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  1. HELSINKI, April 17. /TASS/. Finland’s migration service has turned down the vast majority of asylum requests filed by Russian members of Jehovah’s Witnesses (outlawed in Russia), because it sees no real threat for the group’s members in their home country, the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper reported on Wednesday. According to the paper’s sources, in 2017-2019 the Finnish authorities have received about 250 asylum requests from members of the religious organization, which Russia outlawed in 2017. To date, 90 of those requests have already been considered and only 10% received a positive response. The requests were rejected, because the Finnish authorities “believe that Russia is a safe country” for Jehovah’s Witnesses, Helsingin Sanomat said. Jehovah’s Witnesses is an international religious organization that supports offbeat views on the essence of the Christian faith and provides special interpretations of many commonly accepted notions. In August 2017, the Russian Justice Ministry included the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization and its 395 local religious branches to the list of organizations that are outlawed nationwide. The Russian Supreme Court satisfied the claim of the Justice Ministry to shut down the organization on April 20, 2017.
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  2. The law allowing male Jehovah's Witnesses to avoid conscription was ruled discriminatory by Finland's Parliament. Parliament on Wednesday turned over a law that has allowed male members of Jehovah’s Witnesses to skip military or civilian service without facing a prison term. The exemption dating from 1987 has long been considered problematic from a constitutional standpoint. Last year, the Helsinki Court of Appeal ruled that the Finnish practice of allowing male Jehovah's Witnesses to avoid conscription is discriminatory. The ruling related to a discrimination case brought by a man who was imprisoned in 2016 for refusing conscripted service. Under current legislation Jehovah's Witnesses may postpone their entry into service for three years at a time (starting at age 18), until their obligation officially ceases at age 29. Proponents of the religious faction say their objection is rooted in their pacifist reading of the Bible. With the exception of women, who have never been legally bound to enter conscription, no other groups in Finland have had the same right.
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  3. Finland's Supreme Administrative Court (KHO) ruled that private data gathering door-to-door by Jehovah’s Witnesses is illegal without prior consent. The ruling by Finland’s Supreme Administrative Court follows a review of the practice requested from the European Court Justice. In July, the ECJ published its opinion, saying that the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses collecting personal information as members proselytise door-to-door is illegal, because the organisation is effectively compiling a personal data register, which should comply with data protection regulations. Finland's KHO has now concurred, saying that the creation of name lists and the taking of notes containing personal information during the group's missionary activities always requires the consent of those whose data is being gathered. The issue has been under scrutiny since 2013, when a data protection board under the Justice Ministry ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses' practice of collecting personal data violated the law. However, that was followed in 2014 by a ruling by the Helsinki Administrative Court that the religious group’s personal register was not illegal. Following the Supreme Administrative Court's decision to ban the practice, the Interior Ministry's Data Protection Board has now given the Jehovah's Witnesses a six month deadline to ensure that personal information is no longer gathered for the group's own purposes. Sources Yle
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  4. The Finnish government has ruled that the current law allowing Jehovah's Witnesses to avoid military service, in place for several decades, is discriminatory and contradicts the constitution. In the future, Finnish Jehovah's Witnesses* will be obliged to either serve in the nation's military or perform civil service on the same terms as everyone else, the government ruled, submitting a corresponding proposal to parliament, national broadcaster Yle reported. According to the 1987 law, Jehovah's Witnesses were not only freed from the military draft, they were freed of any obligation to perform community service as a pacifist alternative, a common option among other young people in Finland. The Finnish government has decided that this preferential treatment is discriminatory and contradicts the constitution. Repealing the law will allow all religious groups to get equal treatment in terms of conscription, the government's press release said. The government proposed a three-month transition period. Those applying for suspension within the three-month period before the new law enters into force shall be allowed to skip military service. After the transition period, exemptions will be no longer granted. Abolishing the Jehovah's Witnesses' draft exemption has been considered several times before, in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2013, but nothing came of the discussions. However, the debate was re-kindled this year, when the Helsinki Supreme Court overruled a prison sentence against a conscientious objector who refused to perform community service. The court found it discriminatory to sentence a conscientious objector, when Jehovah's Witnesses don't need to do any military or community service whatsoever. "Today we have a kind of two-storied definition of personal convictions. Jehovah's Witnesses enjoy statutory liberation from military service, while others with pacifist convictions don't," former Defense Minister Stefan Wallin, who has long pushed for the abolition of differential treatment, explained. Veikko Leinonen, a Jehovah's Witnesses information officer in Finland, said this isn't a "working solution." "It's problematic. The belief the Jehovah's Witnesses follow opposes all forms of war and killing," Leinonen stressed. "Ideally, we should keep the system that exists today. It has worked well and does not violate anyone's rights," he added. This move is expected to cover some 130 people annually. According to Teemu Penttilä, the leader of the task force behind the investigation, the number of "total objectors" refusing both military service and community service won't rise significantly. In 2017, 33 conscientious objectors were sentenced in Finland. The Finnish Defense Forces operate on the principle of universal male conscription, although women are allowed to volunteer and have been availing themselves of this opportunity increasingly. With a peacetime strength of about 16,000 troops, Finland is capable of mobilizing up to 230,000 troops and service personnel within four weeks, making it the largest force in Scandinavia. The total number of Jehovah's Witnesses is estimated at about 20,000 in Finland. * Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in Russia
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