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Why banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t work for Russia BY EMILY B. BARAN APRIL 20TH 2017 The Supreme Court of Russia has a decision to make this week about whether to label the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization and liquidate its assets. This act would transform the religious community into a criminal network, and make individual Witnesses vulnerable to arrest simply for speaking about their faith with others. While the court case has attracted recent media attention, this move is the culmination of two decades of increasing state hostility to Witnesses. In the late 1990s, Moscow took the Witnesses to court to deny them legal standing in the city limits. After several years of court hearings, the city banned the organization. In more recent years, anti-extremism laws drafted in the wake of domestic terrorism have been turned against Witness magazines and books. Currently, over eighty publications have been placed on the federal list of extremist materials. Even their website is now illegal. So is My Book of Bible Stories, an illustrated book for children, listed alongside publications by terrorist organizations. If the state criminalizes the Witnesses, it will represent a major deterioration in religious toleration in post-Soviet Russia. It will also put Russia at odds with the European Court of Human Rights, which has repeatedly ruled in favor of the Witnesses in the past two decades. It may make other minority faiths vulnerable to similar legal challenges. In the 1990s, scholars spoke of a newly opened religious marketplace, in which post-Soviet citizens, freed from the constraints of state-enforced atheism, shopped around among the faith traditions. It is fair to say that these days, this marketplace has fewer customers, fewer stalls, and more regulations. If history is any guide, Russia will find it nearly impossible to eliminate Jehovah’s Witnesses. Soviet dissident author Vladimir Bukovsky once admiringly wrote of the Witnesses’ legendary persistence under ban. When the Soviet Union barred religious literature from crossing its borders, Witnesses set up underground bunkers to print illegal magazines for their congregations. When Soviet officials prohibited Witnesses from hosting religious services, they gathered in small groups in their apartments, often in the middle of the night. Sometimes they snuck away to nearby woods or out onto the vast steppe, where they could meet with less scrutiny. When the state told believers that they could not evangelize their faith to others, Witnesses chatted up their neighbors, coworkers, and friends. When these actions landed them in labor camps, Witnesses sought out converts among their fellow prisoners. Witnesses are certain to revive many of these tactics if placed in similar circumstances in the future. Moreover, technology makes it far more difficult for Russia to control the religious practices of its citizens. Although the Witnesses’ official website is no longer available in Russia, individual members can easily share religious literature through email or dozens of other social media platforms and apps. While Soviet Witnesses had to write coded reports and hand-deliver them through an underground courier network, Witnesses today can text this information in seconds. Technology will also facilitate meeting times for religious services in private homes. The Russian government simply does not have the manpower to enforce its own ban. It is hard to imagine that local officials could effectively prevent over 170,000 people across more than 2,000 congregations from gathering together multiple times per week, as Witnesses do worldwide. The case of Taganrog is instructive. Several hundred Witnesses lived there in 2009, when the city declared the organization illegal. A few years later, it convicted sixteen Witnesses for ignoring the ban and continuing to gather their congregations for services. The state spent over a year in investigations and court hearings for sixteen people, a tiny fraction of the total congregation, and then suspended the sentences and fines rather than waste more resources in following through on its punishment guidelines. There are not enough police officers in Russia to monitor the daily activities of each and every Witness, and the Witnesses know it. Under a ban, everyone will face more scrutiny, a few will be dealt more serious consequences, and most will continue practicing their faith regardless. Russia may nonetheless decide that all of this conflict is worth it. After all, Soviet officials were fairly successful in relegating Witnesses to the margins of society. Few Russians will complain if Witnesses no longer come to knock on their door. After all, even Americans rarely have kind words for religious missionaries at their own doorsteps. In my own research, I have never heard a single Russian, other than a scholar, say anything positive about Witnesses. For the record, my experience with Americans has been similar. On a more basic level, Russian citizens may not even notice the Witnesses’ absence from public life. While the post-Soviet period saw a religious revival for all faiths, far fewer joined the Witnesses than the Russian Orthodox Church. For all their recent growth in membership, the Witnesses remain a tiny minority in a largely secular society. The vocal determination of Witnesses not to acquiesce to state demands should not cause observers to overlook the very real damage a ban would do to this community. Yes, Witnesses have faced similar challenges before and have dealt with them. For decades, they held their baptisms in local rivers and lakes under cover of night. In the post-Soviet period, new members were finally able to celebrate their baptisms in full view of their fellow believers at public conventions. A long-time Witness who attended one of these events in the early 1990s recalled, “What happiness, what freedom!” A new ban would mean a return to this underground life, to a hushed ceremony in cold waters. This is not what freedom of conscience looks like in modern states. Emily B. Baran is the author of Dissent on the Margins: How Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It. Her work explores the shifting contours of dissent and freedom in the Soviet Union and its successor states. She is Assistant Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University.
Report: Supreme Court to hear the case to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses religion April 5, 2017 Trying to complete ban Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia The Russian Supreme Court began hearings on the suit on the Elimination of Jehovah's Witnesses. It conducted a text report from the courtroom. 10:58 Big beautiful courtroom crowded. There are more than 200 people, including many journalists, representatives of public organizations and foreign embassies. The hearing began at 10:30. A little less than 250 people were left on the street waiting for the results of the hearing. Cook Street in Moscow is filled with cars with transmitting television antennas. Occurring remove numerous chamber. Of police radios periodically hear the message "All is calm, without incident." In the hall representatives of embassies and international organizations in the headphones listening to the process of translation. The case was heard Judge Yuri Ivanenko. The defendant, "the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" are 6 persons, including Vasily Kalin of the Steering Committee, as well as lawyers. The representative of Ministry of Justice of Russia - Svetlana Borisova. Attached to the case with the defendant's objections to the applications in 35 volumes. The court allowed the photographing and video recording only when the announcement of the final act. However, there is no record of obstacles. In the hall there are about 40 members of the media, they occupy the first rows of the audience. 11:00 The court refused to accept a counter claim for recognition of the Ministry of Justice acts of political repression. The judge described the passage of objections to the claim sufficient measure of protection for the defendant. 11:15 Representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses apply for admission to participation in the case of representatives of all 395 local religious organizations. Lawyer little wife: "If believers throughout Russia will be deprived of their rights, let them hear it here in court." Local religious organizations, contrary to the logic of the Ministry of Justice, are not the structural units of each other, but separate legal entities. 11:20 The lawyer Lew gives an example: "The logic of the Ministry of Justice, it turns out, it is necessary to impose a sentence: Shoot chieftain. And his whole platoon. " 11:25 The court rejected the enlistment of the 395 local organizations as a respondent. 11:30 Jehovah's Witnesses have asked the court to allow audio broadcasting the trial. The court refused. 11:35 Lawyers for the Jehovah's Witnesses are asking the court to adjourn the hearing pending the outcome of another case in another court. It is an appeal to the Court of Justice order the suspension of the activities of organizations . 11:42 The Ministry of Justice objected, because it believes that the authorities had every right to suspend the activities of organizations. 11:45 The court refused to postpone the hearing. 11:50 Omelchenko lawyer seeks the abandonment of the claim without consideration of the Ministry of Justice. The plaintiff is not complied with the pre-trial procedure for settling claims to the 395 communities of Jehovah's Witnesses. Before you make a claim for the liquidation of 395 local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, the authorities, by law, had to make an official warning each of them and to give time to correct them. 11:55 The second reason for the abandonment without consideration of this claim lies in the fact that the Russian courts have treated similar cases of liquidation and recognition of the "extremist" 2 out of 395 local Jehovah's Witnesses organizations (Karachay-Cherkessia and the Samara region). 12:05 The Court dismissed the petition on the abandonment without consideration. 12:10 Representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses are asked to postpone the hearing for one week due to the fact that the Ministry of Justice sent a statement of claim to the defendant in time. It came in the mail only to March 28, 2017. In addition, the Ministry of Justice to provide the defendant not all documents specified in the annexes to the statement of claim. 12:17 The Ministry of Justice does not object to the adjournment of the case. 12:19 The court refused to postpone the case. 12:20 Lawyer little wife seeks the suspension of the case due to the fact that in a number of Russian vessels submitted applications for consideration in force decisions of the courts on newly discovered evidence. We are talking about the revision in force of affairs on the Elimination of 8 local religious organizations (MPO) and the introduction of 88 publications of Jehovah's Witnesses in FSEM. The fact that all those court decisions were made without the involvement of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, since the Ministry of Justice insisted that the court decisions in relation to the LRO not affect the rights of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. In the present case the Ministry of Justice changed position and now all accusations against MPO, imputed to the Administrative Center. 12:30 The Ministry of Justice objected to the suspension, considering that, in cases involving MPO attended the same lawyers as in the case of liquidation of the MPO. 12:33 The court retired to the deliberation room. 13:50 The Court went out of the deliberation room. The suspension of the case was denied. 13:55 Little wife's lawyer said the petition to bring to participate in the case of experts, namely the religious scholars and linguists. Specialists may clarify whether are really extremist and dangerous texts that form the basis of the requirements of the Ministry of Justice to ban an entire religion in Russia. 14:00 Asked by the judge whether to propose lawyers to arrange a "revision" of court decisions, which was included in the literature FSEM lawyers explained that this information will be important to determine the proportionality of the Ministry of Justice requirements. 14:04 The representative of the Ministry of Justice objected to the admission of experts for the hearing. 14:05 The court refused to attract specialists to the hearing. 14:06 The lawyer asks little wife get to take part in the 9 foreign legal persons representing the religious communities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Europe and America. The reason is that the Ministry of Justice in its lawsuit asks the court to confiscate properties belonging to these organizations. 14:14 The court refused to attract foreign companies to participate in the case. 14:15 Omelchenko said the lawyer about bringing a motion to participate in the proceedings as interested parties of eight Russian citizens who were rehabilitated as victims of political repression. These people present in the room. Lawyers argue convincingly that these people rehabilitated from the turn in the case of satisfaction of the claim to the "extremists". 14:20 The Ministry of Justice said that the court decides on the liquidation of legal entities, it does not apply to individuals. In his reply the lawyer reminded the little wife that such considerations were guided by Soviet authorities, banning the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, however, repression of painful blow it for the people, so that they have been rehabilitated. 14:25 Court denies the petition. 14:30 Lawyers apply for the interrogation of individual citizens, followers of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses who can testify about what measures have been taken by Jehovah's Witnesses in order to prevent extremist activity. 14:35 The Ministry of Justice does not object. The court granted. 14:40 Lawyers say the request for interrogation as witnesses of persons recognized as victims of political repression. The Ministry of Justice objected. Court refuses. 14:43 Representative of Jehovah's Witnesses Nowak said petition for interrogation as witnesses of persons who witnessed falsification of evidence against those who believe in things that the Ministry of Justice uses in his lawsuit as "further evidence of the offense." 14:45 On the judge's objection that it comes to an effective decision, Novak says that in the present case can not be used prejudicial approach, because it is a different legal entity. The court must examine the evidence directly. Novakov tells the court about the circumstances and tossed perjuredly indications in a number of Russian cities. 15:00 The Ministry of Justice objected, arguing that the questioning, they believe authorities, aims to "to review the decision to enter into force." The court refused to examine witnesses evidence of fraud simple local Jehovah's Witnesses organizations.