Old Testament" and "New Testament" are there called "Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures" and "Christian Greek Scriptures."


Attorneys for the religious organization do not agree with the conclusion of the experts. In February 2017 they appealed to the Investigative Committee, accusing the expert Kriukova of false expert analysis and incitement of hatred. Under the direction of the expert, almost 50 investigations regarding Jehovah's Witnesses have been made. The attorneys think that Kriukova does not have philological education and is deceiving the courts.


The Sova Center for News and Analysis also does not agree with the results of the expert analysis. In their opinion, the New World Translation does not contain signs of extremism. "We generally regard the prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia on the basis of the anti-extremism articles and the bans of their literature to be religious discrimination," the website of the organization says.


The head of the center, Alexander Verkhovsky, explained to Open Russia that the experts wanted to bring the differences of the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation of the Bible within the definition of extremism. In his opinion, the experts of the Center of Socio-Cultural Expert Analysis are incompetent. "Within the community of experts who specialize in texts and extremist acts, Kriuchkova and her colleague Batov are already practically household names. Not only that, their education does not correspond to anything. They simply write any nonsense and for this they are famous. All translations differ. Why this can be in any sense illegal is completely incomprehensible," he said.


Religious studies scholar Aleksei Gaidukov explained to Open Russia that a thousand translations of the Bible exist and in any of them, if desired, one can find calls to violent actions if one tears out of context excerpts describing the historical reality of the struggle with political enemies or heathens. "It is necessary for the court to find out whether there are special elements in this translation that distinguish it from the Russian Synodal translation used by the majority. That task is difficult. With a positive decision a precedent may be set for the possibility of expert analysis of other translations of the Bible also, which in principle will violate the law," the scholar thinks.


In April 2017 the Russian Supreme Court banned the activity of the international religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses on the territory of the country and the association itself was recognized as extremist. The court also ordered the liquidation of 395 regional divisions and the reversion of their property to the state.


This is not the first instance when authorities have challenged the legality of the activity of religious organizations. In November 2015, a Moscow city court considered a lawsuit of the Ministry of Justice for the liquidation of the Scientology Church of Moscow and it found the organization not to be in compliance with federal legislation. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 August 2017)

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