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 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Yelm.
This comes after four other recent attacks on Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’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 “had the appearance of being an explosive device,” 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.
“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,” said Richard McIntire.
McIntire’s shared his concern about living so close to what’s become a repeated target.
“I don’t understand why people have to target churches,” 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 wasn’t dangerous. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office later tweeted, “The suspicious device was made to look like a real bomb but in the end, it was found to be fake.”
Read more: 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 across Russia have carried out a sweeping campaign against Jehovah’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 “extremist organization” 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. Russian authorities should release those in detention immediately, drop the charges, and halt the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“The Jehovah’s Witnesses are simply peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Jehovah’s Witness faith is not an extremist organization, and authorities should stop this religious persecution of its worshipers now.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed four lawyers defending Jehovah’s Witnesses in five regions and a representative of the Jehovah’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 from an April 2017 Russian Supreme Courtruling that banned all Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations throughout Russia. The ruling declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center, the head office for 395 Jehovah’s Witnesses branches throughout Russia, an extremist organization and ruled that all 395 be shut down. The ruling, which affects more than 100,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses across Russia, blatantly violates Russia’s obligations to respect and protect religious freedom and freedom of association.
Russian authorities should reverse the ban on the organization’s activities and remove the “extremist” designation, Human Rights Watch said. Meanwhile, they should leave Jehovah’s Witnesses free to practice their faith.
Jehovah’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, worshipers across Russia have faced persecution, intrusive home searches, and arrests, and have been denied rights to freedom of assembly, association, and religion.
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Russia for closing the Moscow branch of the Jehovah’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 and several others brought by members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the contrary, Russia has continued to persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses, seeking the group’s complete dissolution in Russia.
From April to June 2018, law enforcement raids targeted Jehovah’s Witness communities in at least 11 regions throughout Russia, from Saratov region in southwestern Russia to Primorsky Krai in Russia’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, Russia’s criminal investigation service.
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 Jehovah’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 Jehovah’s Witness who is in pretrial detention in Murmansk Region told Human Rights Watch that the authorities’ actions contradict religious freedom guarantees in the Russian Constitution. “The [Russian] constitution says that you can practice your faith together with others, but as it turns out, that’s a crime,” said Yegiazar Chernikov, of the Sverdlovsk Lawyers’ Association.
In at least two regions, armed officers threatened the worshipers with firearms, in one case pointing a gun at a person’s head, a lawyer familiar with the incident told Human Rights Watch.
A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative told Human Rights Watch that approximately 160 Jehovah’s Witnesses have fled Russia to seek refuge abroad.
On June 20, Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights announced that it had asked the prosecutor general’s office to verify the legality of criminal prosecutions against Jehovah’s Witnesses practicing their faith. A week earlier, several of the spouses of the men in pretrial detention had 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 – including several members of Memorial, Russia’s foremost human rights group – signed and published an open letter urging the authorities to immediately release those in detention and to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision to liquidate the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organization.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia – like all people in Russia – 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 one’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 the Church of Scientology, the Salvation Army, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses
“Russia should do right by its national and international obligations to respect freedom of religion,” Denber said. “Russian leadership should make sure that law enforcement is honoring and protecting that right, not trampling on it.”
Raids Aimed at Intimidation
The Jehovah’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.
In most regions, the authorities arrested people they singled out as leaders and organizers of the local Jehovah’s Witnesses community for such actions as recruiting new members and distributing religious literature that the authorities label “extremist.”
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 Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that about 150 law enforcement personnel raided the homes of at least nine Jehovah’s Witnesses, confiscating photos, bank cards, money, and computers. An official reportedly saidthat the operation was code-named “Judgment Day.” One person was arrested and charged with organizing activities of an “extremist organization” but was released from pretrial detention 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. A video posted on the Murmansk Investigative Committee’s website 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 a Jehovah’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 “extremist organization” and faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence if convicted. He has 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 Jehovah’s Witness in Orel, 55-year-old Sergei Skrynnikov, was charged on May 8, 2018, with participating in the activities of an “extremist organization.”
A lawyer who is defending three Jehovah’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 Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities – for which they said they had warrants – as part of the investigation. In some cases, the lawyer said, authorities placed recording devices in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes.
Earlier in 2018, police raided more than two dozen Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes in Belgorod and Kemerovo. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgorod are facing extremism charges.
Saratov and Shirokoe, Saratov Region
On June 12, authorities in Saratov Region, southwestern Russia, raided at least seven homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Saratov and village of Shirokoe. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, special forces officers broke down doors and confiscated computers, books, notebooks, photographs, bankbooks, and passports. The authorities took at least 10 people to FSB offices for questioning.
Three were detained and charged with organizing activities of an “extremist organization.” 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 enforcement raided several homes and cars belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tomsk between 10 a.m. on June 3 and about 2 a.m. the next day, the Jehovah’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 Jehovah’s Witness residents in Tomsk. Investigative authorities allege that worshipers studied prohibited, “extremist” religious materials and carried out organized religious activities in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center.
Representatives of the Jehovah’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 “extremist organization,” and will remain in pretrial detention until August 4.
Magadan, Magadan Region
The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reported 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 “extremist organization” and will remain in pretrial detention until July 29.
Naberezhnye Chelny, Republic of Tatarstan
Police and FSB officials searched the homes of 10 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Naberezhnye Chelny, in south-central Russia, on the evening of May 27. The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reported that the searches lasted “well into the night.”
Investigators arrested Ilham Karimov, 37; Vladimir Myakushin, 30; Konstantin Matrashov, 25; Aydar Yulmetyev, 24, on suspicion of organizing and participating in the activities of an “extremist organization” and placed them in pretrial detention until July 25. The Naberezhnye Chelny City Court displays records of all four hearings. According to the religious freedom monitoring group Forum 18, Karimov, Myakushin, and Matrashov have appealed their pretrial detention.
Perm, Perm Krai
The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reported that on the evening of May 22, Aleksandr Solovyev, 48, and his wife, Anna, were detained at the railway station in Perm, in the Ural Mountains region, after returning from a trip abroad. Law enforcement then searched the couple’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. According to Forum 18, he is being investigated on charges of participating in the activities of an “extremist organization.”
Before the 2017 Supreme Court ruling banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center, Solovyov chaired the Perm Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia website.
Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Region
On May 17 in Birobidzhan, southeast Russia, police raided the homes of at least nine Jehovah’s Witnesses. The raids were carried out by approximately 150 law enforcement officers. An official reportedly saidthat the operation was code-named “Judgment Day.”
On May 18, 55-year-old Alam Aliev was placed in pretrial detention until July 13 under suspicion of organizing activities of an “extremist organization.” The FSB stated that its request to detain Aliev “was motivated by the fact that the crime is classified as grave” and because “[t]he suspect may impede the criminal proceedings, put pressure on witnesses, and also evade investigative and judicial authorities.” Following an appeal by Aliev’s lawyer, Aliev was released from detention on May 25 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 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region, told Human Rights Watch that nine people were charged with organizing or participating in the activities of an “extremist organization.” 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 raids posted on the Orenburg Investigative Committee website show FSB officials and riot police in bulletproof vests and masks approaching Jehovah’s Witnesses’ residences.
A statement by the Orenburg Investigative Committee said that investigative operations were “carefully planned and organized” by law enforcement with the aim of “seizing documents and items relevant to the criminal case, as well as identifying other persons involved in unlawful activities.” Investigators allege that the suspects “organized activities of a subdivision of Jehovah’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.”
Shuya, Ivanovo Region
Forum 18 reported that law enforcement raided four homes in the town of Shuya, western Russia, early on the morning of April 20.
Dmitry Mikhailov, 33, was 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 “financing extremist activities.”
On April 20, the Ivanovo Region Investigative Committee released a statement about the home searches, alleging that since the beginning of 2018, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Shuya had been studying literature “containing statements degrading human dignity . . . and elements of propaganda of the exclusivity of one religion over another.”
Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai
Several homes belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses were reportedly raidedon April 19 in the far-east city of Vladivostok.
Human Rights Watch was able to confirm that on April 23 Valentin Osadchuk, 42, was placed under arrest by Frunzensky District Court on charges of participation in the activities of an “extremist organization” after authorities searched his home and confiscated computers, notebooks, and other devices. He remains in pretrial detention until September 20. Representatives of the Jehovah’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 Jehovah’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 Committee stated on its websitethat National Guard officers and FSB officials who led the home searches confiscated computer drives and religious literature. A video posted to the website 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 “organized activities of the religious organization [Jehovah’s Witnesses] by convening and holding meetings, organizing the recruitment of new members, and leading studies of religious texts at meetings.”
Markin’s lawyer, Arli Chimirov, told Human Rights Watch that armed officers broke down Markin’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. Markin’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. Markin’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 “may continue criminal activities, threaten participants in the legal proceedings, hide or destroy evidence, and also fail to attend preliminary court hearings.” On June 4, Markin’s pretrial detention was extended to October 11.
Tifimov’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 Jehovah’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 group Forum 18 reported 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 Jehovah’s Witnesses who was detained said that authorities threatened worshipers with weapons, in one case holding an automatic weapon to a person’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 “extremist organization,” and placed in pretrial detention. Vilikevich’s lawyer, Vitaly Svintsov, who appealed the order, told Human Rights Watch that on June 21 the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan overturned the lower court’s decision and placed him under house arrest.
A statement by the Bashkortostan Republic Investigative Committeealleged that Vilikevich had organized a local chapter of the banned Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center. Investigators who searched his home confiscated “prohibited literature,” the statement said.
Since 2007, dozens of pieces of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 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.
©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 Bible Speaks
Should God Be Worshipped Through Images? ~ ???
God’s View of Religious Images
Religious icons and idols are representations, or symbols, of anything that serves as an object of devotion or veneration. They include crosses, statues, pictures, or any other likeness of things in heaven or on the earth.* Flags can also be objects of veneration.
The use of such objects in worship goes back thousands of years. Hence, in 1513 B.C.E., when giving the fledgling nation of Israel the Ten Commandments, God clearly stated his view of religious images. He said: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.”—Exodus 20:4, 5.
Note God’s twofold prohibition: First, his people were not to make images for worship, and second, they were not to “bow down to them” or serve them. Why does our Creator forbid the making of images? One reason for not making images of God is that “no man has seen God at any time.” Jehovah is not made of physical matter but is a spirit and lives in the spirit realm. (John 1:18; 4:24) A reason for not making images of anything is that God insists on “exclusive devotion.” “To no one else shall I give my own glory, neither my praise to graven images,” he says. (Isaiah 42:8) For this reason, it is also wrong to make an image as an aid to worship. When an Israelite leader named Aaron did so, Jehovah was deeply offended.—Exodus 32:4-10.
Why Not Bow Down to Them?
Regarding idols, the Bible says: “A mouth they have, but they cannot speak; eyes they have, but they cannot see; ears they have, but they cannot hear.” Then it adds this sobering warning: “Those making them will become just like them”—lifeless!—Psalm 115:4-8.
Idol worship is also an act of injustice. Ask yourself, ‘How would I feel if I gave my child an expensive gift and he walked away and thanked a total stranger or even a lifeless object?’ That may help you to appreciate how our Creator and Life-Giver feels when others—including lifeless idols—receive the credit and worship that are due him.—Revelation 4:11.
Think, too, how degrading it is for a human—made in God’s own image—to venerate an inanimate object! (Genesis 1:27) Concerning some who did just that, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “To the work of one’s hands they bow down, to that which one’s fingers have made. And earthling man bows down and man becomes low, and you [Jehovah God] cannot possibly pardon them.”—Isaiah 2:8, 9.
Genesis 2:10-14 "A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates"
Note that there are four main rivers/"headwaters" coming from the original water source/river, that water the garden of God. Remember that there are four living creatures which Ezekiel describes as supporting the throne of Christ... covered with eyes (4 watchmen), denoting insight and spirit that moves them whichever way, the spirit directs (Christ as head). (Ezek 1:5,10,15-19)
While the testing existence of the original, corrupt creation, offers one choice of fruitfulness out of four, all four living creatures of the New creation, (Isa 65:17; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:5) will be those who proved to be fruitful. They will successfully water/feed, the garden of God so that all its trees produce and render their fruit, when due (twelve crops each month). Those four of heaven, are appointed stewards over God's household (garden), to offer the proper food at the proper time (living water), sourced in the Master...Eden's main water source. (Rev 22:1-5)
Watchtower 2000/3/1 pp. 8-13 “Because of its strength, the bull is used in the Bible to symbolize Jehovah’s power. The apostle John’s vision of Jehovah’s throne depicts four living creatures, one of which had a face like a bull. (Revelation 4:6, 7) Evidently, one of the four principal attributes of Jehovah portrayed by these cherubs is power.”
We can now see how blasphemous that is, when we compare that concept to God's own words, at Ex.20:4-5a, and Isa.46:5.
"“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God"
Is not the man, eagle, ox, and lion (4 living creatures), a "form" of creatures of the earth? If we deem those forms to be a manifestation of God... do we not "bow down" to those so-called "attributes"? When Israel bowed down to the golden calf, they also declared, "Let us have a festival to Jehovah" (Ex.32:5)
By their (Wt) teaching that these creatures of the earth are manifestations which represent God, they break God's command at Ex.20:4.
"“With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?"
The Watchtower doctrine "likens" God, to a lion, ox, man, and eagle.
Can the Creator really be compared to these lowly forms which He Himself, created? The next verse answers.
"25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing."
Are not the anointed stars of whom Jesus said, "I have not lost a single one of those you have given me" (John18:9; 17:12; Dan.12:1) ["not one of them is missing" Isa.40:26)]
...greater than literal animals and mankind? They are as angels in heaven, and always behold the face of the Father.
Yes... the faces of the four living creatures DO represent symbolic attributes... NOT of God, but of those who serve Him in that position. Let us have our mind washed clean of idolatrous and blasphemous concepts, so that we can recognize and obey the meaning of God's name....
Peerless... "I am that I am"
"He causes to become"
The first meaning of His name, crystalizes the fact that God alone is like Himself. The second meaning, is that -. Neither truth can be held within that WT lie.
(Pearl Doxsey 4womaninthewilderness)
Exodus 32:4 Holman Christian Standard Bible
“He took the gold from their hands, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it into an image of a calf. Then they said, "Israel - this is your God - who brought you up from the land of Egypt!"
“This is your God”. The Watchtower attributes your salvation to the Organization.....ONE MUST COME TO THE WATCHTOWER ORGANIZATION FOR SALVATION.
Kingdom Ministry 11/1990 p. 1 Directing Bible Students to Jehovah’s Organization
Bible students need to get acquainted with the organization of the “one flock” Jesus spoke about at John 10:16. They must appreciate that identifying themselves with Jehovah’s organization... is essential... to their salvation. (Rev. 7:9, 10, 15) Therefore, we should start directing our Bible students to the organization as soon as a Bible study is established.
And yet, in the same month, the WT magazine says that it would be Idolatry to "attribute salvation" to an organization
‘LOOKING TO AN ORGANIZATION FOR SALVATION IS IDOLATRY’
Watchtower 1990 11/1 p. 26 Our Relative Subjection to the Superior Authorities
“As Christians, we face up to similar challenges today. We cannot take part in any modern version of idolatry—be it worshipful gestures toward an image or symbol, or the imputing of salvation, to a person or an organization.”
The picture below was posted by a JW on pinterest. Frequently, the organization warns against idolatry; yet the most diabolical form of idolatry goes unnoticed - reverence given an earthly organization.
Quote from the Watchtower 05/8/15 p. 31:
“Jehovah God’s GLORY directly lights up this ORGANIZATION, just as the Shechinah cloud illuminated the Most Holy.”
I am YHWH, that is My name;
I will NOT give my GLORY to ANOTHER
Or My praise to IDOLS.
KR Book chapter 20, pp. 209-219:
“Their work brings PRAISE to Jehovah and his ORGANIZATION.”
Isa 42:8, again:
I am YHWH, that is My name;
I will NOT give my GLORY to ANOTHER
Or My PRAISE to IDOLS.
“Little children, keep yourselves from IDOLS. Amen.” 1 John 5:21
By Guest Nicole
Do you think that her father Abraham Quintanilla risks promoting idolatry by observing “remembrances” and other shows? Isn’t he profiting from her sin by releasing her songs she made while having left “the truth” to make songs turning her into a “star” that other idolize? Or would it be ok if he donated the money to the Watchtower society?
By Outta Here
Cant see this under Russian news yet:
The Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia: Democratic Party Deputies ask questions to the Italian ParliamentBy ARchiv@L
Many NGOs have denounced worldwide the severe persecution of the Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses that is taking place in Russia.
This issue was also discussed in Italy in two important conferences held in the Chamber of Deputies, respectively organized by AIDLR (International Association for the Defence of Religious Liberty) on October 26, 2016, and by CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) on March 22, 2017.
The current situation of this religious organization in Russia is heavily effected by the approval and entry into force of the controversial “Yarovaya law” that struck indiscriminately all churches other than the Russian Orthodox Church. An international chorus of voices was raised in recent months in defence of the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Five Members of the Italian Parliament decided to add their voices to this chorus denouncing the serious violations of religious freedom of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, asking questions to the Italian Parliament (Legislature 17, Question n. 2/01744 - Published on April 3, 2017, at session n. 772).
On. Rostellato, Lacquaniti, Paola Boldrini, Oliviero and Tieri reminded that
"The Constitution of the Russian Federation -Art. 28- guarantees freedom of religion, including the right to profess a faith individually, collectively or to not profess any, to freely choose, have and to disseminate religious beliefs. The Constitution - Art. 30 - provides that everyone has the right to freely associate".
Moreover, Jehovah's Witnesses are legally recognized in over 220 countries of the world, their religious activities are peaceful and respectful of other people's freedom and of the law, according to the European Court of Human Rights, in more than 47 judgments.
Therefore, in light of the above, Deputies ask
"Whether the Italian Government is aware of the facts outlined in the introduction and if it intends to take diplomatic initiatives to raise awareness in the Russian Government to respect the professions of faith in the Russian territory".
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)
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