The magazine cover below was posted here on the same day I had come across one of its articles. March 1,1979
"The desire to share with Jesus Christ in the vindication of Jehovah’s universal sovereignty became a most powerful motivating force in the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It strengthened them to endure the worst persecution that ever befell Jehovah’s Witnesses—during World War II. So Jehovah’s visible organization came off victorious once again to his vindication. For dedicated, baptized persons to share in that victory, what did it take? Faith in Jehovah’s theocratic organization. Did the remnant of spiritual Israelites and their theocratic companions, the “great crowd” of Christ’s “other sheep,” have such victorious faith? Yes!"
Those were the days, apparently. I see no further “victories” of such on the horizon for the Watchtower at this time. Unless, they twist the Russian situation into one of victory, proclaiming their faith in “Jehovah’s organization” helped them endure the persecution that has come upon them. However, many JWs have attempted to flee the country, which doesn’t reflect well on the power of their “haven of refuge”. (WT 82 9/15 pp. 17-22)
How does persecution and horrific deaths of JWs equate to an earthly organization gaining victory, and justifying God? This “mountainlike” organization was not able to protect them from the terrible Nazi onslaught, nor has it been able to do so today in Russia. Instead of God justifying himself, the organization justified or vindicated its existence as worthy of praise, as the recipient of one’s unrelenting faith, even in the face of persecution and death. At the willing sacrifice of many on its behalf, it appears powerful, mighty and victorious. This is how I see the disgusting truth behind the underlying message in the opening Watchtower quote.
The organization has a few descriptive terms:
Jehovah’s “earthly organization” professes to be “no part of the world”:
As in the first century, so in this twentieth century, Jehovah has an earthly organization. It can be identified by its fruits. Unlike the many religious organizations that are part of the world that is alienated from God and that profess to be his organization, IT HAS NOT ALLIED ITSELF WITH THE POLITICAL GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD. It, therefore, shares none of the responsibility for the unchristian things done by those governments. w65 7/15 p. 427-428
A “visible theocratic organization” that has established a “worldly” identity:
Being adapted to modern conditions and requirements and being obliged to render to Caesar Caesar’s things, the visible theocratic organization today HAS A LEGALLY ESTABLISHED SERVICE AGENCY, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, incorporated in 1884 under the laws of the state of Pennsylvania, United States of America. w54 9/1 p. 533
Now notice what the 1884 “official magazine Watch Tower” has to say about organization:
“We belong to NO EARTHLY ORGANIZATION; hence, if you should name the entire list of sects, we should answer, No, to each and to all. We adhere only to that heavenly organization—‘whose names are written in heaven.’ (Heb. 12:23; Luke 10:20.) All the saints now living, or that have lived during this age, belonged to OUR CHURCH ORGANIZATION: such are all ONE Church, and there is NO OTHER recognized by the Lord. Hence any EARTHLY ORGANIZATION which in the least INTERFERES with this UNION OF SAINTS is CONTRARY to the teachings of Scripture and OPPOSED TO THE LORD’S WILL—‘that they may be ONE.’ ( Joh 17:11.)”
What a beautiful, captivating truth, which led God’s anointed people into eventual idolatry. We now see that the Watchtower no longer follows this mission statement, but highlights the organization as absolutely necessary to acknowledge as one’s salvation. Amos 3:5; Luke 21:34-36; Rev 20:7-9
w72 6/1 pp. 328-333 – “As we approach the universal war of Armageddon it is vital to stay close to Jehovah’s mighty organization.”
We have a mighty, mountainlike, theocratic, even “spirit-directed” organization, still unable to protect its people. Judges 10:14; Rev 13:1,7,11,15
We also see that the “union of saints” is not possible, since a false priesthood/elder body has INTEREFERED with their ability to be one body under their Head, Jesus Christ. The Watchtower now states “such efforts (to bond) would cause DIVISIONS within the congregation and work against the holy spirit, which promotes peace and unity”. ( w16 January p. 24) This is so strictly enforced that the elders have been given authority to spiritually “kill” any who reject their ruling position and the organization’s pseudo stance as “theocratic”. Col 1:18; Eph 5:23,26,27,30-32; 1 Pet 4:10; 1 Cor 12:24-26; Rev 13:15,16; Matt 24:48-51
A lot has happened since 1884 when Russel wrote his words in the Watchtower, hasn’t it, JWs. He would be disfellowshipped today if he were to voice this belief to the present governing body.
Only when all the parts of the body submit to Christ as head, will they find harmony, affection, agreement, and unity,
according to the arrangement of God, who supplies order and peace. 1 Cor 14:33; 1:10; 7:17; 14:32,40; Rom 9:16
Those who have humbly submitted to the Body's arrangement by God (1 Cor 12:18; 11:29,31,32), have found that order and peace, and relief from the confusion which is the condition of those still under "Babylon the Great",
whose very name, means "confusion" ("Babylon"). (2 Cor 12:20; 1 Cor 1:11,12; 3:3; 4:6,18; James 4:1; 1 Cor 11:19)
There is little time left for the anointed to recognize what is required of them and to conform,
leaving behind their rebellion, idolatry, and spiritual fornication, to make peace with God (Isa 1:18-20). If they do, their sins will be washed away (Isa 48:20; Jer 31:11; Matt 24:12).
and they will be given a white robe....sealed as a vessel of Truth (Zech 3:1-10; Isa 4:2; Ezek 17:22; Zech 4:10). Pearl Doxsey - "Unity of Christ's Body/Armageddon"
According to the 1884 WT, INTERFERENCE against the union of the saints is the SIGN OF OPPOSITION to the Lord’s will; and aptly describes the “Man of Lawlessness” who OPPOSES and EXALTS HIMSELF above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the TEMPLE of God, showing himself that he IS God.” 2 Thess 2:4 It is a “disgusting thing standing in the holy place”/Temple of God, an “abomination” representing the spirit-directed “image” of divine authority, which IS the organization. Ezek 44:6-9; Dan 9:27; Exod 20:3-6; Rev 13:11,15,4
“They have placed their abominations in the house that bears My name and have defiled it. 35 They have built the high places of Baal in Ben Hinnom Valley to sacrifice their sons and daughters in the fire, (or “pass through the fire”) to Molech—something I had not commanded them. I had never entertained the thought that they do this detestable act causing Judah to sin! Jer 32:34,35
Today, to “pass through the fire” indicates to me a dedication and sacrifice of oneself to submit to evil; a fiery proof, contrary to refinement leading to personal victory in Christ. It is the condemnation based on the Word of God. Spiritual harlotry and idolatry results when one puts faith in a present day “Molech”, above our required faith in God. 2 Kings 17:17; Lev 18:21; Ezek 20:31; Jer 3:6,7;2 Pet 2:3; 1 Cor 3:13-15; Jer 23:29
Baal means “Master”; Molech has the meaning of “master” “king”, but also "the most common word for chief magistrate" (“commander of an army”)
Revelation tells us of two Beasts, two Masters, a dual spiritual power over God’s saints and many peoples during the last days. Dan 2:31,33,40-43; 7:7; Rev 13:1,2,11-13
They revere or “worship” the first Beast, putting faith in its magnificent “spirit-directed” abilities, to lead them into a promised peaceful paradise. Rev 13:4,14,15; Ezek 13:10; Hos 4:12 For this offer, they are willing to face persecution and the loss of physical life if necessary, on behalf of ”Jehovah’s visible theocratic organization”.
The army which the “Beast with two horns” gives authority to, is the “abomination” spoken of in Dan 11:31. Rev 9:1-6;13:12 With eyes that are open, this transgression against God’s Temple is well observed as ‘sitting in’ and ruling over the anointed Temple of God, as directed to do so by the Beast/false prophet/Harlot. 2 Thess 2:3,4;1 Pet 2:5,9; 1 Cor 3:16,17; Rev 19:20
It is the Man of Lawlessness – an army of elders or “magistrates” which has received authority to oppress and “conquer” the anointed ones. Dan 8:24; Rev 13:7
Is the Watchtower Beast/Master truly “conquering” the saints? Yes. Conquering is the language of war, which we are presently in; the war of Armageddon. Luke 21:20; Matt 24:3,24,25; 9-11,13,21; Dan 12:1,4
They are overcome by demonic expressions issued from the “dragon”, the Beast, and the second Beast/false prophet/Harlot. Rev 16:13,14; Eph 6:12 For those who stand up to both Beasts, the “kings” and their “magistrates”, and who are persecuted for defending their faith in God and truth in Jesus Christ, they are symbolically “killed”; yet, they come alive in Christ. Mal 3:5; Eph 2:3-8; Rev 11:3,7,11; Matt 19:29
It is known among all JWs, that those who take their stand against the GB’s decrees carried out by the elders, are disfellowshipped, which the organization considered a spiritual “death”. This is the irony in teachings by this Beast. Those who sacrifice their life on behalf of “Jehovah’s organization” are viewed as the victorious ones. Those who sacrifice their symbolic life for their testimony to Christ are considered worthy of eternal destruction. Jer 23:14; Matt 26:65; Heb 13:13; 12:2; 1 Pet 4:14,16; Rom 6:5; Matt 5:11; John 15:21; Acts 5:41; Rev 3,5,6
A movie was made a while back about the prophet Jeremiah. It is a movie of drama and scriptures combined, but there is one scene at the temple, that I will never forget. Jeremiah is speaking to Zedekiah the last king of Judah, before the temple was destroyed and Israel went into exile to Babylon. He had earlier pleaded for the nation to submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s rule, but Judah was ready to battle against him. (Jer 38:14-23)
Jeremiah: “Obey I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord which I speak unto thee and your life will be saved, and the city will not be burned.”
Zedekiah: “So, now you’re speaking for the Lord again. Well, never mind, our armies are prepared.”
Jeremiah: “How can you continue to LIE to yourself as well as your people?”
Zedekiah: “TRUTH is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Jeremiah: “The word of the Lord which I speak to thee, IS the truth.”
Zedekiah: “The Lord which you ask me to seek…is SILENCE. If God has something to say to me, why does he send you to tell me?”
Jeremiah: “Why would the Lord speak to you, unless you’ve committed your life to HIM.”
Zedekiah: “I HAVE.”
Jeremiah shakes his head, turns swiftly toward a set of large wooden double-doors, and flings them open to reveal statues of idols.
He says, “Instead of making monuments to false gods, make your LIFE a living monument to the word of God.”
Zedekiah: “It is as my people desire.”
Jeremiah: “You are KING! They look to YOU for leadership! Your pursuit of your own pleasure, wealth and power HAVE TAUGHT THE PEOPLE TO TRUST IN FALSE GODS!”
He raises his voice even further,
“YOU HAVE LED THEM TO BELIEVE THAT THE ONE TRUE GOD…IS NOT ENOUGH!”
JWs, is God alone NOT ENOUGH for you to put faith in? Can you see that the faith you give to a most unique idol, a “spirit-directed” visible organization, can lead to your downfall? Your leaders have convinced you to trust in a false god! The people in Jeremiah’s time believed that the presence of the “temple of the Lord” would save them, even though they harbored their idols. Jer 7:3-5, 9,10
What is your temple today? Is it the organization? It appears so, yet if the anointed were not in the Watchtower from the beginning, there would be no difference in your religion than any other in Christendom. You may have forgotten who they are, these anointed “living stones” whom God expects their sacrifices to be heard and in harmony with pure truth in Christ. However, an “abomination”, a false priesthood of elders, has muscled its way in to rule over God’s Temple priesthood. Ultimately, JWs DO practice the same hypocritical worship as Judah in Jeremiah’s time, by proclaiming their trust and faith in God, while also having full trust and faith in the organization, and the “kings” who brought them into a falsehood called “truth”. Your leaders have sought out pleasure and wealth in material possessions, that they admire and praise (Warwick). Luke 4:5-7 They have slowly developed an unquestionable power over God’s anointed and YOU, TEACHING you to revere a monumental idol. This idol has made the brazen promise of eternal life to those who “worship” it. As Zedekiah said in the movie, “truth is in the eye of the beholder”. 2 Thess 2:9-12
When Joshua went up against Ai, they were defeated because one member “committed a trespass” regarding the “things set apart for destruction”, the “accursed”, the “doomed” that he brought into the camp. Deut 13:17
Josh 7:110-12 –“Israel has sinned. They have violated My covenant that I appointed for them. They have taken some of what was set apart. They have stolen, deceived, and put those things with their own belongings.12 THIS IS WHY THE ISRAELITES CANNOT STAND AGAINST THEIR ENEMIES. They will turn their backs and run from their enemies, because they have been set apart for destruction. I will no longer be with you unless you remove from among you what is set apart.”
The ”accursed thing” happened to be an eye-catching Babylonian garment. Luke 16:15 A garment from Babylon - the destroyer, an accursed city doomed to destruction. Ps 137:8 Garments in God’s word carry a symbolic meaning. It can clarify who or what we identify with; wickedness or righteousness. Ezek 18:20; Isa 61:10; Ps 109:29 By choosing one or the other, it signifies who we are willing to “sacrifice” our life for.
Even the rank and file "JW" is eager to surrender their "garment"/individuality/identity, to the Beast they admire...
as it says in the baptism vow...
"Do you understand that your dedication and baptism IDENTIFY YOU ("enrobes/dresses you"), as one of "Jehovah's Witnesses" in association with his "spirit-directed" organization?" (John 20:22) (Rev 13:15; 16:13-16; 19:20)
Yes... they desire an identity that belongs to and is associated with, the powerful...
and so they too, surrender their robes of individuality/personal reputation of integrity before God, to "don" their new garment/identity, as one of "Jehovah's Witnesses", under blind obedience to it's hierarchy under the wicked steward/harlot. Pearl Doxsey - "Our Outer Garment"
God pointed out to Joshua that His covenant had been violated. His decrees that he had specifically said should be followed to guarantee their safety, were transgressed. Josh 1:7,8;6:18,19 Today, God’s covenant with the anointed priesthood has been violated by allowing uncircumcised priests to present the “daily sacrifices” . Deut 21:5; Ezek 44:7; Mal 2:5-9 This is an “accursed thing”, doomed to destruction, that is present among the anointed and YOU. 2 Thess 2:7,8
“Babylon’s” Harlot daughters direct the Watchtower Beast to lead YOU in supporting the “abomination” that defiles the House that bears God’s name. 1 Cor 3:16,17; Rev 17:3-6
YOU wear the garment that indicates who you serve, which is the Beast/Man of Lawlessness. Surely JWs, you must see that putting “faith in Jehovah’s theocratic organization” is bolstering lawlessness and idolatry! Should we suffer persecution on behalf of an idol, an idolatrous “MOUNTAIN” that is the SOURCE of persecution for those anointed ones who DESIRE TO BE ONE UNDER CHRIST?
Jesus replied to them, “HAVE FAITH IN GOD. 23 Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this MOUNTAIN, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, IT WILL BE DONE FOR HIM. Mark 11:22,23
The Lord reigns! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coasts and islands be glad.
2 Clouds and thick darkness surround Him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
3 Fire goes before Him
and burns up His foes on every side.
4 His lightning lights up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax
at the presence of the Lord—
at the presence of the Lord of all the earth.
6 The heavens proclaim His righteousness;
all the peoples see His glory.
7 All who serve carved images,
those who boast in idols, will be put to shame.
All the gods must worship Him. (“gods” – “angels”, Heb 1:6,14; Mal 2:7)
8 Zion hears and is glad,
and the towns of Judah rejoice
because of Your judgments, Lord.
9 For You, Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth;
You are exalted above all the gods.
10 You who love the Lord, hate evil!
He protects the lives of His godly ones;
He rescues them from the power of the wicked.
11 Light dawns for the righteous,
gladness for the upright in heart.
12 Be glad in YHVH, you righteous ones,
and praise His holy name. Psalm 97
By Guest Nicole
Two South Korean men who refused to do military service have had their convictions overturned in a landmark ruling against the government.
Cho Rak Hoon and Kim Hyung Geun were freed by an appeals court in the southern city of Gwangju today. They had been sentenced to 18 months in prison for refusing military service at their trials, in June 2015 and May 2016 respectively, according to Amnesty International.
By Guest Nicole
YELM, Wash. — Authorities on Wednesday were investigating after someone tried to set fire to the Kingdom Hall of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Yelm.
This comes after four other recent attacks onÂ Kingdom Halls of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Thurston County that are being investigated as hate crimes.
In the latest incident, authorities were called around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday to the report of an attempted arson at the Kingdom Hall on Vail Road SE in Yelm.
The ensuing investigation closed a large section of Vail Road for most of the day.
Church elders had arrived to find fire logs stacked up against an outside wall that was smoldering. They doused the logs with water and prevented any further damage to the building.
The elders reported finding a suspicious device placed on the ground on the west side of the building. It Â“had the appearance of being an explosive device,Â” so deputies called the bomb squad to the scene.
People living nearby the church told Q13 News they were told by law enforcement to evacuate for their own safety.
Â“I got woken up by my roommate Zachary saying there was a device on the church next door to our house and we needed to evacuate,Â” said Richard McIntire.
McIntireÂ’s shared his concern about living so close to whatÂ’s become a repeated target.
Â“I donÂ’t understand why people have to target churches,Â” he said.
Neighbors in rural Yelm expressed their worries about the attacks and hoped police would soon make an arrest before someone gets hurt.
By late afternoon investigators determined the suspicious device wasnÂ’t dangerous. The Thurston County SheriffÂ’s Office laterÂ tweeted, Â“The suspicious device was made to look like a real bomb but in the end, it was found to be fake.Â”
Read more:Â https://q13fox.com/2018/08/08/possible-explosive-device-found-after-attempted-arson-at-kingdom-hall-in-yelm/
Today Presidents Trump and Putin meet for summit, and the New York Times tells of an exiled Jehovah's Witness who proposes Trump ask Putin a simple question: "Why are Russians who pay their taxes, follow the law and embrace the Christian values promoted by the Kremlin being forced to flee their country?"
A simple [and single] question. To propose that Trump do this is exactly the non-confrontational style of Jehovah's Witnesses, and is proof in itself that they are not extremist. Moreover, because the goal is so modest, it is not impossible that it could happen. Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia is not everywhere, but where it is, it is draconian, with police dressed in riot gear breaking down doors to arrest them.
Meanwhile (and irrelevant), I did a google search of "New York Times Jehovah's Witnesses." The second hit is an article from 1958, telling of (I think) the largest Christian assembly in history.
Remember, Google is personalized. Your results may vary.
By Guest Nicole
(Moscow) – Law enforcement authorities acrossÂ RussiaÂ have carried out a sweeping campaign against JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in recent months, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have carried out dozens of home searches, raids, interrogations, and other acts of harassment and persecution.
The authorities are holding 18 men in pretrial detention on charges of organizing, participating in, or financing the activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” solely for their religious activities. Several others are facing the same charges and are under house arrest or subject to travel restrictions. The charges carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence. RussianÂ authorities should release those in detention immediately, drop the charges, and halt the persecution of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses.
Â“The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses are simply peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion,Â” saidÂ Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Â“The JehovahÂ’s Witness faith is not an extremist organization, and authorities should stop this religious persecution of its worshipers now.Â”
Human Rights Watch interviewed four lawyers defending JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in five regions and a representative of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. Human Rights Watch also reviewed court documents, media reports, Russian government statements, and Federal Security Service (FSB) photos and videos purporting to show the raids.
The raids and arrests stem fromÂ an April 2017 Russian Supreme Courtruling that banned all JehovahÂ’s Witnesses organizations throughout Russia. The ruling declared the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses Administrative Center, the head office for 395 JehovahÂ’s Witnesses branches throughout Russia, an extremist organization and ruled that all 395 be shut down. The ruling, which affects more than 100,000 JehovahÂ’s Witnesses across Russia, blatantly violates RussiaÂ’s obligations to respect and protect religious freedom and freedom of association.
Russian authorities should reverse the ban on the organizationÂ’s activities and remove the Â“extremistÂ” designation, Human Rights Watch said. Meanwhile, they should leave JehovahÂ’s Witnesses free to practice their faith.
JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia and other former USSR countries have faced persecution in the past. During the Soviet era, they were arrested and imprisoned in labor camps, including in Siberia. Within the past decade,Â worshipers across Russia have faced persecution, intrusive home searches, andÂ arrests, and have been denied rights to freedom of assembly, association, and religion.
In 2010, theÂ European Court of Human Rights ruled against RussiaÂ for closing the Moscow branch of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses and refusing to allow the group to re-register. The court found violations of articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect freedom of religion and association, respectively. In addition to awarding monetary damages, the court said that Russia should review the domestic decisions that led to the violations. Russia has refused to carry out the judgments in that case andÂ several othersÂ brought by members of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. On the contrary, Russia has continued to persecute JehovahÂ’s Witnesses, seeking the groupÂ’s complete dissolution in Russia.
From April to June 2018, law enforcement raids targeted JehovahÂ’s Witness communities in at least 11 regions throughout Russia, from Saratov region in southwestern Russia to Primorsky Krai in RussiaÂ’s far east. Police carried out the raids, often accompanied by a combination of FSB officials wearing masks, armed personnel of the Interior Ministry Special Task Police Force or National Guard, and representatives from the Investigative Committee, RussiaÂ’s criminal investigation service. Â
The authorities, who obtained search warrants or entry permits in most cases, confiscated personal computers, mobile phones, bank cards, passports, religious literature, and, in some cases, housing deeds. Dozens of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses, including at least one child, were taken to local investigative offices for questioning. Others were detained and later charged.
A lawyer representing a JehovahÂ’s Witness who is in pretrial detention in Murmansk Region told Human Rights Watch that the authoritiesÂ’ actions contradict religious freedom guarantees in the Russian Constitution. Â“The [Russian] constitution says that you canÂ practice your faith togetherÂ with others, but as it turns out, thatÂ’s a crime,Â” said Yegiazar Chernikov, of the Sverdlovsk LawyersÂ’ Association.
In at least two regions, armed officers threatened the worshipers with firearms, in one case pointing a gun at a personÂ’s head, a lawyer familiar with the incident told Human Rights Watch.
A JehovahÂ’s Witnesses representative told Human Rights Watch that approximately 160 JehovahÂ’s Witnesses have fled Russia to seek refuge abroad.
On June 20, RussiaÂ’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights announced that it hadÂ asked the prosecutor generalÂ’s officeÂ to verify the legality of criminal prosecutions against JehovahÂ’s Witnesses practicing their faith. A week earlier, several of the spouses of the men in pretrial detention hadÂ sent a letter to the chair of the council, Mikhail Fedotov, urging him to ask President Vladimir Putin to end the raids and arrests and to restore freedom of religion in Russia.
Over 150 Russian activists, journalists, and academics Â– including several members of Memorial, RussiaÂ’s foremost human rights group Â–Â signed and publishedÂ an open letter urging the authorities to immediately release those in detention and to reverse the Supreme CourtÂ’s decision to liquidate the JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ organization.
JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia Â– like all people in Russia Â– should be able to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of religion and association, Human Rights Watch said. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Russia is a party.
Under international law, freedom of religion includes the freedom to practice oneÂ’s religion or belief both individually and in community with others, in public or in private, and through worship, practice, and teaching. Russia already has many rulings against it for its failure to respect the freedom of religion of faith communities and minority religious groups, such as theÂ Church of Scientology, theÂ Salvation Army, and theÂ JehovahÂ’s Witnesses
Â“Russia should do right by its national and international obligations to respect freedom of religion,Â” Denber said. Â“Russian leadership should make sure that law enforcement is honoring and protecting that right, not trampling on it.Â”
Raids Aimed at Intimidation
The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses are a peaceful religious community. The consistent show of force in raids in many locations in Russia was disproportionate and seemed aimed at sending a strong message of intimidation, Human Rights Watch said.Â
In most regions, the authorities arrested people they singled out as leaders and organizers of the local JehovahÂ’s Witnesses community for such actions as recruiting new members and distributing religious literature that the authorities label Â“extremist.Â”
On May 16 in the Orenburg Region, in southwest Russia, law enforcement personnel searched 18 homes in four cities and charged nine people. Two are in pretrial custody and another is under house arrest.
On May 17 in Birobidzhan, in southeast Russia, representatives of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses reported that about 150 law enforcement personnel raided the homes of at least nine JehovahÂ’s Witnesses, confiscating photos, bank cards, money, and computers. An officialÂ reportedly saidthat the operation was code-named Â“Judgment Day.Â” One person was arrested and charged with organizing activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” but wasÂ released from pretrial detentionÂ eight days later.
On April 18 in the town of Polyarny in the Murmansk Region, in northwest Russia, armed law enforcement agents raided at least seven homes and arrested two men. They took several others into custody for questioning and later released them. Police also took a 16-year-old girl into custody and questioned her at the local investigative unit for several hours. AÂ video posted on the Murmansk Investigative CommitteeÂ’s websiteÂ shows men wearing camouflage uniforms and helmets forcing open a door to an apartment.
The arrest and raid campaign took place as the trial of aÂ JehovahÂ’s Witness who is a Danish citizen, Dennis Christensen, continues in Orel, a city in western Russia. Christensen, who was arrested in May 2017, is being tried on charges of organizing activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” and faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence if convicted. He hasÂ filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rightsalleging, among other things, that his arrest constituted unlawful interference with his right to freedom of religion.
Another JehovahÂ’s Witness in Orel, 55-year-oldÂ Sergei Skrynnikov, was charged on May 8, 2018, with participating in the activities of an Â“extremist organization.Â”
A lawyer who is defending three JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in two regions said that throughout the past eight months, FSB agents in the Orenburg Region and the Republic of Bashkortostan conducted wiretapping, videotaping, and other surveillance of JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ activities Â– for which they said they had warrants Â– as part of the investigation. In some cases, the lawyer said, authorities placed recording devices in JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ homes.
Earlier in 2018, police raided more than two dozen JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ homes in Belgorod and Kemerovo. Two JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Belgorod are facing extremism charges.
Saratov and Shirokoe, Saratov Region
On June 12, authorities in Saratov Region, southwestern Russia,Â raided at least seven homesÂ of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in the city of Saratov and village of Shirokoe. According to the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia,Â special forces officers broke down doorsÂ and confiscated computers, books, notebooks, photographs, bankbooks, and passports. The authorities took at least 10 people to FSB offices for questioning.
ThreeÂ were detained and chargedÂ with organizing activities of an Â“extremist organization.Â” They are: 43-year-old Konstantin Bazhenov, 35-year-old Aleksei Budenchuk, and 33-year-old Felix Makhammadiyev. On June 14, the Frunzensky District Court placed all three in pretrial detention until August 12.
Tomsk, Tomsk Region
Law enforcementÂ raided several homes and cars belonging to JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in TomskÂ between 10 a.m. on June 3 and about 2 a.m. the next day, the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia reported. Officers confiscated Bibles, mobile phones, tablets, computers, photographs, money, bank cards, and other personal possessions. They took about 30 people to the police anti-extremism center for questioning.
According to a statement by the Tomsk Investigative Committee, the searches were part of a joint FSB and Internal Affairs Ministry investigation into meetings of JehovahÂ’s Witness residents in Tomsk. Investigative authorities allege that worshipers studied prohibited, Â“extremistÂ” religious materials and carried out organized religious activities in violation of the Supreme CourtÂ’s ruling against the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses Administrative Center.
Representatives of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that 48-year-old Sergei Klimov was detained after a search of his home on June 3, was charged with organizing activities of an Â“extremist organization,Â” and will remain in pretrial detention until August 4.
Magadan, Magadan Region
The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in RussiaÂ reportedÂ that on May 30, FSB and law enforcement officers arrested Konstantin Petrov, 31; Yevgeny Zyablov, 41; and Sergei Yerkin, 61, after searching their homes in the city of Magadan (Magadan Region). On the same day, authorities in Khabarovsk (Khabarovsky Krai) detained Ivan Puyda, 39, based on a court order from Magadan. All four are accused of organizing activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” and will remain in pretrial detention until July 29.
Naberezhnye Chelny, Republic of Tatarstan
Police and FSB officials searched the homes of 10 JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in the city of Naberezhnye Chelny, in south-central Russia, on the evening of May 27. The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in RussiaÂ reportedÂ that the searches lasted Â“well into the night.Â”
Investigators arrestedÂ Ilham Karimov, 37; Vladimir Myakushin, 30; Konstantin Matrashov, 25;Â Â Â Aydar Yulmetyev, 24, on suspicion of organizing and participating in the activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” and placed them in pretrial detention until July 25. The Naberezhnye Chelny City Court displays records of all four hearings.Â According to the religious freedom monitoring group Forum 18, Karimov, Myakushin, and Matrashov have appealed their pretrial detention.
Perm, Perm Krai
The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia reported that on the evening of May 22, Aleksandr Solovyev, 48, and his wife, Anna, wereÂ detained at the railway stationÂ in Perm, in the Ural Mountains region, after returning from a trip abroad. Law enforcement then searched the coupleÂ’s home and reportedly seized property deeds, photographs, several Bibles, and a Wi-Fi router.
Anna was released, but her husband was held for two days. He was released on May 24, and the Sverdlovsk District Court ordered him confined to house arrest.Â According to Forum 18, he is being investigated on charges of participating in the activities of an Â“extremist organization.Â”
Before the 2017 Supreme Court ruling banning the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses Administrative Center, Solovyov chaired the Perm JehovahÂ’s Witnesses congregation,Â according to the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia website.
Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Region
On May 17 in Birobidzhan, southeast Russia,Â police raided the homes of at least nine JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. The raids were carried out by approximately 150 law enforcement officers. An officialÂ reportedly saidthat the operation was code-named Â“Judgment Day.Â”
On May 18, 55-year-old Alam Aliev was placed in pretrial detention until July 13 under suspicion of organizing activities of an Â“extremist organization.Â” TheÂ FSB statedÂ that its request to detain Aliev Â“was motivated by the fact that the crime is classified as graveÂ” and because Â“[t]he suspect may impede the criminal proceedings, put pressure on witnesses, and also evade investigative and judicial authorities.Â” Following an appeal by AlievÂ’s lawyer,Â Aliev was released from detention on May 25Â but still faces charges.
Orenburg, Orenburg Region
On May 16 in Orenburg Region, Investigative Committee authorities, FSB officials, and armed National Guard officers searched 18 homes in four cities. Vitaly Svintsov, a lawyer representing two JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in the region, told Human Rights Watch that nine people were charged with organizing or participating in the activities of an Â“extremist organization.Â” Two of them, Aleksandr Suvorov and Vladimir Kochnev, both 38, remain in pretrial custody until July 14. Twenty-six-year-old Vladislav Kolbanov remains under house arrest. The other six remain under travel restrictions while the investigation is ongoing, Svintsov said.
Photographs of some of the raidsÂ posted on the Orenburg Investigative Committee websiteÂ show FSB officials and riot police in bulletproof vests and masks approaching JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ residences.
A statement by the Orenburg Investigative Committee said that investigative operations were Â“carefully planned and organizedÂ” by law enforcement with the aim of Â“seizing documents and items relevant to the criminal case, as well as identifying other persons involved in unlawful activities.Â”Â Investigators allegeÂ that the suspects Â“organized activities of a subdivision of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses [Administrative Center] by calling and holding meetings, organizing the recruitment of new members, and communicating the contents of religious literature to meeting participants.Â”
Shuya, Ivanovo Region
Forum 18 reportedÂ that law enforcement raided four homes in the town of Shuya, western Russia, early on the morning of April 20.
Dmitry Mikhailov, 33, wasÂ arrested on May 29, over a month after his home was searched and placed in pretrial custody until July 19. He is being accused of Â“financing extremist activities.Â” Â
On April 20, the Ivanovo Region Investigative CommitteeÂ released a statementÂ about the home searches, alleging that since the beginning of 2018, JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Shuya had been studying literature Â“containing statements degrading human dignity . . . and elements of propaganda of the exclusivity of one religion over another.Â”
Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai
Several homes belonging to JehovahÂ’s Witnesses wereÂ reportedly raidedon April 19 in the far-east city of Vladivostok.
Human Rights Watch was able to confirm that on April 23Â Valentin Osadchuk, 42, was placed under arrest by Frunzensky District Court on charges of participation in the activities of an Â“extremist organizationÂ” after authorities searched his home and confiscated computers, notebooks, and other devices. He remains in pretrial detention until September 20. Representatives of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that five others face the same charges but remain at liberty subject to travel restrictions.
Polyarny, Murmansk Region
On the evening of April 18 in the town of Polyarny in the Murmansk region, armed law enforcement raided at least seven homes and arrested two JehovahÂ’s Witnesses, Roman Markin, 44, and Viktor Tifimov, 61. Others whose homes were searched were taken to the local investigative unit for questioning and later released without charge.
The Murmansk Region Investigative CommitteeÂ stated on its websitethat National Guard officers and FSB officials who led the home searches confiscated computer drives and religious literature. AÂ video posted to the websiteÂ shows men wearing camouflage uniforms and helmets forcing open a door with a pry bar. The Investigative Committee said that beginning in April 2017, the suspects had allegedly Â“organized activities of the religious organization [JehovahÂ’s Witnesses] by convening and holding meetings, organizing the recruitment of new members, and leading studies of religious texts at meetings.Â”
MarkinÂ’s lawyer, Arli Chimirov, told Human Rights Watch that armed officers broke down MarkinÂ’s door and told him and his 16-year-old daughter, who was at home with him, to lie on the floor while law enforcement threatened them with firearms and searched the apartment. MarkinÂ’s daughter was escorted to the investigative unit and was questioned for several hours along with her mother, who arrived some time later.
On April 23, 2018, the Polyarny District Court placed Markin in pretrial custody until June 11. MarkinÂ’s lawyer unsuccessfully appealed the decision. According to court documents on file with Human Rights Watch, investigative authorities requested that Markin be placed in pretrial detention because of the risk that he Â“may continue criminal activities, threaten participants in the legal proceedings, hide or destroy evidence, and also fail to attend preliminary court hearings.Â” On June 4, MarkinÂ’s pretrial detention was extended to October 11.
TifimovÂ’s lawyer, Yegiazar Chernikov, told Human Rights Watch that beginning in October 2017, investigators had been collecting as evidence audio and video recordings of conversations among JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. Chernikov said that on several occasions, a woman involved in the investigation invited Tifimov to her home, where audio and video recording devices were in place, and asked him questions given to her by investigative authorities and designed to incriminate him.
Tifimov was originally detained until June 12, 2018, but his pretrial detention was extended until October 11.
Ufa, Republic of Bashkortostan
The religious freedom groupÂ Forum 18 reportedÂ that approximately 60 law enforcement officers, some of them armed, raided eight homes in the city of Ufa, south-central Russia, on the morning of April 10. Investigators confiscated personal belongings, books, and photographs. The lawyer representing one of the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses who was detained said that authorities threatened worshipers with weapons,Â in one case holding an automatic weapon to a personÂ’s head.
At least 20 people were reportedly taken to the Lenin District Investigative Department for questioning and fingerprinting but were later released. One girl was called for questioning, but when she showed up for the meeting with her mother and the director of her school, the investigator failed to appear.
On April 12, Anatoly Vilikevich, 32, was arrested on suspicion of organizing activities of an Â“extremist organization,Â” and placed in pretrial detention. VilikevichÂ’s lawyer, Vitaly Svintsov, who appealed the order, told Human Rights Watch that on June 21 the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan overturned the lower courtÂ’s decision and placed him under house arrest.
A statement by theÂ Bashkortostan Republic Investigative Committeealleged that Vilikevich had organized a local chapter of the banned JehovahÂ’s Witnesses Administrative Center. Investigators who searched his home confiscated Â“prohibited literature,Â” the statement said.
Since 2007, dozens of pieces of JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ literature have been banned and placed on the federal registry of banned extremist materials. Pictured here, stacks of booklets distributed by a local leader of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in the Siberian town of Gorno-Altaysk are seen during a court session on December 16, 2010.
Â Â©2010 Reuters/Alexandr Tyryshkin
By Guest Nicole
Officials from the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization say Russian law-enforcement officers have carried out “mass searches” on members’ homes in the Urals region of Orenburg and in the Far Eastern city of Birobidzhan.
Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, on May 17 said 150 law-enforcement personnel raided more than 20 adherents’ homes in Birobidzhan, the capital of Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region.
The raids came after searches had been carried out on May 16 in the Orenburg region near the border with Kazakhstan in which 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses were questioned and three were taken into custody, Lopes said.
The spokesman said a criminal case had been initiated against an adherent of the Christian sect, Alam Aliyev, and that a trial was expected on May 18.
Russia’s Supreme Court in July 2017 upheld a ruling that the Jehovah’s Witnesses should be considered an extremist organization, effectively banning the denomination from the country.
The original ruling, issued in April 2017, was the first time an entire registered religious organization had been prohibited under Russian law.
Long viewed with suspicion in Russia for their positions on military service, voting, and government authority in general, the Jehovah’s Witnesses -- which claim some 170,000 adherents in Russia and 8 million worldwide -- are among several denominations that have come under increasing pressure in recent years.
The sect began operating in Russia and across the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Russia's treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses has raised concerns from governments and religious organizations in the West.
“The treatment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects the Russian government’s tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country’s political stability,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said after the Supreme Court ruling last year.
By James Thomas Rook Jr.
FSB starts detaining Jehovah’s Witnesses on Kola, dozens flee to Finland
Criminal cases are initiated after FSB and Rosgvardia raided six addresses in the closed navy town of Polyarny.
By Thomas Nilsen - The Independent Barents Observer
April 20, 2018
Last April, a ruling by Russia’s Supreme Court banned all Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations throughout the country, arguing the religious group to be extremist.
On Friday, Murmansk regional authorities’ newspaper Murmanski Vestnik reports about raids made by FSB and the National Guard of Russia (Rosgvardia) in Polyarny on the Kola Peninsula.
Two local residents were detained under suspicions of being members of the administrative centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, organizing teaching and meetings where reading of banned religious literature took place. Searches were carried out at six addresses in Polyarny.
The town is home to a naval yard and several of the diesel-powered submarines and other warships of the Northern Fleet have Polyarny as homeport.
The extremist law banning Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia provides for a maximum sentences of 6 to 10 years in jail.
Meanwhile, a wave of practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses are fleeing Russia. More than a thousand people are now seeking asylum in several European countries, including Finland, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported earlier this winter.
It all started last summer, and that’s when the first Witnesses sought asylum in Finland, spokesperson Veikko Leininen with the organization’s Finnish branch told the newspaper. Many dozens at least are still to come, he said.
Press adviser Therese Bergwitz-Larsen with the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) can’t go into details about particular reasons for asylum seekers coming to Norway.
Unfortunately, we can’t say anything in general on the background for reasons to apply for asylum, since the number [from Russia] is so small, Bergwitz-Larsen tells the Barents Observer.
Statistics from UDI show that 15 persons came from Russia the first three months this year. In 2017, 58 Russian asylum seekers came to Norway.
In Russia, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses are estimated to about 175,000. That be, before the organization was declared extremist. Viewed with skepticism for denying military service, voting and refusal to take blood, the members are seen as both a threat to themselves, their children and public safety.
Also during Soviet times, the Witnesses were persecuted.
Human Right Watch recently called on Russian authorities to drop charges against Danish citizen Dennis Christensen adherent for practicing his faith. Christensen has been in pretrial custody for 11 months in the town of Orel. Human Right Watch argues that Russia is a member of Council of Europe and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore is obligated to protect the rights to freedom of religion and association.
My note: Russia passed a law in 2015 that basically stated that any CE or ECHR resolution or ruling they disagreed with could be ignored. I think it is a very good idea when governments start rounding up people for gas chambers, concentration or slave labor camps, or prison ... just be somewhere else.
You may have to abandon everything you and your family ever worked for, with the clothes on your back, but at least when they upholster the living room furniture you left behind ... it won't be with YOUR SKIN.
By Outta Here
Cant see this under Russian news yet:
By B Myers
Russia’s Supreme Court Begins High-Profile Case Against Jehovah’s Witnesses
NEW YORK—Today, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation began consideration of a claim from the Ministry of Justice to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The Court announced a recess, and the hearing will resume Thursday, April 6, 2017, at 2:00 p.m. The Witnesses had filed a counterclaim with the Court on March 30, 2017, against the Ministry of Justice. Today, however, the counterclaim was dismissed by the Court prior to the recess of the hearing. The Court also refused to allow experts to testify about the basis for the claim of the Ministry of Justice and refused to allow those who witnessed the falsification of evidence against local religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses to testify.
The high-profile nature of the case is sparking coverage by international news outlets, including an article in Time magazine posted online on April 4 (“Russian Supreme Court Considers Outlawing Jehovah’s Witness Worship”) and a front-page article in the print edition of The New York Times (“Pacifist, Christian and Threatened by Russian Ban as ‘Extremist’”) on April 5.
“We certainly hope that Russia’s Supreme Court will uphold the rights of our fellow believers in Russia to freely carry out their peaceful worship,” adds David A. Semonian, a spokesman at the Witnesses’ world headquarters in New York. “Millions of people around the world will be watching carefully to see how the case progresses and if Russia acts to protect its own law-abiding citizens who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
March 21, 2017
DOCUMENT: URGENT VIDEO APPEAL OF VASILY KALIN IN CONNECTION WITH LAWSUIT TO BAN JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Unprecedented news has become the occasion for this appeal. The Ministry of Justice has taken it upon itself to close and to declare criminal a whole religion—the Jehovah's Witnesses. A lawsuit has already been filed in the Supreme Court of Russia. They ask for the supreme measure of punishment for all 396 of our organizations, including our Administrative Center. We are talking about their liquidation and finding them to be extremist.
A special point is to confiscate from believers all of their houses of worship and other property. While the Ministry of Justice wants to do this immediately.
For 175 thousand adherents of our religion, they are possibly facing the most trying period of their life.
I recall the April night in 1951. At the time eight and a half thousand believers of our religion, that is, practically ALL, were deprived of their homes and taken to Siberia for permanent settlement. The life of thousands of believer was irreparably broken. Hundreds and hundreds passed through the camps. But they did not renounce their faith. And they did not become bitter. They always remained peaceful people, as Christ also commanded. Subsequently the state recognized us as victims of political repressions. And how blasphemously we again find ourselves in the position of dangerous criminals!
If the Ministry of Justice achieves its [goal], believers will face up to 10 years in prison! Recently, after the liquidation of a registered congregation in Taganrog, 16 of our brothers and sisters in the faith were sentenced to large fines and several even to a 5-year suspended prison term—just for joint reading of the Bible. A new indictment may lead them to real prison terms.
For what? What are these people guilty of? That they, as seems to somebody, study the Bible "incorrectly"? That they consider their faith the only truth? Or are they guilty of not resorting to violence, following the gospel command ment: "put the sword into its sheath"?
The accusation of Jehovah's Witnesses for extremism is absurd and savage.
We ask you who may influence the course of events, look the facts in the face objectively and impartially.
Finally, we are reminded of an episode described in the Acts of the Apostles. Christians were condemned on false charges. One of the judges of the Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, said of them to his colleagues: "Leave these people in peace; let them go. If their aim and their act is from man, it will die of itself; but if it is of God, you will not be able to destroy them. And you would turn out to be fighting against God himself!" (Acts 5:38,39)
Chairman of Governing Body
of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia
Russian transcription posted on website of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, 21 March 2017
“I was just a boy when Stalin exiled my family to Siberia merely because we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is sad and reprehensible that my children and grandchildren should be facing a similar fate. Never did I expect that we would again face the threat of religious persecution in modern Russia,” says Vasiliy Kalin, as Russia petitions the Supreme Court to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Of course, it’s all going to go against us eventually in this system of things. When Jesus said his followers would be hailed before courts, it wasn’t so that they could receive ‘good citizenship’ plaques. When Jesus himself was dragged before Pilate, he didn’t sweet-talk his way out of it, did he?
It’s all the doings of the ‘house’ church. Many countries have house churches, who agree to be strictly subservient to the state. Russia, once officially atheist, found they could not stamp out the urge to worship, so they settled on the house church, which they seek to harness as a force for national unity. “What can we do for you?” they ask the house church. “Take out the competition,” is the reply.
Putin doesn’t care, most likely. It’s not his thing. “Give the house church what it wants,” he reasons. “That way I keep them out of my hair.” After all, he has a country to run. It was just that way with Pilate, who tried to get Jesus off, but in the end, gave in to fanatics.
‘What are they saying about me, here?’ said Paul to the Jewish leaders in Rome. ‘Are they digging up any dirt on me?’ But there was no internet in the first century, and snail mail was snail mail. “We have not received letters about you from Judea, nor have any of the brothers who came from there reported or spoken anything bad about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thought are, for truly as regards this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere,” they told him. (Acts 28:21-22)
It is a mark of true religion today. Depend upon it to be “spoken against everywhere.”
Surely, the house church make Russia look like utter fools on the world stage. You cannot view jw.org, banned in Russia and Russia alone, and think for one moment that it is extremist. One would think that ISIS would have taught the Russians what extremism is. Still, while we hate persecution and we pray for our Russian brothers under trial, persecution does often turn out for advancement of the good news. “Why are they making trouble for the Jehovahs?” some people ask. “They’re nice people.”
"In their literature, there are some very harsh statements and very insulting statements about other faiths," says Alexander Dvorkin, a former Russian Orthodox priest who now teaches the history of religion and cult studies at St. Tikhon University in Moscow. "Of course, every religion has the right to criticize other faiths, but that should be done in a non-insulting manner, especially if you are talking about [my faith] the faith of the majority." (brackets mine)
The reason you can and should criticize other faiths is that, as any non-religious person knows, religion has historically served as chief cheerleader of war and killing. That’s why a growing number of persons would like to ban it.
“Dvorkin says that the Jehovah's Witnesses are not Christian because they don't believe in the divinity of Christ.” (from NPR) Got it? It’s also violence at the hands of Trinitarians. A more intolerant bunch you will never see.
9 March 2017
A Jehovah’s Witness in London. ‘These were some of the most persecuted Christians of the 20th century.’
The small Siberian town of Birobidzhan is set in a mosquito-infested swampland on the far eastern end of the Trans-Siberian railway. It was to places such as this that the Soviets exiled various undesirables. In April 1951 more than 9,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses were rounded up and sent to Siberiaon Stalin’s instruction. They were allowed to take 150kg of their possessions with them. Everything else was confiscated by the state.
You may walk past embarrassed as Jehovah’s Witnesses try and hand you cringeworthy religious literature on the high street. But these were some of the most persecuted Christians of the 20th century. And their persecution continues.
A couple of months ago, the Russian police raided the Birobidzhan branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and “discovered” extremist literature. The Jehovah’s Witnesses describe the incident thus: “Masked special police disrupted a religious meeting and planted literature under a chair in the presence of the attendees.” The police ordered the place to be permanently closed.
A few weeks later, the Russian ministry of justice demanded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses HQ hand over all information on their 2,277 Russian congregations. After a brief examination of what the police allegedly found, it concluded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were showing signs of “extremist activity”. Congregations in Belgorod, Stary Oskol and Elista have all been shut down. Bibles have been
impounded at customs, their literature banned. Many expect that the Russians are gearing up for an outright ban.
“Unfortunately, in today’s Russia, the will to confine Russians to restricted and state-determined religious beliefs has proved increasingly strong,” is how Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, described what has been going on. “Fabrication is always both repellent and a sign of desperation at the absence of credible proof of extremism.”
So what is it about Jehovah’s Witnesses that the Russians find so objectionable? This week, I decided not to avoid the eye of the couple who hand out literature at my tube station. So many times I’ve ignored them, and their Olympic smiling endurance, brushing past grumpily. Reading about their history, I now feel guilty about my lack of respect.
On open display was What Does the Bible Really Teach?, the book that the Russian authorities often plant in kingdom halls as an excuse to shut them down. I flicked through. It’s really not my thing. And the graphics are criminally cheesy. But it’s pretty bog-standard Christian fundamentalism, with an emphasis on the end of the world.
“What makes the Jehovah’s Witnesses different?” I asked the smiling man.
“We take the Bible literally,” he replied.
“But so do others. What makes you distinctive?”
“Take ‘thou shalt not kill,’” he replied. “We don’t participate in war.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses were taken to Nazi death camps for that very reason. They
refused to swear loyalty to a worldly government and refused to serve in the military. They wouldn’t say Heil Hitler either. So within months of the Nazis coming to power, their meetings were ransacked and a Gestapo unit was set up to register all known Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their children were taken off them to receive a proper patriotic German education. And they were given their own purple triangle to wear as identification. In 1942, Wolfgang Kusserow was beheaded in Brandenburg prison by the Nazis for refusing to fight. “You must not kill,” he said at his trial. “Did our creator have all this written down for the trees?”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are right to fear what is happening to them again, right now, in Russia. They have seen it all before. It should be a warning to all of us that the idea under which they are now being persecuted is that of “extremism”. It’s a word that draws its persuasive force from those who would use their religion to plant bombs and sever heads. So anti-terror legislation is now also being used to target those whose faith is only “extreme” in terms of its commitment to non-violence. The Russians are using the fear of Islamism as an excuse to crack down on all religious activity that refuses to bow the knee to Mother Russia.
“My parents were exiled to Siberia,” said Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a spokesman for the Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses. “They worshipped even while they were in those camps. We will continue too.” Respect, I say.
Anti-terror legislation is being used to target those whose faith is only ‘extreme’ in terms of its commitment to non-violence. It should be a warning to us all.
Russia: alleged "missionary activity" prosecutions continue
Russia's a nation of laws, just like here, and there's no legal barrier now for those who hate us to shut down the Branch. The brothers lost a critical legal appeal at Moscow City Court.
Putin may not even know about it. He's had a lot on his plate lately.
Places like Russia favor the 'house' church. They don't necessarily believe it, they likely don't, but they favor it because it's a force for national unity. 'What can we do for you?' they ask. 'Take out the competition,' is the reply from the Church.
How could any brother in Russia not think it a remarkable coincidence? The enemies of Jehovah's Witnesses are fully empowered to close Bethel. And at Witness meetings worldwide this week was played the movie about how the Assyrian army was poised to destroy Jerusalem, and in one night a single angel destroyed them all. Yet the movie was made two years ago, and the Bible reading schedule that determines when to play it is many years old!
Hezekiah, the Israelite King, wasn't overconfident. He didn't assume God was going to bail him out - for maybe he wouldn't. He just knew that he was to trust fully in God and remain faithful. But I hate to see the brothers go through more harassment, if not total shut-down. They've been through so much already.
'Hey, remember that angel we dispatched to Jerusalem? I'm impressed with his portfolio. Check on his availability, won't you?' Is there that sort of discussion somewhere?
Will it work that way? Or will world opinion prevail upon leaders there to carry on as every other nation does, Russia being the only nation on earth to ban JW.org. It's laughable. The house church makes them look like utter fools before the world. (not to mention it kills us) Nobody can watch JW.org and think it is, even to the tiniest degree, extremist.
Our brothers bear up under persecution when they must, and it often brings honest-hearted (and courageous) people into the fold. People say 'why are they making trouble for the Jehovah's? They're nice people.'
Tom Irregardless and Me.
Note: These posts are for the purpose of indexing JW Broadcasting Program Parts for easy access and look up on this site, as JW Broadcasting does not yet have a search function. Most parts have been linked directly to the video for that part, for easy access. You may like to use these links for personal or family study. Enjoy!
Presenter: Bro. Anthony Morris III GB
Translation: Namibia RTO Dedication report Length 5:22 mins
Theme Talk: “Jehovah’s Servants Will Be Persecuted” Length 22: 53 mins
Enduring Trials: Sis. Aynura“With Jehovah, I Am Not Alone” Length 6:18 mins
Truth Transforms Lives: Sis. Kimiko Nakagawa “Love Convinced the Saul of Sado” Length 7:14 mins
Discussion: Child Abuse Length (approx) 8 mins
Become Jehovah’s Friend: Protect Your Children Length 1:52 mins
Apply Bible Principles: Choosing a Career With Eternal Future Length 4:58 mins
Truth Transforms Lives: Bro. Michael Lemoine “I Put the Truth On Trial” Length 7:16 mins
Original Song: Glad I Passed the Test Length 2:22 mins
Closing Video: Mahaut & Marie-Galante Congregations, Dominica
Full Length 1:09:03 mins
*Full length time includes intermediary comments
By Guest Nicole
Raids on Jehovah's Witness premises now take place more than three times per month. These raids on doctrinally pacifist religious communities often involve many heavily armed and camouflaged officials, with the "discovery" of apparently planted banned "extremist" literature. Legal dissolution of communities can follow.
Law enforcement raids on Jehovah's Witness premises have reached a rate of more than three per month in 2016, Forum 18 has found. These unannounced raids, often involving large numbers of heavily armed riot police as well as the FSB security service and "Anti-extremism" investigators, frequently occur during meetings for worship and use disproportionate force. The "discovery" of literature prohibited as "extremist" often occurs during searches. One of many such raids took place in the village of Nezlobnaya in the southern Stavropol Region on 20 September (see below).
Jehovah's Witnesses have credibly insisted, with video evidence, that this literature has been planted by the authorities. As well as being distressing to congregations, such raids with the "discovery" of "extremist" literature can also set in motion a chain of legal repercussions up to and including the dissolution of communities (see below).
The current wave of raids take place without any advance warning to the communities concerned. One difference from visits from Prosecutors Office officials is that the community concerned is notified in advance by post of these visits.
One indicator of the unnecessary nature of the weapons (including infantry assault rifles) and force used by camouflaged state officials in the many raids is that Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide are a doctrinally pacifist community, whose young male members will not do compulsory military service or any other military-connected activity. Jehovah's Witnesses follow their pacifist principles even if the government concerned jails and tortures conscientious objectors to military service, and their families and co-believers (see eg. in Turkmenistan F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).
Increasing raids and prosecutions targeting Jehovah's Witnesses
Police have raided Jehovah's Witness places of worship for at least 10 years. A raid on a meeting for worship in April 2006 led to the liquidation of their Moscow community. After a long legal struggle, the community was in 2015 re-registered after an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg (see F18News 28 August 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). However, such raids appear to have increased in frequency and heavy-handedness over the last year, Jehovah's Witness spokesman Yaroslav Sivulsky commented to Forum 18 on 20 October 2016.
This is in line with a general intensification of law enforcement scrutiny of Jehovah's Witnesses, Forum 18 notes. This has included rising numbers of prosecutions under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") and Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket"), as well as the dissolution of several local communities as allegedly "extremist organisations" (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215).
Appeal against "extremism" warning fails
In March 2015 the Jehovah's Witnesses' Administrative Centre in St Petersburg received a formal warning from the General Prosecutor's Office of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity". The warning was explicitly predicated on the alleged "extremist" activities of the local communities (and their members) which the Centre oversees and supports (see F18News 24 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2181).
On 12 October 2016, Tver District Court in Moscow rejected the Administrative Centre's attempt to have the General Prosecutor's warning ruled unlawful. The Centre now plans to appeal to Moscow City Court, Sivulsky told Forum 18 on 20 October. It expects the appeal to be heard in two or three months. In the meantime, Sivulsky added, they understand that the warning is not legally enforceable until after any appeal ruling.
If the Administrative Centre's appeal fails and prosecutors pursue liquidation, it seems likely that assorted Jehovah's Witness bodies throughout the country may also face dissolution because of their association with the Centre. Jehovah's Witnesses have more than 400 local religious organisations (legal entities) and over 2,500 congregations, according to their main website jw.org . The Centre itself would be added to the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations (which is dominated by far-right and violent nationalist groups, though it already includes five liquidated Jehovah's Witness congregations) and its property would be turned over to the state.
The warning states that the Centre will be subject to dissolution if it does not take "specific organisational and practical measures" within two months to eliminate violations of the "Extremism Law", or if new evidence of "extremism" is uncovered. It does not elaborate, however, on what such measures may be or how they will be monitored. It appears that any subsequent extremism-related conviction of an individual or local community (once the appeal process is exhausted) may provide grounds for liquidation.
On 3 October, a ninth local Jehovah's Witness congregation, in Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Region, was ruled an "extremist" organisation and ordered to be liquidated.
On 18 October, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation rejected the Oryol Jehovah's Witness community's appeal against its liquidation, ordered by Oryol Regional Court in June 2016.
Increasing raids and prosecutions targeting many communities
If an item is on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, possession of it carries the risk of a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 days, and confiscation of the banned literature. The Federal List as of September 2016 ran to over 3,69 items, often does not include full bibliographical details, and is irregularly updated, making it difficult for anyone to keep abreast of recent bans (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215).
Courts continue to rule texts "extremist", opening the way for more prosecutions for their possession or "mass distribution". These include the Google Translate Russian version of a collection of sayings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, a video commenting on the attempted seizure by bailiffs of saints' relics from the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, and Jehovah's Witness texts (see F18News 20 March 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2049).
No-notice raids on religious communities' premises are not confined to Jehovah's Witnesses. Prosecutions of Muslims under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") often arise after police, prosecutor's office officials, and/or FSB officers have searched a mosque "to check compliance with anti-extremism legislation" and discovered "extremist" literature, according to court verdicts seen by Forum 18 (see eg. F18News 25 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2171).
Armed raids on homes, sometimes during prayer meetings or religious celebrations, have often been part of criminal investigations of Muslims who read the works of late Turkish theologian Said Nursi (see eg. F18News 29 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2193).
Institutions run by Protestant churches, such as drug rehabilitation centres have sometimes been obliged to close for after fire safety or sanitation inspections found apparently minor and easily resolvable infringements (see eg. F18News 26 March 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1943).
In October 2012, bailiffs in the Vladimir Region town of Suzdal disrupted a Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church service in an attempt to seize the relics of two saints kept in the church building (see F18News 3 December 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2020).
Since the introduction in July 2016 of the so-called "anti-missionary law", which severely restricts the public sharing of beliefs, law enforcement agencies have raided religious events they suspect of violating the new legislation's regulations. Hare Krishna devotees and Protestants have also been prosecuted for sharing beliefs in public (see F18News 26 August 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2211).
A police raid on a Tver sanatorium where Ghanaian Protestant leader Ebenezer Tuah was performing baptisms in a rented hall led to his being prosecuted for conducting "missionary activity" without the necessary documents. He was found guilty on 1 August and fined 50,000 Roubles, the maximum for a foreign citizen (see F18News 26 August 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2211).
Police in St Petersburg detained Archbishop Sergei Zhuravlyov of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church while he was giving a sermon at a Messianic Jewish community. The police had received a message suggesting that Zhuravlyov was trying to convert Jews to Orthodoxy. A court fined the Archbishop 5,000 Roubles on 5 September.
Particular focus on Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witness communities appear at present to be bearing the brunt of law enforcement attention of this type, involving the disruption of meetings for worship, the use of force, and the alleged falsification of material evidence.
Police raided 30 Kingdom Halls or other meeting places between January and August 2016, Jehovah's Witnesses' Administrative Centre noted in September. A further five were raided as of 21 October, bringing the total to 35 known raids so far this year. This is a marked increase on the Administrative Centre's figure of 10 for January-August 2015 (14 for 2015 in total). Throughout 2015, 89 known individuals and communities of all beliefs throughout Russia were prosecuted for possession of allegedly "extremist" religious literature (see F18News 25 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2171).
The Jehovah's Witnesses in 2013 and 2014 reported eight such raids in each year. Throughout 2014, 65 known individuals and communities of all beliefs throughout Russia were prosecuted for possession of allegedly "extremist" religious literature (see F18News 31 March 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2052).
Armed raids, planting of banned materials
Law enforcement officers raid Jehovah's Witness meetings at a variety of locations – purpose-built Kingdom Halls, properties rented long-term for worship purposes, temporarily rented business centres or Houses of Culture, and sometimes individuals' homes.
Not all raids involve riot police or the halting of meetings for worship, as officers have been known to wait until the meeting is over on a few occasions. But the raids usually involve the disproportionate use of force, disproportionate numbers of officials, the needless disruption of meetings for worship, and either the expulsion of worshippers from the building or their containment in one room. Those present are expelled or confined to one room to prevent observation of searches, Jehovah's Witnesses comment. Officials have also demanded that those present lie down with their faces to the ground, to avoid what officials do being observed.
Forum 18 sent written questions to the FSB security service in several regions in which raids have been carried out in the last few months, asking: why these raids were launched, why heavily armed units were used, and why it was deemed necessary to disrupt meetings for worship. No reply has yet been received.
Simultaneous raids have sometimes been carried out in the same town or region. This happened to multiple Jehovah's Witness communities in: Petrozavodsk and Kostomuksha in Karelia in July 2016; in Vladikavkaz, Mozdok, and Alagir in North Ossetiya in May 2015; and also on multiple places of worship and believers' homes in Budyonnovsk in Stavropol Region in August 2016.
Jehovah's Witnesses state that the law enforcement practice of planting literature began as early as January 2013 and has become part of a coordinated campaign against them. According to a 30 September statement, they are aware of at least 60 cases of the planting and falsification of evidence.
"Currently, more than 80 Jehovah's Witness publications appear on the Federal List of Extremist Materials", the Administrative Centre commented on 1 April 2016. "Jehovah's Witnesses believe this is a mistake and seek in the courts to exclude their books and pamphlets from this list. Nevertheless, they do not import, distribute, or store these publications. Believers check carefully to ensure that these materials do not appear in places of worship."
That officials plant evidence has also been credibly claimed by Muslims who read the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi. For example, this seems to have occurred in relation to a mosque in Mordovia whose mufti was subsequently fined (see eg. F18News 1 May 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1953).
Typical heavily armed raid, evidence apparently planted
A typical example of the many raids, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18, took place in the village of Nezlobnaya in the southern Stavropol Region on 20 September. The raid also demonstrates the unnecessary levels of weapons and numbers of officials used in such raids.
CCTV footage released by the Nezlobnaya Jehovah's Witness community – available at - shows about 12 fully masked male officials, wearing black and green camouflage uniforms and carrying apparent infantry assault rifles, climbing the fence surrounding the Kingdom Hall. They then begin to force their way through the door using metal-cutting equipment, without giving anyone inside a chance to open it. It is early in the morning (c. 7.30 am) and no meeting for worship has yet bagun, but people are present in the building.
In further footage from various indoor CCTV cameras, the heavily armed, masked and camouflaged state officials can be seen spreading out through the building and starting to search it. In the worship hall itself, the video appears to shows two masked men putting books or brochures into a corner cupboard. This material is then uncovered about half an hour later (according to the CCTV timestamp) by another man in civilian clothes.
When committee member Yevgeny Vernik arrived, officers refused to let him see any paperwork authorising the search. "When I asked [the senior officer] to show me a copy of the order, he rudely demanded that I leave the building," Vernik complained.
Local Jehovah's Witness chair Pavel Puzyrev claims in the video released by the Administrative Centre that his community regularly performs its own searches to check for banned literature, and that there had been nothing in the cupboard the previous day. About 10 law enforcement agents also searched Puzyrev's home, where he alleges they planted banned items from the Federal List in the kitchen. He has since been charged under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials").
Telephones at Stavropol Region police information department went unanswered whenever Forum 18 called on 20 and 21 October.
Other recent raids illustrate the disruption of meetings for worship caused by such raids. In St Petersburg on 11 October, at least 25 law enforcement officers, including "Anti-Extremism" Police, entered a Kingdom Hall during evening worship. Officers announced that the building was to be searched for "extremist" literature. They covered the CCTV cameras with masking tape, before emptying cupboards and taking up the floor, the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre noted on 12 October. Several men were taken to the police station for questioning.
Although on this occasion prohibited literature was not found, police confiscated personal Bibles, tablets, and phones.
Forum 18 called St Petersburg Police on 21 October to ask why the search had been carried out and why interrupting a service had been deemed necessary. A spokeswoman directed Forum 18 to the head of the information department, Vyacheslav Stepchenko, but telephones in his office went unanswered.
In Petrozavodsk in Karelia on 28 July 2016, the FSB security service and armed OMON riot police raided an evening service, the Administrative Centre reported the following day. Officers seized worshippers' phones and other electronic devices and allegedly pushed some worshippers to the floor and kicked them. A search of the premises followed, which uncovered items of banned literature on the Federal List. There then followed a long period of questioning. The last Jehovah's Witness was released after midnight.
As a result, the community was fined 50,000 Roubles under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") at Petrozavodsk City Court on 3 October.
Asked by Forum 18 on 21 October why the raid had taken place, why armed officers had been used, and why it had been necessary to disrupt religious worship, a spokesperson for Karelia Police said it was "difficult to give such information". She suggested sending questions by email, which Forum 18 did in the early afternoon of the Karelia working day of 21 October.
Court proceedings, fines, possible community dissolution
As well as the immediate impact of an unexpected and heavy-handed raid, consequences for Jehovah's Witness communities can extend to court proceedings, financial penalties, and possible dissolution and confiscation of community assets.
If law enforcement officers find – or claim to find - prohibited literature during a search, administrative charges under Administrative Code Article 20.29 may follow. For legal entities such as religious organisations, conviction under this Article now carries a fine of 100,000 to 1 million Roubles. For individuals, the fine is 1,000 to 3,000 Roubles or up to 15 days' imprisonment; for people acting in an official capacity, 2,000 to 5,000 Roubles (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215).
Prosecutors may also issue warnings that, should further "extremist activity" be detected, they will seek the liquidation of the community as an "extremist organisation" – this may then be triggered by subsequent raids or prosecutions of individual believers.
Rented premises used by the Oryol community were searched three times in 2015 – including the disruption of a service in December 2015 by six officers of the police and FSB – and banned religious literature was found hidden inside stage steps and under a tablecloth. Jehovah's Witnesses insist that this must have been planted there earlier, as the officers allegedly did not bother checking anywhere else.
The community was fined multiple times under Administrative Code Article 20.29 and received a warning of the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" with the threat of liquidation if violations were not eliminated. In June 2016, the regional branch of the Justice Ministry successfully sought the community's dissolution. The Supreme Court rejected the community's appeal against the ruling on 12 October 2016.
Some 20 law enforcement officers "burst into the premises" of the Jehovah's Witness community in Saransk on the evening of 13 October, according to the Administrative Centre, and searched it for two hours, confiscating believers' phones and the building's CCTV equipment.
"Turning their backs to the security camera, they planted Federal List material in a cupboard, which they themselves then ‘found'," Jehovah's Witnesses complained on 17 October. Jehovah's Witnesses note that, a few days previously, an FSB officer had called to check the CCTV – he "carefully examined the location of video cameras and other equipment, and assured those present that everything was fine".
The Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Mordovia had already issued an extremism warning to the Saransk community on 27 September. If charges are brought as a result of the latest raid, the community could face liquidation.
Nine communities ordered liquidated – only one successful appeal
A total of nine local Jehovah's Witness organisations have so far been ordered by courts to be dissolved: Taganrog, September 2009; Samara, May 2014; Abinsk, March 2015; Tyumen, October 2015; Belgorod, February 2016; Stary Oskol, February 2016; Elista, February 2016; Oryol, June 2016; Birobidzhan, October 2016 (see eg. F18News 22 March 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2161).
The Taganrog, Samara, Abinsk, Belgorod, and Stary Oskol communities appear on the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Organisations.
Only one liquidation order – against the Tyumen community – has been subsequently overturned by Russia's Supreme Court. All other appeals so far have been unsuccessful.
Two further attempts at liquidation have been unsuccessful – in Arkhangelsk, which was refused by the Regional Court in June 2016, and in Cherkessk, where proceedings were opened in May 2015, were delayed by other civil cases involving the congregation (see F18News 28 August 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2095). They now appear to have been dropped.
At least 10 other communities are known to have received formal warnings of "the inadmissibility of extremist activity" since spring 2015 (some of which have now expired). Three of these – Tikhoretsk (Krasnodar), Chapayevsk (Samara), and Shakhty (Rostov) – are in regions which have already seen the liquidation of Jehovah's Witness congregations (in Abinsk, Samara, and Taganrog respectively). The other seven are in Kaluga, Vilyuchinsk on the Far Eastern Kamchatka peninsula, Teykovo in Ivanovo Region, Stavropol, Novorossiysk, Saransk in Mordovia, and Prokhladny in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya. Four communities (Tikhoretsk, Teykovo, Chapayevsk, Prokhladny) are so far known to have gone to court to have the warnings recognised as unlawful, all unsuccessfully.
Severe consequences, increasing legal restrictions
The loss of legal status can have a severe impact. Under 2015 changes to the Religion Law, all religious communities that do not have legal status must notify the authorities of their existence and activity. This includes providing the names and addresses of all their members and addresses where any meeting takes place (see F18News 17 September 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2101). Such a requirement is against Russia's international human rights obligations, as outlined in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)/Venice Commission Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities (see http://www.osce.org/odihr/139046). Russia is both an OSCE participating State and a Venice Commission member state.
Communities dissolved for "extremism" also face the possibility of criminal prosecution of their former members for continuing to meet, as happened in Taganrog among other places (see Forum 18's "Extremism" Russia religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215). A further consequence, introduced in July 2016 by an amendment to the Religion Law, is a ban on former members of "extremist" religious organisations carrying out broadly defined "missionary activity" (see F18News 8 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2197). (END)
By Guest Nicole
34 attendees at an "illegal" home meeting for worship on the most sacred annual observance for Jehovah's Witnesses were fined nearly a year's official minimum wage. The leader of a Sunni mosque in Baku forcibly closed in July has failed to overturn his fine.
In mid-September the final seven of 34 Jehovah's Witnesses lost their appeals against fines of more than three months' average wages each. The 34 were punished for participating in a 23 March meeting for worship in a home in the north-western town of Gakh [Qax] which the authorities claim was "illegal". Similarly, on 23 September the leader of a Sunni mosque in the capital Baku failed in his attempt to overturn a similar fine for leading an "illegal" religious community. The authorities forcibly closed down the mosque as "illegal" in July.
The 34 Jehovah's Witnesses were punished for attending a meeting for worship commemorating the Memorial of Christ's death, the most sacred annual observance for Jehovah's Witnesses. Police raided and halted the observance (see below).
Of the 35 individuals, 34 were each fined 1,500 Manats (15,400 Norwegian Kroner, 830 Euros or 1,900 US Dollars). This is more than eleven times the minimum monthly wage, or three months' average wages for those in formal work. However, many of those fined are without formal work and for them the fines represent even more of a punishment, Forum 18 notes. The other individual was fined 1,800 Manats.
The Sunni Omar bin Khattab Mosque in Qobustan in southern Baku, forcibly closed in July, was built on the Simirov family's private land and had functioned since 1990. The family have gone to court to try to protect the Mosque and plot of land from possible seizure (see below).
The enforced closure is part of what appears to be the state's determination to close Sunni mosques across the country. The closure came just days after the state forcibly closed the Lezgin Mosque in Baku's Old City on the excuse that "repairs" were needed. Earlier in July, a Sunni Mosque in a village in the northern Quba Region was ordered to close for all activity except Friday prayers. A privately-built Sunni home mosque which had functioned for 20 years was closed in January in the town of Shirvan, south-west of Baku (see F18News 20 September 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2216).
Controls in defiance of international human rights commitments
In defiance of its international human rights obligations, Azerbaijan insists that exercising freedom of religion or belief without permission from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations is illegal. Those who violate these strict controls – including by meeting for worship in homes or talking to others of their faith – are punished.
Alongside this insistence that state permission is required, the State Committee refuses to process registration applications from many religious communities seeking legal status. Many communities which applied in 2009 - when the Religion Law was amended and mandatory re-registration was again imposed – are still waiting for the State Committee to process these applications (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2081).
International human rights bodies have repeatedly called on Azerbaijan to revoke these restrictions. On 26 April the United Nations Human Rights Committee prepared questions to Azerbaijan ahead of the consideration of its record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 20 and 21 October in Geneva (CCPR/C/AZE/Q/4).
The Committee asked Azerbaijan to "indicate any steps taken towards abolishing the requirement of registration for religious communities. Please also describe any measures taken to amend the 2009 religion law with a view to bringing it into full compliance with the Covenant." It also asked if the government has taken any steps to abolish the requirement that all Muslim communities be subject to the state-backed Caucasian Muslim Board.
The government submitted its response to the Human Rights Committee on 14 July and it was made public on 9 August (CCPR/C/AZE/Q/4/Add.1). The government response failed to address these questions. It merely claimed that "the registration procedure is very simple" and blamed religious communities themselves when the State Committee failed to process their applications.
The government insisted to the Human Rights Committee that Muslim communities must be subject to the Muslim Board because the law demands it. It did not explain why the law prevents Muslims from forming communities as they might like.
Gakh: Religious meeting raided
On 23 March, police officers in Gakh raided the home of Givi Khusishvili. They abruptly stopped the observance of the Memorial of Christ's death. Police officers showed what purported to be a court order authorising their search and confiscated personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles.
Officers then took all the attendees to the local police station, interrogated them, and ordered them to write statements. Police drew up records of an "offence" under the Administrative Code against six of the men present. All were released soon after 9 pm.
A 23 March statement on the Interior Ministry website claimed that Khusishvili had violated the procedure for organising and holding religious meetings. It claimed the meeting had therefore been "prohibited by law". It said that of the 56 people present, more than 44 were local, while 9 were from Zakatala [Zaqatala], the region north of Gakh. Five were from Baku. The Interior Ministry said the 19 DVDs, two videos and 219 items of religious literature seized during the search had not been approved by the State Committee (see F18News 2 June 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184).
Gakh: Police protests overturn acquittals
In early May, Police opened cases against 34 attendees under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. This punishes "A religious association operating outside of its registered legal address" with a fine for individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats. Cases against 27 were opened by Gakh Police and against seven by Zakatala Police.
Masim Adigozelov and Sahaddin Hasanov, two of the officers of Zakatala Police, refused to explain to Forum 18 on 5 October why they had opened the administrative cases against the Jehovah's Witnesses. Both put the phone down without responding to any questions.
Cases against 27 attendees from Gakh were handed to Gakh District Court. However, the Court's Judge Atabay Kichibayov dismissed all the cases for lack of an "offence". Ten of them were heard and dismissed on 24 May, the remaining 17 on 27 May (see F18News 2 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2184).
Gakh District Police appealed against the May acquittals of the 27 attendees to Sheki Appeal Court. Between 28 July and 1 August, various Judges at Sheki Court of Appeal reversed the acquittals. The Court imposed convictions and fines of 1,500 Manats on 26 of the attendees, according to court records. Khusishvili, the home owner, was fined 1,800 Manats.
Gakh: Seven further fines, upheld on appeal
In early May, cases against the other seven were handed to Zakatala District Court, the home region of those individuals. However, in early June the Court handed these cases to Gakh District Court.
Following the reversals of the acquittals and the punishments handed down to 27 attendees, Judge Kichibayov then considered the cases of the other seven, handed on from Zakatala District Court. On 4 August he found the seven – including Gulbahar Guliyeva, Konul Guliyeva, Yevdokia Sobko, Matanat Qurbanova and Vaqif Aliyev – guilty under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. He fined each of the seven 1,500 Manats, according to the subsequent Appeal Court verdicts seen by Forum 18.
A court official told Forum 18 from Gakh on 5 October that Judge Kichibayov was not in the court building. She confirmed that he had fined the seven Jehovah's Witnesses but refused to say why they had been punished for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. She then put the phone down.
All seven appealed to Sheki Appeal Court. At separate hearings under various Judges on 14 and 16 September, the attendees insisted that their right to meet with others for religious purposes is defended by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, the Judges dismissed their appeals, according to the decisions seen by Forum 18.
The man who answered the phone of Mehman Ismayilov, regional representative of the State Committee in Zakatala, refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions on 5 October.
Gakh: Acquittals in other cases
The same Judge Kichibayov at Gakh District Court who had initially acquitted the 27 Jehovah's Witnesses in May has also dismissed other cases against individuals accused of violating the strict controls on freedom of religion or belief.
On 11 April police in Gakh detained Jehovah's Witnesses Gulara Huseynova and Rasmiyya Karimova for allegedly distributing religious publications. Jehovah's Witnesses insisted to Forum 18 that at the time the two women were simply walking on the street. The officers seized religious publications from their bags and took them to Gakh District Police Station. Later, the police charged both women under the Administrative Code. At a hearing on 12 May, Gakh District Court Judge Kichibayov acquitted both women.
On 15 May, Jehovah's Witnesses Rahim Karimov and Luka Khusishvili talked to a man about the Bible for approximately 15 minutes in a market in Gakh. They had spoken to the man previously, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. After the two Jehovah's Witnesses said goodbye, police detained them and took them to Gakh District Police Station. They later charged the men under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. On 9 June, Gakh District Court Judge Kichibayov acquitted the two.
Police who detain individuals for speaking to others on the street about their faith – or who appear to be preparing to do so – often threaten them with prosecution under Administrative Code Article 515 and fines of 1,500 Manats or more.
On 22 April police in Baku detained Jehovah's Witnesses Khayala Jafarova and Jaarey Suleymanova for talking to their neighbours about their faith. Officers took them to the 35th Police Station. The women were interrogated, ordered to write statements and to sign protocols. Police confiscated all their religious literature, including the Bible. One officer threatened that they would be charged under Administrative Code Article 515 and fined 1,500 Manats. They were released and ordered to return the next day. "The next day, the women were subjected to further verbal abuse and offered release if they would renounce their religion," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18.
On 24 July police in Baku detained Gulgaz Novruzova and Rakhila Shukurova "for speaking to people about the Bible in a public park", Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Officers took them to Khatai District Police Station. "The women were asked why they did not read the Koran and officers sneered at the name Jehovah." An Officer named Sadig threatened to fine the women 1,500 Manats. The women were ordered to write statements before being released.
On 4 August, Jamila Gurbanova and three other female Jehovah's Witnesses planned to go from Barda to Yevlakh in central Azerbaijan to share their beliefs. On the bus, they decided to speak with other passengers about their faith and gave out several pieces of literature. One of the passengers was a State Committee official, who phoned the police. Officers took Gurbanova and the State Committee official to the police station. Officers asked Gurbanova why she preaches Christianity instead of the Koran. They confiscated her religious literature, even though it had the required stickers from the State Committee. Officers threatened to have Gurbanova fined under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. She was released that evening, having written a statement.
All religious literature produced in, published in or imported into Azerbaijan is subject to prior compulsory censorship. In addition, it can only be sold of distributed in places approved by the State Committee. All religious materials sold must have a sticker noting that they have State Committee approval. State officials have repeatedly denied that this represents censorship (see F18News 1 October 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2107).
Baku mosque leader's fine upheld
On the afternoon of 23 September, Judge Vuqar Mammadov of Baku Appeal Court upheld the fine on Ahmad Simirov, according to court records. Simirov was leader of a Sunni Muslim Mosque on private land in Qobustan on the southern edge of Baku.
Omar bin Khattab mosque was forcibly closed by the Police, State Security Service (SSS) secret police, Qaradag District administration officials and Anar Kazimov, Baku representative of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations.
Simirov had appealed against a fine of 1,500 Manats under Administrative Code Article 515.0.1, handed down by Qaradag District Court on 11 August (see F18News 20 September 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2216).
Administrative Code Article 515.0.1 punishes "A religious association's leader evading registration of the association with the relevant executive authority [State Committee]" with a fine for individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats.
"I told the appeal hearing that I have no job, and that I can be imam of a mosque on my own property," Simirov told Forum 18 from Qobustan on 6 October. "They told me I couldn't, even if it's my property."
Simirov said it was "pointless" for him to appeal further against the fine through the Azerbaijani court system. But he added that he might bring a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In the meantime, he said he would have to pay the fine in instalments. "Otherwise they'll seize my property, sell it and take the money from that."
Family goes to court to protect Mosque and land from seizure
The Simirov family have brought a suit to court to try to prevent any seizure of the Mosque and land in Qobustan. The suit has been lodged against the head of Qaradag District Administration, the Caucasian Muslim Board and the State Committee. "They closed our Mosque and demand that we hand the Mosque over to them," Simirov told Forum 18. "We are seeking to prove that this is our property, that my father Uzeyir Simirov built the Mosque on his own property."
The first hearing in the case took place on 4 October under Judge Tahira Asadova at Baku's Administrative-Economic Court No. 1. The case is due to resume in late October, Simirov added. (END)
By Guest Nicole
By Felix Corley, Forum 18
Police raided Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov's home in Dashoguz in July 2014, seized religious literature (subsequently destroyed), beat him, placed him in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre where he was injected with unknown drugs (from which he fled). Arrested in June 2016, he was imprisoned for one year.
Jehovah's Witness Mansur Masharipov has appealed against a one-year prison term handed down on 18 August in the northern city of Dashoguz for allegedly assaulting a police officer back in July 2014. Police subsequently destroyed Bibles and other religious literature seized from him during a raid on his home, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18. His fellow-Jehovah's Witnesses insist the 32-year-old Masharipov is innocent of any wrongdoing and was targeted for his faith.
Masharipov had fled in July 2014 from forcible detention in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre in Dashoguz, where he was injected with harmful unknown drugs, "out of fear for my life and my health". He was arrested in the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] on 30 June 2016 and was transferred to Investigation Prison in Dashoguz ahead of his trial.
Other prisoners of conscience
Masharipov is one of two known Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience. The 53-year-old Bahram Hemdemov is serving a four-year sentence on charges of inciting religious hatred, charges he denies (see F18News 5 July 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).
An unknown number of Muslims are also believed to be imprisoned to punish them for exercising freedom of religion or belief. One of those apparently being held incommunicado in Turkmenistan's high-security Ovadan-Depe prison in the desert north of Ashgabad is Bahram Saparov, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18. He had led a Hanafi Sunni Muslim community in the eastern city of Turkmenabad [Turkmenabat] (formerly Charjew) until his imprisonment in late 2013. About 20 others were sentenced to long prison terms with him. Their fate remains unknown (see forthcoming F18News article).
Another Muslim reportedly imprisoned for exercising freedom of religion or belief died in labour camp near Turkmenabad in 2013. Artur Atayev, who used the first name Ali, was imam of an unregistered Sunni Muslim mosque in the Khitrovka district of Ashgabad, someone familiar with his work told Forum 18. His body was never returned to relatives for a funeral. Imam Atayev was arrested in September 2008 soon after an armed clash between a local gang and security forces. The individual familiar with his work insisted he had not been involved in the gang (see forthcoming F18News article).
In addition to those imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, the authorities regularly hand down corrective labour sentences to those unable to perform compulsory military service on grounds of religious conscience. The men must live at home under restrictions and a fifth of their wages are seized by the state. The most recent such known corrective labour sentence was handed down to Jehovah's Witness Dayanch Jumayev in Ashgabad in February 2016. He was sentenced to one year of corrective labour (see F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).
Masharipov – who is unmarried – is an ethnic Uzbek who lived in Dashoguz until he moved away from the city in 2014 to avoid arrest. In May 2004 he was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of his religious faith. He was among four Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors freed from prison under amnesty in April 2005 (see F18News 22 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=548).
Police officers arrested Jehovah's Witness Masharipov on 30 June 2016 in a park in Ashgabad, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. He was then transferred back to his home city of Dashoguz, where he was held in the city's Interior Ministry's Investigation Prison (DZD/7).
Police had been hunting for Masharipov since summer 2014 to punish him for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. On the morning of 3 July 2014, six police officers and officials had come to his home in Dashoguz as part of "preventive measures" because of his "adherence to the Jehovah's Witness religion", the August 2016 court verdict notes.
One of those raiding Masharipov's home was Hudainazar Artykov, an official of the Religious Affairs Department of the Regional Hyakimlik (administration)
The police officers asked Masharipov to hand over all his literature about religion. He "voluntarily" gave them 22 copies of the New Testament and other books, 15 religious leaflets, 42 religious discs, 7 exercise books with religious notes, 304 pages of religious notes, a religious calendar and a computer notebook containing six or seven Jehovah's Witness films. Masharipov told the officers he had been given these items by an unknown individual on a visit to Uzbekistan. Officers also seized his mobile phone.
The officers then demanded that Masharipov go with them to the police station for – in the words of the verdict - "explanatory work" and "preventive measures in connection with his adherence to the Jehovah's Witness movement", but he refused.
Police officer Gurban Khanov claimed that once outside the block of flats, Masharipov tried to run away. Officers then grabbed him by the arm to try to put him in the police car. Khanov claimed Masharipov tore the lower button and left epaulette from his police uniform before they managed to get him into the car.
Masharipov was charged under Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1 with assaulting a police officer, "although it was the police officers who had subjected him to rough physical mistreatment," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "Mansur Masharipov has previously endured abuse, even torture, for his peaceful religious activities."
Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1 punishes "The threat of murder or use of violence not dangerous to life or health in relation to a law-enforcement or military officer or those close to them in connection with the carrying out of their duties in protecting law and order". Punishment is corrective labour or a prison term of up to two years.
Did police assault and lodge false charges against Masharipov?
Masharipov's fellow Jehovah's Witnesses gave Forum 18 in late July 2014 a different account of what happened on the day he was detained (see F18News 1 August 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1981).
Once the search was complete, one of the plain-clothed police officers grabbed Masharipov from behind by the neck, "choking him so he could not breathe, and then dragged him into a waiting vehicle". Once in the vehicle, the officers "began to beat him repeatedly on his head and on his body above his kidneys".
At 12 noon the police took Masharipov to Dashoguz City Police Station, where he was again beaten. From there he was taken to a supervisor's office where the police began to openly discuss what pretext they would use to justify placing him in detention. They brought in police officer Ruslan Jumaniyazov (who had been present during the raid), who said he would claim that Masharipov had ripped off his shoulder insignia while resisting arrest.
At 1 pm Masharipov was returned to Dashoguz City Police Station, where he was again beaten. "The police threatened they would place him in a 'harem' cell with male prisoners where he would be raped," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 back in July 2014.
The police gave Masharipov a document in Turkmen, which he does not understand, and forced him to sign it. They claimed the document contained a report that they had seized religious books during the search of his flat. The officials included three officers from the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police and one representative of the religious affairs department of the Regional Hyakimlik.
Police again threatened that they would charge Masharipov with ripping off the insignia of a police officer. Local policeman Merdan Khanov (also present during the raid) stated that he would testify to this effect.
In the afternoon, the police took Masharipov to Dashoguz City Prosecutor's Office. The prosecutor took a statement from Masharipov and he was then returned to Dashoguz City Police Station and again beaten.
Some of the same police officers in Dashoguz were also involved in accusing another local Jehovah's Witness of tearing off the insignia from an officer's uniform. The same Artykov from the regional religious affairs department testified that Bibi Rahmanova had assaulted the officer in July 2014 within days of Masharipov's detention. She received a four-year prison term the following month, but had her sentence suspended on appeal in September. This meant she was ordered to serve the rest of her sentence at home under travel restrictions (see F18News 28 October 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2009).
The duty officer at Dashoguz City Police refused to discuss with Forum 18 in August 2014 the treatment of Masharipov by its officers.
Tortured with drugs
At 6 pm on 3 July 2014, police took Masharipov to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre in Dashoguz. "This was done as a pretext to justify his detention," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "The medical staff administered four injections to Mansur Masharipov, one in each buttock and two below his shoulder blades." His arms and legs became paralysed and he vomited throughout that evening and the following day. He also began to suffer a high fever and severe headaches.
Fearing further torture, Masharipov escaped from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre on 5 July 2014 and fled from Dashoguz.
Following the arrest of Masharipov in Ashgabad on 30 June 2016, police and prosecutors revived the criminal case against him. As well as accusing him under Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1, Dashoguz City Prosecutors' Office also considered accusations under Criminal Code Article 177 ("Incitement of social, ethnic or religious hatred"). However, on 1 August Prosecutors abandoned charges under this Article.
On 18 August, Judge V. Amanov of Dashoguz City Court heard the case against Masharipov not in the court, but at a hearing held in the city's Housing Trust. Judge Amanov found Masharipov guilty under Criminal Code Article 211, Part 1. He sentenced him to one year in a general regime labour camp, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18. Masharipov denied the allegations against him in court.
Police officer Gurban Khanov, described as the "victim", testified in court and called for Masharipov to be punished. The verdict notes that a 5 July 2014 medical report on Gurban Khanov had not found any injuries.
Also testifying in court was regional religious affairs official Artykov. He told the court that Police had already destroyed the New Testaments and other religious literature confiscated from Masharipov during the raid on his home in July 2014. However, the verdict also quotes an 8 July 2016 letter from the Muftiate representation in Dashoguz Region to say that the confiscated books had been handed over to the government's Commission for Work with Religious Organisations and Expert Analysis of Resources Containing Religious Information, Published and Printed Production before being destroyed.
Forum 18 has been unable to obtain a copy of the Muftiate letter, which is Page 118 of the case file.
The Commission was established in summer 2015 to replace the Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs, the government body controlling religious communities (see F18News 18 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2169).
The verdict does not explain why Masharipov's religious literature was destroyed.
The verdict ordered that his confiscated computer and mobile phone should be transferred to the state.
The prison term was deemed to run from 30 June, the date of his arrest, with each day in pre-trial detention counting as the equivalent of two days' labour camp.
Forum 18 was unable to reach Judge Amanov at Dashoguz City Court on 21 September. It was also unable to reach regional religious affairs official Artykov the same day.
On 30 August, Masharipov lodged an appeal against his conviction – seen by Forum 18 - to Dashoguz Regional Court. He denied the police account that he had used force against them, noting that because of his faith "for me an individual, their worth, life, rights and freedom are of great value". He added that "my religion teaches and helps me to relate to other people with deep respect and love".
Masharipov recounted the beatings and rape threats from police officers after his 3 July 2014 detention. He added that later that afternoon, when he was brought out of the Prosecutor's Office, he tried in vain to run away. He was then beaten again "right on the street". Beatings continued once officers had taken him back to the police station.
Masharipov also recounted that at the Drug Rehabilitation Centre, staff gave him four injections "after which I felt sick, I had a headache and a high temperature and it was almost impossible for me to move". "On 5 July 2014, out of fear for my life and my health, and with the aim of preserving them, I fled from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre."
Masharipov – who says he does not smoke or drink alcohol – questions why he was sent to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre with no court decision. He notes that on 7 July 2014 he sent complaints about the Police conduct to the Interior Ministry and, the following day, to the General Prosecutor's Office. On 30 March 2015 he sent a complaint to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
In his appeal Masharipov also complained about procedural violations. He said he had not been given the opportunity to acquaint himself with the accusations against him, and that the July 2014 house search had been conducted without a search warrant from the Prosecutor's Office.
Masharipov insists that the case against him violates the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief outlined in Turkmenistan's Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkmenistan is a party.
No-one at Dashoguz Regional Court would confirm to Forum 18 on 21 September whether any appeal hearing has yet been set in Masharipov's case.
If Masharipov's appeal is rejected, he is likely to be sent to serve his sentence at the general regime labour camp in the desert just outside the eastern town of Seydi in Lebap Region.
Jehovah's Witnesses lodged an urgent appeal on 11 July 2014 about Masharipov's case to the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Geneva.
The appeal – seen by Forum 18 – gives details of the abuses in Masharipov's case and includes photographs of scars on his arms, legs, stomach, back and one cheek which Jehovah's Witnesses say were inflicted on him in police detention.
The appeal also covered abuses against three other Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 1 August 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1981).
No charges against police officers
The verdict in Masharipov's case also reveals that Prosecutors considered criminal cases against two police officers involved in the July 2014 raid. Dashoguz City Prosecutors' Office considered criminal charges against Gurban Khanov and Jumaniyazov under Article 181 ("Misuse of official powers"), Article 182 ("Exceeding official powers") and Article 182-1 ("Torture").
Dashoguz City Prosecutors' Office dropped these charges on 1 August 2016. The verdict gives no reason for the decision.
Under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Turkmenistan is obliged to arrest and try under criminal law any person suspected on good grounds of having committed torture. (END)
By Guest Nicole
The first time he attended the Pioner School, he did not have a book because of the persecution in Cuba.
By The Librarian
1. Supporters of dissident priest Rev Basily Mkalashvili getting out of buses and running
2. Priest walking, zoom out and pan of supporters following him
3. Supporters of Rev Mkalashvili taking out literature from storage room
4. Priest passing books
5. Burning leaflet, zoom out to fire
6. Rev Basily among supporters, pan to people throwing literature in the fire
7. Supporters of Rev Mkalashvili around the fire
8. Crowd at the storage room, pan to the fire
10. Pan of books in the fire
11. SOUNDBITE: (Georgian) Rev Basily Mkalashvili, dissident priest
"Some days ago we received information that about 80 tons of Jehovah`s Witnesses literature has been smuggled in our country. We are here because it is contrary to our Orthodox belief. It is against the rules of the Georgian Orthodoxy and we will always punish them."
12. Supporters of Rev Mkalashvili passing literature to each other
13. Women looking through a box of books
14. Rev. Basily commanding the crowd
15. Fire with the books thrown in it
Four tonnes of Jehovah's Witness literature was burned on Sunday near the Georgian capital Tbilisi by followers of a dissident Orthodox priest.
Several dozen supporters of Rev. Basily Mkalashvili, who has been excommunicated from the Georgian Orthodox Church, came to a warehouse on the outskirts of the city to help destroy the material on religious grounds.
According to Mkalashvili, 80 tonnes of Jehovah's Witnesses' literature was brought into Georgia a couple of days ago.
He says 76 tonnes of this literature still remains in the town of Kutaisi, around 100 kilometres from Tbilisi.
Mkalashvili and his supporters, who consider themselves to be true Georgian Orthodox Christians, are planning to make their way to Kutaisi to destroy the rest of the religious books.
By Guest Nicole
MOSCOW, June 16 (RAPSI) – The Supreme Court of Russia on Thursday declared “The Jehovah’s Witnesses of Stary Oskol” in Belgorod Region an extremist organization and ruled to liquidate it, RAPSI learned in the courtroom.
Previous ruling to liquidate organization, issued by the Belgorod Regional court on February 10, was found legal. The ruling came into force today.
Representatives of the organization claimed that its liquidation is a disproportionate measure that is cruel to believers. An appeal also mentioned refusal to consider motions filed by the organization.
A lawyer representing the Jehovah’s Witnesses said that the Belgorod Regional court mistakenly found the organization extremist because forbidden literature was found in possession of some of its members. He also said that Russian law enforcement agencies are showing discriminatory attitude towards the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He quoted rulings of Russia’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, referring the inadmissibility of restrictions on freedom of conscience, including the guise of fighting extremism.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have had many legal problems in Russia.
On June 9, Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Belgorod as extremist organization.
In March 2015, a court in Tyumen fined the organization 50,000 rubles ($773) and seized prohibited literature.
In January 2014, a court in Kurgan ruled to ban the organization’s booklets as extremist. The books talk about how to have a happy life, what you can hope for, how to develop good relations with God and what you should know about God and its meaning.
In late December 2013, the leader of the sect’s group in Tobolsk, Siberia was charged with extremism and the prevention of a blood transfusion that nearly led to the death of a female member of the group.
In 2004, a court in Moscow dissolved and banned a Jehovah’s Witnesses group on charges of recruiting children, encouraging believers to break from their families, inciting suicide and preventing believers from accepting medical assistance.
Jehovah's Witnesses is an international religious organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Since 2004 sever branches and chapters of the organization were banned and shut down in various regions of Russia.
By Guest Nicole
The judge who upheld a large fine on a Jehovah's Witness for attending a worship meeting rejects the victim's argument that the fine violates the European Convention on Human Rights, telling Forum 18 his "decision is correct". Azerbaijan is obliged to uphold the Convention.
An appeal court judge who rejected a victim's argument that fining individuals for participating in worship meetings violates the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms has defended his decision. "We believe our decision is correct and legal," Judge Mirbahaddin Huseynov of Sheki Appeal Court told Forum 18 on 2 June from the court. On 22 April he upheld a large fine on Jehovah's Witness Eldar Aliyev. Told that Azerbaijan – as a member of the Council of Europe – is obliged to respect rights to freedom of religion or belief set out in the Convention, Judge Huseynov put the phone down.
The fine on Aliyev comes as officials continue to raid meetings for worship or religious study held away from state-registered places of worship. At least three police raids on Jehovah's Witness meetings in homes in different cities in 2016 have led to court cases, literature seizures and warnings. While 27 court cases which followed one raid ended in acquittals, others cases continue.
Sunni Muslims who study using the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi have been pressured to stop study meetings. "They're under strong surveillance," one Muslim told Forum 18 from Baku on 31 May. "They're constantly warned not to meet, and if maybe five or six get together they immediately start to face pressure."
Police have frequently raided meetings of Muslims who study Nursi's works. Five men were imprisoned for taking part in a meeting in April 2014 in a Baku home to study their faith which was broken up in an armed police raid. Two of the five - Ismayil Mammadov and Eldeniz Hajiyev - remain in prison (see F18News 27 April 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2173).
Meanwhile, in April and May police again prevented Muslims from praying in the yard around the Lezgin Mosque (also known as the Ashur Mosque) in Baku's Icherisheher (Old City).
"They didn't stop people praying around the mosque at Friday prayers on 27 May, but they did so in the weeks before that," one mosque member told Forum 18 from Baku on 1 June. The Sunni mosque is small and is often too full for all those wishing to attend Friday prayers to find space inside.
The Lezgin Mosque has repeatedly been threatened with closure and from whose congregation five men – including the Imam – were jailed as prisoners of conscience (see F18News 8 October 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2109).
Mingachevir: religious meeting raided
On the afternoon of 9 January, police officers abruptly stopped a Jehovah's Witness meeting held in Aliyev's home in the north-western town of Mingachevir. Bursting into the house, officers shouted at the more than 20 people present, demanding they stop the meeting, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Police officers told those present that the meeting was "unlawful" and that a permit was required to hold such meetings. Representatives of the regional administration, the city and the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations participated in the raid.
Officers confiscated from those present personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles. The State Committee official stated that the Bible is a banned publication and must therefore be confiscated.
The Old Testament, Nursi's 14-volume "Risale-i Nur" (Messages of Light) collection of writings, and several Jehovah's Witness publications were included on a police list of alleged "banned" religious literature, based on State Committee "expert analyses" (see F18News 6 May 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1955).
The State Committee does not publish any list of books it has banned, despite promises by the then State Committee Head in April 2013 that it would do so "soon" (see F18News 2 May 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1830).
After seizing religious literature from those present at the Mingachevir Jehovah's Witness meeting, the police took all attendees to the town's Police Station, where officers questioned and ordered them to write statements. The police held them until 10.30 pm, after having deprived them of their liberty for six hours.
Major Elkhan Farajov of Mingachevir Police Public Safety Department drew up a record of an "offence" against Aliyev under Article 299.0.2 of the then Administrative Code (Article 515.0.2 of the new Administrative Code – see below), according to case materials. This Article punishes "Violating rules established by legislation on holding religious meetings, marches, and other religious ceremonies" with fines on individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats. The case was then handed to court.
Mingachevir: fine and action against parents
On 3 March, Mingachevir City Court Judge Huseyn Mirzaliyev convicted Aliyev and fined him 1,500 Manats (8,400 Norwegian Kroner, 900 Euros or 1,000 US Dollars). The average monthly wage for employees in the first three months of 2016 was 485 Manats, according to the State Statistical Committee. The fine therefore represents more than three months wages for employees, though far more for those (like Aliyev) without formal work.
On 22 April, Judge Huseynov of Sheki Appeal Court rejected Aliyev's appeal, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The Judge dismissed Aliyev's arguments that the punishments had violated his rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion for all, "either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his [sic] religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance".
After the raid, police officers summoned parents and children of the participants of the religious meeting. Police informed one of the parents, Arzu Ibrahimova, that they had issued a record of an administrative "offence" against her. They added that all materials under Article 51 of the old Administrative Code, which punished "Failure by parents and guardians to fulfil upbringing and educational responsibilities", were transferred to the Commission on Cases and Protection of Juveniles.
Gakh: religious meeting raided, administrative charges
On 23 March, police officers in the north-western town of Gakh [Qax] raided the home of Givi Khusishvili. They abruptly stopped the observance of the Memorial of Christ's death, the most sacred religious event of the year for Jehovah's Witnesses. Police officers showed what purported to be a court order authorising their search and confiscated personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18.
Officers then took all the attendees to the local police station, interrogated them, and ordered them to write statements. Police drew up records of an "offence" under the Administrative Code on dozens of those present. All were released soon after 9 pm.
A 23 March statement on the Interior Ministry website claimed that Khusishvili had violated the procedure for organising and holding religious meetings. It claimed the meeting had therefore been "prohibited by law". It said that of the 56 people present, more than 44 were local, while 9 were from Zakatala [Zaqatala], the region north of Gakh. Five were from Baku. The Interior Ministry said the 19 DVDs, two videos and 219 items of religious literature seized during the search had not been approved by the State Committee.
Many acquittals, but other cases in court
Cases under Administrative Code Article 515 against 27 attendees were handed to Gakh District Court. However, the Court's Judge Atabay Kichibayov dismissed all the cases for lack of an "offence", his assistant told Forum 18 from the court on 27 May. Ten of them were heard and dismissed on 24 May, the remaining 17 on 27 May.
"We are pleased that Judge Atabek Kichibayov pronounced just and legal decisions to halt the cases for lack of an administrative offence," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 29 May.
The same Judge Kichibayov acquitted a Jehovah's Witness in a case in May 2014 (see F18News 3 June 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1964). In the case of a former imam in October 2015, the Judge gave an official warning rather than a fine for "illegal" religious meetings (see F18News 26 January 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2142).
However, police handed to Zakatala District Court the records of an "offence" against the participants who had come down for the meeting from Zakatala. "We are still awaiting these hearings," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.
Zakatala District Court said one case under Administrative Code Article 515 – against a woman named Qurbanova – has already been handed to court and has been assigned to Judge Arif Ismayilov. Court officials refused to give Forum 18 any other details on 31 May.
Records of an "offence" against the participants from Baku were handed to the local police in the district of the capital where they live.
Sahil: religious meeting raided
On 17 January, police officers burst into the home of Marina Asadova in Sahil, a settlement on the Caspian Sea south-west of Baku. They abruptly halted a meeting for worship. Officers took Asadova to the local Police Station. Once the officers verified that religious publications they had seized were labelled with State Committee censorship stamps, they took Asadova back to her home.
The police recorded the identity of all the Jehovah's Witnesses who had been present before releasing them. The police warned Asadova not to host such religious meetings again.
Police across Azerbaijan frequently raid Jehovah's Witness worship meetings. Following a 14 November 2015 police raid on a meeting in the home of Nijat Panahov in Gyanja [Gäncä], 12 of those present were each fined 2,000 Manats. In December 2015, the city's Appeal Court rejected all 12 appeals (see F18News 16 December 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2134).
New Administrative Code
The new Administrative Code entered into force 1 March 2016. Proposed by President Ilham Aliyev, it had been adopted by the Milli Mejlis (Parliament) on 29 December 2015 and signed into law by the President on 15 February 2016. The new Code was officially published two days later in the government newspaper "Azerbaycan".
Article 299 of the old Code was transferred almost unchanged into Article 515 of the new Code. It retains the same high fines for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief (see full text below).
Article 300 of the old Code was shortened. Parts 1 and 3 appear as Article 516 of the new Code. The new Article 516 retains the punishment at the previous level for sending individuals abroad for religious education without State Committee permission and selling approved religious literature and materials away from approved places where they are allowed to be sold - though it introduces a new additional punishment of deportation when these "offences" are conducting by those who are not citizens (see full text below).
Parts 2 and 4 of the old Article 300 are now "crimes". The new Article 516 therefore removes the administrative punishments for religious "propaganda" by people who are not citizens and for distributing uncensored religious literature and materials.
Criminal Code Article 167-2 – adopted in December 2011 - punishes: "Production, sale and distribution of religious literature, audio and video materials, religious items and other informational materials of religious nature with the aim of import, sale and distribution without appropriate authorisation".
December 2015 amendments to the Criminal Code added a new Article 168-1, which punishes "violation of the procedure for religious propaganda and religious ceremonies". Part 1 punishes the conducting of Islamic rites by a citizen who has received their education abroad with one year's imprisonment or a fine of between 2,000 and 5,000 Manats. Part 2 punishes "religious propaganda by foreigners and stateless persons" with imprisonment of between one and two years. Either of these "crimes" committed repeatedly or by prior agreement among a group of people is punishable by between two and five years' imprisonment (see F18News 16 December 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2134).
Article 515. Violation of the procedure for creating or running religious organisations
515.0. Violation of the procedure for creating or running religious organisations:
515.0.1. Religious association's leader evading registration of the association with the relevant executive authority [State Committee];
515.0.2. Violating rules established by legislation on holding religious meetings, marches, and other religious ceremonies;
515.0.3. Clergy and members of religious associations holding special meetings for children and youth, organising labour, literary, or other clubs and groups unassociated with holding religious ceremonies;
515.0.4. Religious association operating outside of its registered legal address;
515.0.5. Religious association carrying out activities not in accordance with its statute –
entails fines of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats on individuals, 7,000 to 8,000 Manats on officials.
Article 516. Violation of legislation on freedom of religion
516.0. Violation of legislation on freedom of religion:
516.0.1. Sending citizens abroad to study in religious educational establishments, exchange of religious ministers without prior consent of the relative executive authority [State Committee];
516.0.2. Selling religious literature (printed or on electronic devices) audio and video materials, religious merchandise and products, or other religious informational materials, authorised for sale in an order established by the Law on Freedom of Religion of the Azerbaijan Republic, outside specialised sale outlets established with the consent of the relevant executive authority [State Committee and local administration] -
entails confiscation of the literature, merchandise and products or other materials being the immediate object of the administrative violation and imposition of penalty in the amount of 2,000 to 2,500 Manats on individuals, 8,000 to 9,000 Manats on officials, 20,000 to 25,000 Manats on legal entities; imposition of penalty in the amount of 2,000 to 2,500 Manats and administrative deportation of foreigners and stateless persons from the Azerbaijan Republic. (END)
By Outta Here
3- part Turning Points in History documentary on the period of persecution experienced by Jehovah's Witnesses in Quebec, Canada under the tenure of Maurice Duplessis.
Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_jGrPTbmmg
Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILLA_7ruZ0o
Part 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jLEUGUPo78
By Guest Nicole
Members of the Missionary Department of the Chita diocese together with the volunteer movement " good works" day April 2 lined up at the office , " Jehovah's Witnesses" in Chita and asked a passing drivers honk if they are against the organization, he told the news agency " Chita.Ru" April 2 employee information & publishing department of the diocese Denis Plotnikov.
" The activists came out with placards " Chita - territory without sects ", " Jehovah's Witnesses "- civil society norms threat", " Attention! " Jehovah's Witnesses "- sect", " If you are against Jehovah's Witnesses, Honk!" And others. The event was held to collect signatures demanding the banning of the sect in the territory of Trans-Baikal Territory, as well as the distribution of leaflets anti-sect "- Carpenters said.
He pointed out that the volunteers were told passersby about the examples of the destructive activities of the sect, banning it in some countries and cities of Russia, as well as the distortion of the Christian faith.According to the organizers of the picket, Jehovah's Witnesses use in their propaganda material deemed extremist.
By Guest Nicole
By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
On 15 February a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana upheld the Prosecutor's suit to ban four further Christian books as "extremist", according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The books were among 47 items seized when Christian prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov was arrested. Prosecutor Temirlan Adilkhanov, who led the case in court, told Forum 18 he "can't remember" in what ways the books might have caused harm to anyone. "I knew nothing about the case until the court decision came into force on 15 March," one of the authors, Pastor Manarbek Baieke, complained to Forum 18. "They concocted all this out of thin air." He fears the ban might provide the authorities with a reason to arrest him. Religious believers have expressed concern over a list of 254 "radical" religious books, including Muslim, Ahmadi Muslim, Christian, Hare Krishna and Jehovah's Witness items. Shortandy District Administration said that Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department gave them the list in late 2015 for publication. Asked the status of books on the list, an official of Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department explained to Forum 18: "If it is on the list it is banned."
Four further religious books have been banned as "extremist" by a court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on 15 February, according to the decision seen by Forum 18 News Service. Court officials told Forum 18 that the one-month period for lodging appeals against the ban has now passed and no appeals were received in that time. Local Christians told Forum 18 that nothing in the books incites violence, hostility or law-breaking. The Prosecutor who prepared and led the case in court, Temirlan Adilkhanov, told Forum 18 on 16 March that he "can't remember" in what ways the four Christian books might have caused harm to anyone.
The suit to ban the four Christian books was initiated following the August 2015 arrest of Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov. The books were among many the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police seized from his home on the day of his arrest. Kabduakasov was later convicted of inciting religious hatred – charges he and his fellow-believers vigorously reject. He is serving a two-year prison term in a labour camp in Pavlodar (see F18News 9 March 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2156).
Although police have been confiscating copies of the four books in recent years and fining those who own them, the books appear not to have been banned by a court before. However, officials appear to have told no-one that they had brought the suit to court to ban the books, let alone the authors or publishers. Since the ban, local officials in some areas have written to leaders of registered religious communities not to use the four books and to "hand them in" if they have them.
In other court hearings, Jehovah's Witnesses have again failed to overturn bans on the import of some of their magazines and brochures. Some articles in them were said to have violated the law. In one case, Jehovah's Witnesses failed to get the court to even consider a suit to overturn a ban on a Uighur-language brochure (see below).
The bans were imposed by the Culture and Sport Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee as part of the government-instituted compulsory prior censorship of all religious literature published or distributed in Kazakhstan or imported into the country (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).
Galym Shoikin, head of the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana, put the phone down on 15 March as soon as Forum 18 began asking about the religious book bans. All subsequent calls went unanswered.
As well as members of religious communities, booksellers are frequent targets for punishment for selling books about religion without the compulsory licence from the Regional Administration (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).
The state-enforced religious censorship also extends to prisoners. They are only officially allowed to have religious books which have had prior approval and are stamped as approved. Even then, relatives of those imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief are often not allowed to hand in Korans or Bibles or other religious literature to their imprisoned relatives (see F18News 9 March 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2156).
Are "radical" books banned or not?
Although the General Prosecutor's Office publishes on its website a list of 666 "religious" books and materials banned as "extremist", the list includes many books which are not religious (such as Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf") and does not include other religious books known to have been banned.
Moreover, religious believers have expressed concern to Forum 18 about a separate list of 254 religious books – including Muslim, Ahmadi Muslim, Christian, Hare Krishna and Jehovah's Witness publications – which are described as "radical". The list is available on the website of Shortandy District Administration. Officials there and at Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department were unable to explain to Forum 18 if the listed books were banned or not, but said that the list had come from the Culture and Sport Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee in late 2015.
The list included 162 general Muslim books, 2 by Muhammad Yusuf Kandahlawi and Muhammad Zakariya Kandahlawi (which the list linked to the banned Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement), 24 which it linked to the Ahmadi Muslim community, 14 Jehovah's Witness publications, 5 Hare Krishna publications and 25 Christian publications.
Those the state regards as followers of Tabligh Jamaat face administrative and criminal prosecution. Of 29 criminal cases since December 2014, 13 men were given prison terms as prisoners of conscience, the other 12 being given sentences of restricted freedom. Three more men are on trial in Karaganda and another is awaiting trial in Astana (see F18News 25 February 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2153).
All the Ahmadi Muslim communities in Kazakhstan have been banned from functioning with no clear official explanation. The authorities have allowed only one Muslim organisation in the entire country – the state-controlled Muslim Board – from gaining state registration. This gives it a monopoly over Muslim activity and effectively bans any non-Hanafi Sunni Muslim communities from functioning (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).
All four of the Christian books banned in Astana in February were already on the Shortandy District Administration website list, Forum 18 notes.
Saule Kusenova of Shortandy District Administration's Internal Policy Department – which oversees religious activity as part of its official tasks – said that Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department gave them the list in late 2015 for publication. She told Forum 18 on 16 March that she was unable to explain whether items on the list were therefore banned or not.
An official of Akmola Regional Religious Affairs Department told Forum 18 the same day that such lists are produced and distributed by the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana "so that people don't use" such literature. "People shouldn't read or use it," the official – who would not give his name – insisted. "If it is on the list it is banned."
No one at the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana was prepared to explain to Forum 18 whether the publications on the Shortandy District Administration website list but not on the General Prosecutor's Office list are also banned and, if so, when and where they were banned.
Secret police-commissioned "expert" analysis
On 14 August 2015, KNB secret police and ordinary police seized Christian materials from the Astana home of Adventist Kabduakasov. Many of the materials touched on Christianity and Christians and their relationship to Islam.
KNB secret police Investigator Nurlan Belesov sent the 47 books, discs and flash drives on 24 August 2015 for a "complex judicial psychological/philological expert analysis" to the Justice Ministry's Central Institute of Judicial Expert Analysis in Astana. The 29-page analysis (seen by Forum 18) – by Sholpan Sisimbayeva of the Centre and Roza Akbarova, nominated by the KNB secret police – was completed on 7 September 2015.
Sisimbayeva and Akbarova concluded that some of the items (including the four works subsequently banned) "contain expressions of the exclusivity and superiority of Christianity over Islam". Some also "contain features of inter-ethnic and religious hatred and discord, as well as expressions of the superiority of the Christian religion and the inadequacy of the Islamic religion". The four books subsequently banned also "contain propaganda for the subversion of state security, inter-confessional and inter-ethnic accord and social/political stability".
Court bans as "extremist"
On 27 January, Astana City Prosecutor's Office brought a suit to the city's Esil District Court to ban four of Kabduakasov's Christian books as "extremist". The four books were: "Worthy Answers" by two local Protestants, Galymzhan Tanatgan and Zhomart Temir (in Kazakh and in Russian translation); "Share Your Faith with a Muslim" by the late British Brethren author and former missionary to Algeria Charles Marsh (in Russian translation); "Called to the Great Commission" by local Protestant Kanat Oryntai uuli (in Russian); and "The History of Christianity in Central Asia and Kazakhstan" by local Protestant Manarbek Baieke (in Kazakh and in Russian translation).
Joining the Prosecutor's Office in court proceedings were the Religious Affairs Committee, the Interior Ministry, the Finance Ministry's State Income Committee and the Investment and Development Ministry's Communications, Informatisation and Information Committee. Bektyrsin Mirzabayev and Asel Kuzembayeva represented the Religious Affairs Committee in court and E. Mambetov the Interior Ministry.
On 15 February, Judge Zaure Zholamanova of Esil District Court accepted the Prosecutor's suit and banned the import, publication or distribution of the four books in Kazakhstan. "The decision is subject to immediate fulfilment," according to the court decision seen by Forum 18. The decision claims the hearing was open, but because it was not publicised in advance those unhappy at the suit did not know it was taking place and could not therefore attend.
The telephone of Judge Zholamanova went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 15 and 16 March.
The General Prosecutor's Office added the four books to its list of banned religious materials on about 16 March.
"I knew nothing about the case"
The publishers of the four books – Litera-M in the case of "Worthy Answers" and "The History of Christianity in Central Asia and Kazakhstan", and the German Protestant mission Friedensstimme in the case of "Share Your Faith with a Muslim" – were not informed of the suit either before or after the case was heard, Friedensstimme mission told Forum 18 on 15 March. Nor were the authors who are still alive.
"I knew nothing about the case until the court decision came into force on 15 March," Pastor Baieke complained to Forum 18 on 16 March. "The court authorities did not inform me. So I have not been given the chance to appeal."
Pastor Baieke insisted that his book is not extremist "and does not even contain a hint of extremism". "They concocted all this out of thin air," he added. "They accused me in a one-sided way without the chance to respond." He fears the authorities may use the book ban as a reason to arrest him.
"Experts work in accordance with the law"?
Lyazzat Kalybekova, a colleague of Mirzabayev and Kuzembayeva at the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana, defended the process of banning religious books through the courts. "If material violates the law we prepare an expert analysis and a court takes a decision on this basis," she insisted to Forum 18 from Astana on 15 March. "Experts work in accordance with the law."
Asked why the four Christian books were banned when local Christians insist they contain nothing that incites hostility or violence in relation to other people of any faith or none, Kalybekova said she was not involved in the case.
Warning follows court ban
Following the Astana ban on the four Christian books, Internal Policy Departments of District Administrations in at least some parts of the country wrote to local leaders of registered religious organisations to inform them of the 15 February court ban on the four books, according to letters seen by Forum 18. The letter also reminded the religious leaders of two earlier court-ordered bans on Christian books.
In November 2012 an Almaty court banned the Russian translation of "Healing the Broken Family of Abraham" by American Protestant Don McCurry. In November 2014 an Akmola Region court banned the Russian translation of "Jesus: More than a Prophet", a collection of essays by 15 Muslims who became Christians, edited by Richard Wootton (see F18News 17 April 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2056).
"In the light of the above [the ban on the six named books], we ask you - in the event of the presence of the given extremist materials – to hand them in voluntarily and not to use them in religious activity," declares a 9 March letter (seen by Forum 18) to all local religious leaders from Sultan Zharkynbekov, head of the Internal Policy Department of Ile District of Almaty Region.
Zharkynbekov was not available when Forum 18 called on 15 March. However, Department specialist Olzhas (who did not give his last name) said that he had drafted the letter for Zharkynbekov. Asked who religious leaders were supposed to hand in these "extremist" books to, Olzhas responded: "To us. Then we'll hand them on to the competent organs." Despite repeated requests he refused to identify which "competent organs" he had in mind.
Olzhas admitted that not one copy of any of these books has been handed in since the letter was sent. "All the leaders came to us and said: we don't have these books," he told Forum 18. He declined to say what would happen to any individual or community which had any of these books.
Asked whether banning religious books on such grounds was right, Olzhas responded: "I didn't ban them, the court did."
Letters outlining the ban on the six named Christian publications are not the only official warnings issued to leaders of registered religious communities. Written warnings from several official agencies of Almaty Region were issued in early 2016 (and seen by Forum 18).
On 5 March, the head of Almaty Regional Religious Affairs Department Tanyrbergen Kasymberkebayev wrote to all religious leaders warning them to abide by the Religion Law and not to violate Administrative Code Article 490 (which punishes violations of the Religion Law, such as by talking about your faith to others in public and distribution of religious literature in an unapproved location or which has not undergone the state censorship).
Chief Specialist Mukhtar Tundebayev, who drafted the letter on behalf of Kasymberkebayev, said the letter was necessary "because violations of the Religion Law occur". "Some people who violate the law then claim they don't know about it or what it says," he insisted to Forum 18 from Taldykorgan on 15 March.
Responding to concerns Forum 18 has heard from religious leaders that such letters characterise religious believers as suspicious and potential law-breakers, Tundebayev dismissed such concerns. "We're simply reminding people of the law. We only write such letters maybe once a year."
Tundebayev told Forum 18 that he was not aware of the February court ban on four Christian books.
Court challenges to Religious Affairs Committee literature bans fail – as usual
Jehovah's Witnesses have repeatedly tried to challenge through the courts Religious Affairs Committee bans on books, brochures or specific issues of their magazines. However, courts repeatedly refuse to hear such challenges, often on procedural grounds.
On 25 August 2015, the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana rejected a Jehovah's Witness request to be allowed to import the brochure "Good News From God!" in Uyghur, a language spoken by hundreds of thousands of people in Kazakhstan.
On 15 January 2016, Astana's Specialised Interdistrict Economic Court rejected the Jehovah's Witness suit against the Religious Affairs Committee, which had complained that the rejection of the import had been unjustified and violated the right to freedom of religion or belief. On 10 March, Judge Sayran Alimbayeva of Astana City Court rejected the Jehovah's Witnesses' challenge to that refusal to hear the suit, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.
On 22 August 2015, the Religious Affairs Committee in Astana rejected Jehovah's Witness requests to be allowed to import Russian translations of the books "What Does the Bible Really Teach?" and "Keep Yourselves in God's Love". On 22 September 2015, the Religious Affairs Committee rejected requests to import the 15 November 2015 issue of "Watchtower" magazine in Kazakh and Russian, and the November 2015 issue of the magazine "Awake!" in Russian.
"Experts" appointed by the Religious Affairs Committee had given negative assessments of these works because of "the failure of certain assertions in the imported literature to accord with the norms of Kazakhstan's laws on the health of the nation, as well as the norms of morals and morality accepted in society, in particular the expression in the brochures of the idea of the superiority of the religious teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses to the detriment of other religions". The "experts" claimed this could cause division in families and society and upset people's feelings.
On 29 February, Judge Asiya Doshchanova of Astana's Specialised Interdistrict Economic Court rejected the Jehovah's Witness suit against the Religious Affairs Committee, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.
Jehovah's Witnesses complained in court that the import bans had violated their Constitutional rights to use the religious literature in their communities. However, the Religious Affairs Committee – represented in court by Kalybekova, as well as by Ainur Chigirova and A. Turtbayev of its Legal Department – denied that the bans violated Jehovah's Witness communities' Constitutional rights. The Judge agreed with the Religious Affairs Committee officials and dismissed the suit.
During the court hearing, the Religious Affairs Committee officials took the opportunity to warn Jehovah's Witnesses not to discuss their faith or offer their literature "in locations not approved by law".
Kalybekova insisted to Forum 18 that the "expert" analyses and the court had not declared the banned Jehovah's Witness literature "extremist". Asked how the literature could harm anyone, she was unable to say. Asked if it had incited murder, she responded: "No." But she absolutely refused to discuss its content further, referring Forum 18 to the "expert" analyses. Asked for copies of them, she referred Forum 18 to Jehovah's Witnesses themselves. "We shared the decision and reasons for it with them."
Chigirova of the Legal Department said that she had no responsibility for the legality of the bans on the import of the literature. "I merely defended the interests of the Religious Affairs Committee in court," she told Forum 18 on 15 March. (END)
By Guest Nicole
Jehovah’s Witnesses may be stripped of registration in Belarus, Leanid Hulyaka, the country’s commissioner for religious and ethnic affairs, said on Tuesday.
According to Mr Hulyaka, in 2015, Jehovah’s Witnesses repeatedly violated the law by distributing religious literature without proper coordination with the local authorities.
Their ‘persistent and inappropriate actions’ cause certain discontent among the Belarusian citizens and representatives of other religious denominations in particular, Leanid Hulyaka believes.
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