Russian ombudsman criticizes abuse of Jehovah's Witnesses


TASS, 10 June 2019


The plenipotentiary for human rights in the Russian Federation, Tatiana Moskalkova, thinks that it is necessary to work out strict legal criteria permitting the recognition of materials or convictions as extremist. This was stated in her report for 2018, which was presented on Monday.


In 2017 the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses (forbidden in the RF) was extremist and it liquidated and prohibited its activity on the territory of the country. A member of the organization, Danish citizen Dennis Christensen, was sentenced to six years in a penal colony for arranging the activity of an extremist organization. Moskalkova's report notes that more than 100 devotees of the organization have been held criminally accountable.


From reports received by the ombudsman it followed that after the liquidation of divisions of Jehovah's Witnesses, believers turned out to be deprived of the right to religious liberty.


"Incidents occurring with followers of the Jehovah's Witnesses force one to consider the existence of a collision between the constitutional right to profess one's religion individually or jointly with others and the indicators of extremist activity specified in article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the RF," the ombudsman notes in her report.


Moskalkova emphasizes that any extremist activity is impermissible, "but also impermissible are the vague criteria that classify religious materials as extremist, when actually any federal judge can, on his own consideration, prohibit any book, image, video, or audio tape."


In Moskalkova's opinion, what is required are "clear legislative, and not judgment-related criteria, which amplify administrative and legal consideration and permit one to recognize certain materials and convictions as extremist."


Protection from missionaries


Moskalkova also notes that freedom of conscience presumes not only the right to profess any religion but also the right not to profess any religion. The ombudsman receives complaints about the negative impact of religious organizations. In particular, there have been reports from people who consider the persistent missionary activity of Jehovah's Witnesses to be a violation of their rights when they have approached them at home or stopped them on the street and insistently urged them to buy books and to join their organization.


"At the same time, citizens have indicated that there were instances when these missionaries noted in their account books information about their place of residence, while they considered such actions as intrusion into their personal life and sometimes as a threat to their security," the report notes.


Moskalkova indicates that devotees of Jehovah's Witnesses "should not be prosecuted on subjective bases, but they also should not infringe the rights of other people." (tr. by PDS, posted 14 June 2019)

Note:  The entire lengthy report by the commissioner for human rights was published in the government newspaper Rossiiskaia Gazeta on 11 June: "Report of the activity of the plenipotentiary for human rights in the Russian Federation for 2018."

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