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Assaults on Religious Freedom 'Worsening' Worldwide, Says U.S. Annual Report

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The U.S. Commission in International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sounded the alarm about the "worsening" state of affairs for religious freedom across the globe in its report for this year, the Christian News Network reported.

The report, released on Wednesday last week, urges the U.S. Department of State to designate 16 more nations as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), citing particular instances in those countries that merited their inclusion in the list.

"Overall, the Commission has concluded that the state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations," said USCIRF Chairman Thomas Reese in a statement.

"The blatant assaults have become so frightening—attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents, and wholesale destruction of places of worship—that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated," he pointed out.

Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a USCIRF member, said during a panel discussion on Wednesday in Washington D.C. that the commission "specifically name names so that those stories are lifted and people gain the strength that they need in order to continue fighting for their faith," CBN News reported.

The commission urged the State Department to designate six nations—Russia, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam as countries of concern.

The commission blew the whistle on Russia due to worsening religious freedoms in that country, which became even more evident with the recent ban of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Once again, North Korea topped the USCIRF list of countries with the most repressive regimes, noting that freedom of religion is non-existent in that communist nation.

North Korea is also Number 1 on Open Doors USA's World Watch list of the top 50 Christian-persecuting countries in the world.

The Commission urged both Congress and the Trump administration to continually speak up about religious freedom abuses around the world, both in public and in private meetings.

"You cannot have religious freedom without the freedom of worship, the freedom of association, the freedom of expression and opinion, the freedom of assembly, protection from arbitrary arrest and detention, [and] protection from interference in home and family," the report states.

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    • By Indiana
      In February, a Russian court sentenced a Danish citizen who was a legal resident of Russia to six years in prison for such an extremist offence as organizing other Witnesses to shovel snow from their church’s property.
      A month later, Sergei Skrynnikov, a Russian and allegedly a Jehovah’s Witness, was charged with “participating in an extremist organization,” an offence under Russian law that could earn him up to six years in prison. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been fleeing Russia and seeking asylum in Germany and Finland to escape such harsh sentences.
      In China, state authorities harass Jehovah’s Witnesses and raid their meetings. Authorities also deport foreign Witness missionaries from countries such as South Korea.
      South Korea has only recently dropped a 2003 law prohibiting conscientious objection to fighting in its armed forces, a law that confined young Witness men — as well as other men — to jail.
      All these states violate international laws that protect religious freedom, including the freedoms of unpopular minorities. Article 18, 1 of the 1976 United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects everyone’s freedom to “have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice” and “to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
      A long history of persecution
      Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first groups the Nazis persecuted. There were about 25,000 to 30,000 Witnesses in Germany in 1933. About half of those who did not flee were convicted of various crimes and between 2,000 and 2,500 were sent to concentration camps, where about 1,000 died. About 250 were also executed.
      Some years ago I met a Jehovah’s Witness in the city where I live who told me the Nazis had beheaded his grandfather. Germany’s Jehovah’s Witnesses were not merely passive religious group that refused to adopt the Nazi ideology: they also actively tried to expose Nazi atrocities.
      In the 1960s and ‘70s in Malawi, entire villages of Jehovah’s Witnesses were burned, and many villagers were raped, tortured or murdered as they tried to flee. Their crime was refusal to participate in rituals of loyalty to the newly independent Malawian state and its president, Hastings Banda.
      The Malawi government denied me a visa in the early 1980s when I told its High Commission in Ottawa that I wanted to know what had happened to these Witnesses for research for my book, Human Rights in Commonwealth Africa.
      Many Witnesses in Rwanda, both Tutsi and Hutu, lost their lives during the 1994 genocide, many trying to hide people at risk of being murdered.Even now, Rwandan authorities expel some Witness children from school and have fired some Witness teachers because they refuse to sing the national anthem or participate in religious training.
      Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada
      Here in Canada, Jehovah’s Witnesses have not always enjoyed their rights to freedom of religion and expression.
      During the Second World War, Witness children were banned from schools in several locations because they would not salute the flag, sing the national anthem or repeat the pledge of allegiance. A Witness father sued the Hamilton Board of Education on behalf of his two sons, who had been expelled from school in 1940. In 1945, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, saying the Board was required to excuse students from participating in religious exercises to which their parents objected
      Read more: 
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    • By Indiana
      – JW Headquarters (19.03.2019) – Almost two years after the ban of their movement in Russia, 150 Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently under investigation.Already in 2019 Russian law enforcement has conducted raids on JWs in 10 cities in 6 regions (in 2018 Russian agents conducted 280 searches in about 40 regions throughout the Federation).
      Latest figures regarding JWs facing criminal charges throughout Russia:
      Pretrial Detention: 24
      House arrest: 26
      Ban on activities: 5
      Recognizance: 55
      Wanted: 4
      Another EU citizen detained in Russia: Andrzej Oniszczuk from Poland
      Andrzej Oniszczuk, 50, has been kept in solitary confinement for over five months, and is not permitted to lie down from 06:00 to 21:00. He is only allowed to take a shower with hot water once a week for 15 minutes. The administration of the detention center in Kirov refuses to allow Andrzej to have a Bible.
      For the five months Andrzej has been detained, his wife, Anna, has not been allowed to visit him and has only communicated with him by letter. She has submitted several requests to visit Andrzej in prison; however the investigator in Kirov has repeatedly denied her requests. Typically prisoners in Russia can have visits from close family members, so it is unclear why such extreme action has been taken to keep Anna from seeing her husband.
      You may recall that Andrzej was arrested on Oct 9, 2018, when local police and masked special-forces raided 19 homes and one former place of worship for JWs in Kirov, Russia. Andrzej is being accused of “extremist” activity for simply singing biblical songs, improving the skills of missionary work, and studying religious literature.
      At the outset, Andrzej Oniszczuk was forced to sign a document under duress wherein he agreed to refuse visits by the Poland Embassy, so the embassy was initially unable to contact/assist. However, after several requests by the embassy, they have finally been allowed to visit/assist Andrzej. The address where Andrzej is being held:  FKU SIZO-1, UFSIN of Russia, Kirov Region, ul. Mopra, d. 1, Kirov, 610004. Andrzej’s pretrial detention has been extended twice (now through April 2, 2019).
      A total of seven men in Kirov are facing criminal charges for practicing their faith. Four men (44-yr-old Maksim Khalturin, 66-yr-old Vladimir Korobeynikov, 26-yr-old Andrey Suvorkov, and 41-yr-old Yevgeniy Suvorkov) had been arrested in October 2018 and held in pretrial along with Andrzej. Yevgeniy continues in pretrial detention, however the three others have been released to house arrest. Two other men (63-yr-old Vladimir Vasilyev and 25-yr-old Vladislav Grigorenko) from Kirov have been under investigation since January 21, 2019 but are not yet under any restrictions.
      BIO: Andrzej was born October 3, 1968 in the city of Białystok in northeastern Poland. After graduating from school, he became a lathe operator. Andrzej enjoys reading Russian literature, especially Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, and Pasternak. In 1997, he moved to Russia and worked for himself in the city of Kirov. There he met Anna, and they married in 2002.
      Anna, Andrzej Oniszczuk’s wife, has agreed to talk to journalists (Polish or Russian only). Her phone number +7(961) 748 2088 (via Telegram or Signal).
      Sergey Skrynnikov under threat of three years in prison
      On the heels of the Zheleznodorozhniy District Court of Oryol sentencing Dennis Christensen to six years in prison, another one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sergey Skrynnikov, also from Oryol is being criminally tried at the same court for his peaceful worship as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and a verdict is expected on April 1, 2019.
      On 18 March, prosecutor Nadezhda Naumova recommended that the Court sentence 56-yr-old Sergey to three years in prison followed by one year of additional restrictions for so-called extremist activity. Closing statements by the defense will be next Thursday March 28, with the court’s verdict will be at 10am on Monday April 1.
      For more information, please contact Yaroslav Sivulskiy in Russia: (ysivulsk@jw.org; call or WhatsApp +7 985 359 34 10; +371 2 0044105).

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    • By Indiana
      Despite recent surgery, retired widower, Jehovah's Witness Shamil Khakimov, is in pre-trial detention in Khujand under criminal investigation for "inciting religious hatred". If tried and convicted he faces five to ten years' imprisonment. His arrest followed widespread raids, interrogations and torture of local Jehovah's Witnesses.
      On 28 February, two days after his arrest, a court in the northern city of Khujand ordered that 68-year old Jehovah's Witness Shamil Khakimov be held in pre-trial detention for up to two months. Prosecutors are preparing a criminal case against him on charges of "inciting religious hatred", charges he rejects. Khakimov, who suffers from high blood pressure and recently underwent a leg operation, faces between five and ten years' imprisonment if eventually tried and convicted.
      Khakimov is currently held at Khujand's Investigation Prison.

      Khujand Investigation Prison
      Google/DigitalGlobe
      Judge Abruniso Mirasilzoda, who acceded to the Prosecutor's Office request to put Khakimov in pre-trial detention despite his medical condition, refused to explain her decision to Forum 18 (see below).
      A panel of three judges at Sogd Regional Court upheld Khakimov's pre-trial detention on 12 March. None of the judges were prepared to discuss with Forum 18 why they approved the detention of the 68-year-old, given his serious state of health (see below).
      Forum 18 was unable to reach Nosirkhuja Dodokhonzoda, Investigator of serious crimes at Sogd Regional Prosecutor's Office, who is leading the criminal case against Khakimov (see below).
      Police opened the case against Khakimov after widespread raids in January and February on homes and police interrogations of Jehovah's Witnesses across the northern Sogd Region. Some of the interrogations involved torture.
      Organised Crime Police seized Khakimov's Bible and other religious literature during a raid on his home after they interrogated him (see below).
      After the raids and interrogations, so far none of the Jehovah's Witnesses were given any punishments or faced any charges except for Khakimov. "The authorities probably want to punish a Jehovah's Witness more seriously in order for this to be a show case, a lesson for the rest of the Jehovah's Witnesses," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 19 March. "This may be why Khakimov was singled out."
      Jehovah's Witnesses in Khujand are still being regularly summoned and questioned by the Organised Crime Police, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. The Police summon individuals for interrogation "without written notifications".
      Organised Crime Police prepare Khakimov's arrest
      Trouble began for Jehovah's Witness Shamil Rasulovich Khakimov (born 30 August 1950), a retired widower, after police stopped two Jehovah's Witnesses on the street in Khujand in early January for sharing their beliefs with a passer-by.
      "The Police seized the phones of the two women and called the numbers in the phone, and this is how they found Khakimov," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "The authorities allege that he is the leader of Jehovah's Witnesses in Khujand."
      On the evening of 28 January, Khakimov received a call from an unknown person. "The caller requested him to leave his flat and come out onto the street. It was dark so he hesitated, but the calls kept coming," Jehovah's Witnesses said. "When he decided to come outside, there was no one on the street."
      Later the caller identified himself as Nekruz Ibrokhimzoda from the Organised Crime Police of Sogd Region.
      The next day, 29 January, Organised Crime Police officers summoned some of Khakimov's friends (who are not Jehovah's Witnesses) and fellow believers, and questioned them about him.
      At lunch time on 1 February, three days after this, the Organised Crime Police's Khujand office summoned Khakimov, where officers searched him on arrival. Lieutenant Colonel Sukhrob Rustamzoda then interrogated him, including about his personal history, how he became a Jehovah's Witness, and the structure of the organisation.
      "During the interrogation, officers refused to allow Khakimov to use the services of a defence lawyer," Jehovah's Witnesses complained.
      Investigator Rustamzoda refused to comment on the case. "I cannot discuss it with you over the phone," he told Forum 18 on 19 March. "You need to talk to Sogd Regional Prosecutor's Office. They are investigating the case now." When Forum 18 insisted, asking why Police opened a case against Khakimov and why he was refused a defence lawyer to participate during his interrogation, Rustamzoda put the phone down.
      Officers seize Khakimov's property
      After the interrogation, the Organised Crime Police brought Khakimov to his flat in Khujand. Officers seized his tablet device, laptop computer, his Bible and several religious books and brochures, as well as his passport. Officers did not give him a copy of the seizure record, Jehovah's Witnesses said.
      The Police "detained him overall for eight hours the same day," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. "He had not fully recovered after the thrombophlebitis surgery on his legs and his bandages needed to be changed."
      Moreover, Khakimov "could not receive money transfers to continue his necessary medical treatment, since officers seized his passport".
      Prosecutor's Office ignores complaints, opens case
      On 3 February, Khakimov filed a complaint with the Regional Prosecutor's Office against the actions of the Organised Crime Police officers. "No answer has been received to this day," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18.
      "Instead at around 9 am on 7 February, four days after his complaint, the Organised Crime Police officers once again arrived at Khakimov's home. They threatened him to open the door," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "As the Police officers refused to provide the official summons, he decided not to open the door." 
      During the same day, the Police "repeatedly called Khakimov demanding him to come to the police station."
      Khakimov filed another complaint to the Regional Prosecutor's Office on 7 February against the actions of the Organised Crime Police. "At the Prosecutor's Office he was asked to write an additional statement on his faith and religious activity." The Prosecutor's Office, however, "refused to give him a note that he was asked to write a statement and that it had received his complaint."
      The Prosecutor's Office has "not responded to this complaint to this day either".
      Arrest, pre-trial detention
      On 26 February, 19 days after his second complaint, Police arrested Khakimov and put him in custody "despite his advanced age and poor health".
      The following day, on 27 February, the Organised Crime Police went to Khakimov's flat again. "Without showing identification documents - in the absence of Khakimov and the presence of his roommate - seized Khakimov's international passport without drawing up a record of it," Jehovah's Witnesses said.
      On 28 February, at the request of the Sogd Regional Prosecutor's Office, Judge Abruniso Mirasilzoda of Khujand City Court ordered that Khakimov be held in pre-trial detention. He is being held in the Investigation Prison in Khujand.
      Judge Mirasilzoda told Forum 18 from the court on 19 March that "his custody may last up two months while the investigation proceeds, and if need be his arrest can be prolonged." She refused to explain why Khakimov needs to be held in custody. Asked why he cannot be at home while his case is being investigated, she told Forum 18: "I gave my decision, and it entered into force."
      Asked why she did not take into account that Khakimov is an old man who recently underwent an operation on his leg, Judge Mirasilzoda replied: "His lawyer informed us about this orally, but did not present documents." Asked whether had Khakimov had the documents, she would not have ordered the pre-trial detention, she responded: "I do not want to discuss my decision further."
      Jehovah's Witnesses say the court was fully aware of Khakimov's medical condition. "On 28 February our lawyer did not yet have the documents from the doctors on Khakimov's operation, so they told Judge Mirasilzoda that Khakimov can open the bandage on his leg and show the wound, as well as producing the documents later. But she went ahead with her decision."
      Khakimov's address in Investigation Prison:
      Ya/S 9/2 Investigation Prison
      Khujand
      Sogd Region
      Tajikistan
      Why pre-trial detention?
      Jehovah's Witnesses appealed against the 28 February decision to place Khakimov in pre-trial detention. They presented in court documentation on his operation and health condition. But on 12 March, a panel of three judges at Sogd Regional Court, Ismoil Rakhmatzoda, Maftuna Rakhmatillozoda and Khotamsho Sattorzoda, upheld Khakimov's pre-trial detention.
      Asked on 20 March why the Court upheld the pre-trial detention of Khakimov, an ailing old man, Makhrambek Jumazoda, Secretary of Judge Rakhmatzoda, took down the question and Forum 18's name. Then, after consulting with an official in Judge Rakhmatzoda's office, claimed to Forum 18 that the Judge is "busy in a meeting". He then refused to talk further.
      Judge Rakhmatillozoda on 20 March also refused to explain their decision. Asked why the Court did not take into account the official records of Khakimov's condition and upheld his pre-trial detention, she responded: "I just came into my office. Can you call back in 15 minutes?" Called back later, she told Forum 18 "I cannot talk to you," and put the phone down.
      Judge Sattorzoda was adamant that the Court "correctly took the decision to put Khakimov in custody". Reminded that Khakimov presented to the Court the documents confirming his medical condition and that he is an old man, Sattorzoda repeated his previous response: "We took the decision correctly." He refused to explain the decision to Forum 18 and to answer further questions.
      Inciting hatred?
      Nosirkhuja Dodokhonzoda, Investigator of serious crimes at Sogd Regional Prosecutor's Office, is leading the case against Khakimov. On 7 March, one week after Khakimov's arrest, Dodokhonzoda officially informed him of the charges against him.
      Dodokhonzoda is investigating Khakimov under Criminal Code Article 189, Part 2 ("Inciting national, racial, local or religious hatred or dissension, humiliation of national dignity, as well as propaganda of the superiority of citizens based on their religion, national, racial, or local origin, if committed in public or using the mass media" when performed repeatedly, by a group or by an individual using their official position). Punishment is imprisonment of between five and ten years, with the possibility also of a five-year ban on specified activity.
      Prisoner of conscience Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov, who led a Protestant Church in Khujand, was punished under Criminal Code Article 189, Part 1 for allegedly "singing extremist songs in church and so inciting 'religious hatred'". Khujand City Court sentenced him to three years' imprisonment in July 2017.
      Asked why the Prosecutor's Office asked for Khakimov's pre-trial detention, and why it did not respond to Khakimov complaints on the Police illegal actions, the official (who did not give his name) who on 19 March answered the phone of Khobibullo Vokhidov, Prosecutor of Sogd Region, took down Forum 18's name and asked it to wait on the line. Moments later, he told Forum 18 that "Prosecutor Vokhidov is busy; call back in an hour or so."
      Called back later, the Prosecutor's phone numbers were all switched to a fax machine.
      Prosecutor's Office Investigator Dodokhonzoda did not answer his phones on 20 March.
      Health concerns
      Jehovah's Witnesses express concern over Khakimov's health. "He recently had an operation on the veins in his legs and suffers from high blood pressure," they told Forum 18 on 19 March. "At the moment he is still suffering from high blood pressure, and the doctors have told him not to stand for too long because of the operation."
      Jehovah's Witnesses added that although Khakimov is "doing well", he still feels pain in his leg after the surgery. "Our lawyer talked to the prison doctor and he said that he will make sure that Shamil Khakimov would not have to stand up every time officers enter the cell for checking."
      Earlier raids, interrogations
      The Organised Crime Police Department of Sogd Region interrogated about 17 Jehovah's Witnesses for periods of up to 14 hours in January and February across the northern Sogd Region, including in Khujand and Konibodom. Police also confiscated mobile phones, personal computers or tablets, and internal passports from those they interrogated.
      One female Jehovah's Witness was interrogated two days running for 14 hours. Because of the extreme stress imposed on her, she suffered a stroke, leaving her unable to walk or speak. She was then taken to hospital.
      Jehovah's Witnesses lodged a formal complaint about the police actions and torture to Sogd Regional Prosecutor's Office. "But it has taken no action and given no response to this day," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18.
      "After the female Witness complained to President Emomali Rahmon, the General Prosecutor's Office informed her in early February in writing that it is investigating the complaint," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "However, she has not been informed on the course or the results of the investigation to this day."
      Asked on 20 March about the investigation of this case and Khakimov's case, officials at the General Prosecutor's Office reception (who did not give their names) referred Forum 18 to its international relations section's Makhmudzoda and Karimzoda (first names were not given). The officials' phones went unanswered the same day. Called back, the reception officials refused to put Forum 18 through to any other officials to discuss the cases. (END)

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    • By Indiana
      An EU citizen has been placed in solitary confinement, denied visitation with his wife and subjected to a grueling daily regimen while awaiting trial in central Russia, the Jehovah’s Witnesses told The Moscow Times.
      The federal penitentiary service of Kirov region did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
      Andrzej Oniszczuk, 50, was one of several adherents of the religious group detained in the Volga region of Kirov on extremism charges in October 2018. Russia labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization in 2017, leading to raids nationwide and the sentencing of a Danish national last month.
      “Andrzej has been kept in solitary confinement for over five months,” Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman Jarrod Lopes said in an emailed statement.
      Prison authorities prohibit Oniszczuk from lying down for 15 hours during the day, withhold the Bible and allow showers only once a week, the spokesman said. Oniszczuk’s wife has been denied several requests to visit him, Lopes told The Moscow Times.
      He said Polish diplomats were “finally” allowed to visit and assist the EU citizen despite Oniszczuk’s initial signature “under duress” to refuse visits from embassy staff.
      The organization said a total of 24 Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently held in pretrial detention in Russia, where 150 believers are under investigation on extremism charges.
      Lopes said in February that investigators in Siberia had stripped, suffocated, doused with water and applied stun guns on at least seven believers detained on extremism charges. Russia's Investigative Committee has denied the claims.

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    • By Indiana
      By Editorial Board
      March 2 at 7:09 PM
      RUSSIA’S PURSUIT of believers in the Jehovah’s Witnesses is reviving dark practices of the past. The worst of the Soviet Union’s interrogation methods appear to have been revived recently in the Siberian city of Surgut. Although today’s Russia was founded on principles of freedom of thought and worship, under a constitution that guarantees them, the security services behave as if Joseph Stalin were still around.
      In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses should be labeled an extremist organization. This is nonsense. The Jehovah’s Witnesses eschew subservience to the state; they refuse military service, do not vote and view God as the only true leader. For their convictions, they are suffering an intense crackdown by Russia’s security services. Raids against them have taken place in 40 regions. There are now 140 believers facing criminal charges, including 26 in pretrial detention and 26 others under house arrest.
      The latest assault on the Jehovah’s Witnesses is particularly shocking. According to the group, early in the morning of Feb. 15, security services carried out mass searches of homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut and the town of Lyantor, both in the region of Khanty-Mansi in Siberia. About 40 people were detained, and a criminal case opened against 19 believers, claiming they were either organizing or supporting an “extremist” organization.
      Seven of those detained were tortured between interrogation sessions in Surgut on the first floor of the Russian Investigative Committee’s offices, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses said. The spokesman said Russian security officers placed a bag over a suspect’s head, wrapped it with tape for suffocation, tied a suspect’s hands behind his back, smashed his fingers and beat him on his neck, feet and in the kidney area. They poured water over the detained men and applied electric shocks. The spokesman said the men were repeatedly questioned about the location of meetings, names of elders and for passwords to their phones. Three are still in detention. The investigative committee in Surgut denied the allegations but then said it would investigate. Amnesty International said its interviews “strongly indicate that torture and other ill-treatment did take place.”
      In his recent State of the Union address, President Trump boasted that he has “taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.” But he has been silent about the latest brutality against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Where is Vice President Pence, who has declared that religious freedom is a “top priority of this administration”? Or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo? They have failed to uphold the U.S. role as a beacon of hope to those suffering for their religious beliefs.
      Source: 
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    • By Indiana
      One believer was jailed and four others placed under house arrest February 28, 2019, in Ulyanovsk.  Svetlana Chebukina, a judge of the Leninsky District Court of Ulyanovsk, sent 53-year-old Sergey Mysin to jail after he was accused of “organizing an extremist organization” in connection with his religion. His wife, Natalya, as well as Andrey Tabakov, 43, Khoren Khachikyan, 33, and  Mikhail Zelensky, 58, were placed under house arrest.
      The case against residents of Ulyanovsk who are suspected of being Jehovah's Witnesses was initiated by the local department of Federal Security Service (FSB). Worshippers are accused of “popularization of the ideas of Jehovah's Witnesses, promoting the superiority of these ideas over other religious teachings, finding venues for meetings of participants in this organization, and direct participation in meetings.” On February 27, their apartments were searched.
      According to the court order, Sergey Mysin must be detained in SIZO-1 in the Ulyanovsk Region until April 23, 2019, inclusive.
      Law enforcement officers repeatedly misconstrue normal worship as participation in the activities of an extremist organization. As these abuses mount, they have been noted and denounced by many observers including prominent public figures in Russia, the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation, the President of the Russian Federation, as well as international organizations like European External Action Service, observers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In actuality, Jehovah's Witnesses are in no way related to extremism and insist on their complete innocence. The Russian government has repeatedly stated that the decisions of the Russian courts to liquidate and ban the organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses “set out no assessment of the religious denomination of Jehovah’s Witnesses or limitation or prohibition to individually manifest the aforementioned denominations.”

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    • By Indiana
      Even Putin has suggested that the campaign against the religious minority may be unwarranted.
      Christians are the most widely persecuted religious believers around the globe. They are the most numerous people of faith worldwide. They also tend to evangelize, threatening established religions. Moreover, especially in some Muslim nations, local Christians are assumed to be strong supporters of Israel and agents of America and U.S. foreign policy. The result is an increasingly tenuous existence for Christians in many lands.
      However, smaller faiths tend to face more intense hostility. Jews, of course, are the traditional scapegoats for numerous ills. Bahá’is are seen by Muslims as apostates. And Jehovah’s Witnesses now are under sustained attack in Russia.
      JWs, as they are known (and call themselves), might seem an odd addition to that list. While active, their numbers remain relatively low, about 8.5 million worldwide. Their largest national home is America. The next two are Mexico and Brazil, which exist in a region with the least religious persecution. JWs reject any political role. They do not threaten the existing order anywhere.
      Yet Russia has imposed a six-year sentence on a Danish JW, Dennis Christensen, for “organizing the activity of an extremist organization.” In 2016 the government recognized the JW faith as “extremist”; the following year the country’s supreme court ruled the JW church to be an “extremist organization” and banned it. Although Christensen knew that his faith had been outlawed, explained the prosecutor, the JW unsurprisingly continued to proselytize, hold meetings, and distribute literature. He was arrested in May 2017 at a worship service and is now set to serve six years in a penal colony — which will be decidedly less pleasant than the prisons in Christensen’s homeland.
      Unfortunately, he is not the only such victim of Russian persecution. Last year Moscow launched a vigorous nationwide campaign against JWs. Earlier this month the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses published a special report, “Russia: State-Sponsored Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses Continues.”
      From September 2017 to January 2019, the church reported, the Putin government has mounted 300 raids, mostly of homes. Twenty-three people have been jailed, 27 have been placed under house arrest, 41 have been ordered to remain in their hometown, and 121 have been placed under investigation. The church has complained that government security agents use “heavy-handed tactics against the Witnesses as though they were dealing with hardened criminals. The authorities point guns in the face of Witnesses, including children and the elderly — and manhandle them.” Property worth $90 million is subject to confiscation. More than 100 properties, including the large administrative center, have already been seized, and some 300 more face confiscation.
      The report goes on to list the other JWs facing charges. They should not be forgotten.
      Three currently are on trial: Sergey Skrynnikov, Yuriy Zalipayev, and Arkadya Akopyan. (The latter is 71 years old.)
      In pretrial detention are Aleksandr Akopov, Vladimir Atryakhin, Dmitriy Barmakin, Konstantin Bazhenov, Sergey Britvin, Aleksey Budenchuk, Sergey Klimov, Vadim Levchuk, Feliks Makhammadiyev, Valeriy Moskalenko, Georgiy Nikulin, Andrzej Oniszczuk, Konstantin Samsonov, Yuriy Savelyev, Andrey Sazonov, Aleksandr Shevchuk, Nataliya Sorokina, Yevgeniy Spirin, Andrey Stupnikov, Shamil Sultanov, Yeveniy Suvorkov, and Mariya Troshina.
      Such a campaign might be appropriate against a terrorist organization. But against a group of religious believers whose behavior is decidedly harmless? The armed assaults demonstrate that the Russian government is determined to halt private worship as well as organizational activity.
      For targeting JWs and other peaceful religious minorities, Russia has been designated a “country of particular concern” by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In its annual report on persecutors worldwide, USCIRF observed that the Putin government has “continued to target ‘nontraditional’ religious minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists, with fines, detentions, and criminal charges under the pretext of combating extremism. Most notably, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned outright, as was their translation of the Bible, and their followers persecuted nationwide.”
      Although Russia has gained the distinction of being just about the only majority-Christian country to persecute, it is not the only nation to ban JWs. Twenty-six Muslim nations do so, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and even reasonably liberal Kuwait, as well as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, and Yemen. Several are Communist, such as China, North Korea, and Vietnam, or formerly Communist. Eritrea, Lebanon, and Singapore are also on the list.
      Why such hostility? The sect was founded in the U.S. in the 1870s. Its doctrines, including non-trinitarianism and teachings on the role of Jesus Christ, differ significantly from those of traditional Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic. JWs rely on their own biblical translation, have a unique eschatology, and are noted for rejecting blood transfusions and refusing to celebrate traditional religious holidays. However, being different isn’t reason for persecution. (I have several JW relatives and friends. Their theology is not for me, but they are uniformly warm, decent people.)
      More significant, perhaps, is the separationist nature of JWs. An intense community rather like the Amish, they expel members through disfellowship. They refuse to accord government the respect that public officials crave or to honor the state — to say the Pledge of Allegiance in America, for example, or to serve in the military anywhere. Such attitudes may have generated the Russian claim that they are guilty of “social hostility.” Presumably they are seen as focusing on those within their community rather than without.
      Moscow denies that it is persecuting JWs for their beliefs. Rather, explained Vyacheslav Lebedev, chief justice of the Russian Supreme Court, “the situation is actually being presented as if these people are being persecuted for their belief and religious activity. Yet the decision, which was made by the Supreme Court amongst others, is unrelated to religion. It is about a violation of the law, which religious organizations have no right to breach.”
      The law bans the faith, so punishing them for exercising their faith is merely punishing a violation of the law. This argument is perfectly Orwellian. Translating Lebedev: We declared your religious faith to be extremist, and you are not allowed to be extremists. So we are arresting you for being extremists. But feel free to practice your faith and have a good day.
      Some critics appear to imagine that they are dealing with something akin to al-Qaeda. For instance, Roman Silantyev of Moscow State Linguistic University complained that “this sect promotes external and inner extremism, inciting hatred to those who think and believe in a different way and bullying their own members.” He went on to claim that “recognizing this sect as extremist gave a possibility to dozens of our citizens to leave this concentration camp.” Silantyev appears not to understand religion: Despite the threat of arrest and prison, JWs continue to meet, because they are operating out of faith rather than compulsion.
      JWs also are known for evangelism, highlighted by their going door to door. This stirs harsh resistance by majority faiths, especially those that are as much political as religious. The Russian Orthodox Church is hostile even to traditional Christian faiths. It would be difficult for its hierarchy to advocate banning Catholic and Protestant churches with roots as deep as its own, but JWs are an easier target.
      President Vladimir Putin admitted as much. When asked why his government targeted JWs, Putin dismissed the charge. But, he admitted, “our society does not consist solely of religious sects. Ninety percent of citizens of the Russian Federation or so consider themselves Orthodox Christians. . . . It is also necessary to take into account the country and the society in which we live.” Translation: JW’s are different and don’t fit in. This attitude also may explain attacks by groups and individuals on JWs, their homes, and meeting halls.
      Putin offered a glimmer of hope in December when he allowed that one should not “label representatives of religious communities as member of destructive, much less terrorist organizations” and acknowledged that he did not “quite understand why they are persecuted,” so “this should be looked into, this must be done.” Although Putin’s references to human rights should be treated with more than a few grains of salt, he appears to respect religion, and these comments are hard to explain other than as an expression of genuine puzzlement over so much effort being expended to eliminate an evidently nonexistent threat.
      Russia’s persecution of JWs pales compared with the punishment, including violence, inflicted on religious minorities elsewhere. Consider the horrors that continue to afflict religious minorities in the Middle East. Conflict zones in Iraq and Syria have shrunk, but Christians, Yazidis, and others continue to be at risk. Both sides of the Sunni–Shia divide, represented by Saudi Arabia and Iran, are inhospitable homes for non-Muslims, as well as for the “wrong” Muslims. American client states, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, are little better.
       
      Nevertheless, the precarious status of JWs worldwide shows the breadth and reach of the problem of religious persecution. In Russia, thousands of people, largely ignored owing to their small numbers and relative isolation, are being punished for their faith, persecuted for no plausible reason. The arbitrariness of the state is matched only by the hardship inflicted on the affected individuals and families.
      The freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses should be on the religious-liberty agenda. Indeed, given the concern expressed even by Putin, American and European officials should raise the issue when they meet their Russian counterparts. The agenda with Russia is crowded. However, liberty of conscience is always worth defending. Especially when success doesn’t require armed campaigns and regime change.

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    • By Indiana
      Reports from the Kuril Islands say that on February 25, 2019, in the town of Kurilsk and in the village of Reydovo (Sakhalin region), FSB officers searched two women, Olga Kalinnikova and Larisa Potapova, both Jehovah's Witnesses. The searches were conducted using a warrant issued by Chief of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation for the Sakhalin Region Lieutenant General (!) S. Kudryashov, as well as on the basis of a warrant from the judge of the Sakhalin Regional (!) Court, V. Malyovanny.
      Although the operation was formally called the “Inspection of the premises," computers, hard drives, cell phones, flash drives, and other personal items were confiscated from the two women. Criminal charges have not been initiated, and the women are not named as suspects or accused. Reason for the seizures was not explained. As a result, the women were left without means of communication on an isolated island.
      About 1,600 people live in Kurilsk, and about 1,000 people live in Reydovo.
      Law enforcement officials throughout the country continue to misinterpret ordinary religious activities of citizens as “extremist activities." Meanwhile, the Government of Russia has repeatedly insisted that the decisions of the Russian courts to ban the organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses “set out no assessment of the religious denomination of Jehovah’s Witnesses or limitation or prohibition to individually manifest the aforementioned denominations.”

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    • By Indiana
      Khanty-Mansiysk District Court on Feb. 26, 2019, denied the Investigation Committee of Russia's request to detain 38-year-old Andrey Sazonov and decided to release him immediately from custody. Earlier, on February 8, this court sentenced him to jail for 55 days, but later an appellate court reduced his term of detention and returned his case for a new trial in the same court. The decision on house arrest has been taken here by the new composition of the court.
      It is noteworthy that Andrey Sazonov will be at his home in Uray (Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area), and not in Khanty-Mansiysk, where the investigative body is located. The distance between locations is more than 400 kilometers.
      Andrey arrived home on the same day at 2 a.m. He is required to wear a leg bracelet.

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    • By Witness
      The person who made this short quip was never a JW, although he is able to perceive the contradiction of teachings by the governing body.  
      Can you perceive the confusion?  (meaning of "Babylon")
       
    • By TheWorldNewsOrg
      via .ORG
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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      HAVANA TIMES – Daniel Ortega has achieved what neither Putin, nor climate change, nor China, nor the immigration problem, nor Maduro nor Syria could do: he inspired nothing more and nothing less than the adoption of a bipartisan consensus between the US Republican and Democratic parties regarding his regime.
      What’s more, he managed to become a point of consensus between the US Executive branch, headed by Trump, and the US Congress. It may seem a lie or an exaggeration, but no other topic during Trump’s administration has been resolved with this level of consensus.
      In reacting to the decisions adopted by the organs of United States power, Ortega momentarily dusted off the old speeches that he had kept filed away these eleven years and spoke once again of interventionism, of imperialism and other expressions of the like. Then, he fell silent.
      He’ll likely speak about it again once he’s assimilated the blow and has designed the course he’ll follow. Meanwhile, it’s important to recall that Nicaragua’s economic dependence with respect to the United States has broadened and deepened during this “antiimperialist” regime of Ortega’s.
      Read more: https://havanatimes.org/?p=145130
    • Guest Nicole
      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.
       

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      A South Korean court has ruled in favor of a man who refused to take part in the country's mandatory military service on religious grounds.

      The Gwangju District Court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal by prosecutors, upholding a previous ruling that found the man not guilty.

      It also acquitted two other so-called "conscientious objectors" who had been sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison.

      All three of the men are Jehovah's Witnesses, who say they are prohibited by their faith from entering the military.

      The court said the men's refusal of mandatory military service was consistent with their religious faith and conscience, considering how they were brought up. 

      It cited an international trend of recognizing conscientious objectors, and pointed to a growing consensus that some kind of alternative military service is needed in such cases.

      The Defense Ministry urged the court to use caution and prudence, as cases like this may affect national security, cause a decrease of morale for active-duty servicemen, and enable others to evade military service.

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    • By The Librarian
      Do you have more photos/video of the South Korea Bethel to share with all of us? Please post them as a reply below:
    • By admin
      Thanks Rajan for sharing this with me.
    • By TheWorldNewsOrg
      via .ORG
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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      A Florida couple is recalling a distressing experience on a Carnival Cruise after finding a hidden camera pointing at their bed. 
      In an interview set to air Monday, Chris and Dana White told Inside Edition that they discovered a recording device hidden among TV wires in their stateroom last October on the Carnival Fantasy, a three-day Caribbean cruise departing from Mobile, Alabama. 
      "I said, 'Is that what I think it is?' " Chris White said. "And she looked at it and she became concerned. And we were just really flabbergasted that there's a camera in the room and it's plugged up and it's working."
      The couple called Carnival security and used their cellphone to film an employee who inspected and disassembled the device. "I was thinking, 'I can't believe this is actually happening to us,' " he said.
      https://www.usatoday.com/videos/travel/2018/10/29/couple-claims-secret-camera-aimed-bed-carnival-cruise/1809350002/
      https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/news/2018/10/28/travelers-found-hidden-camera-their-carnival-cruise-bedroom/1800150002/

    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Legislators ‘need to stopÂ’ working for institutions
      Dave Kohler, of Allentown, was abused by an ordained minister in the Jehovah’s Witnesses in November 1965. He was 9 years old. 
      When Kohler was 17, his abuser told him to never talk about the abuse again. 
      “So I obeyed and kept my mouth shut,” Kohler said. 
      He’s been coming to Harrisburg for about five years to show his support for statute of limitations reform. “Individuals vote them in, and then they work for institutions,” Kohler said of the state legislators. “That needs to stop.”
      If reform is passed that would allow Kohler the opportunity to sue his abuser, Kohler said he knows what he would do with any money he could collect.
      “I will hopefully be able to afford therapy,” he said.

      Dave Kohler, who said he was abused by an ordained minister in the Jehovah's Witnesses in Kutztown and Emmaus, talks about his experience, during the demonstration for statute of limitations reform to the state's childhood sexual abuse laws at the state capitol in Harrisburg on Monday. (Photo: Paul Kuehnel, York Daily Record)

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    • By Outta Here
      Hello guest! Please register or sign in (it's free) to view the hidden content. This takes the proverbial biscuit. These are guys that plant Jehovah's Witness publications on................Jehovah's Witnesses!!!
      They might be in for a decoration!
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      SCHOHARIE, N.Y. — It was an intersection of two highways, one a steep downhill road, that residents had long warned was notoriously dangerous.
      On Saturday afternoon, their worst fears were realized: A limousine lost control, careening through the intersection and striking an empty car. The crash killed all 18 people in the white limousine and two pedestrians in an accident that left deep tire tracks in the ground and a small upstate New York town reeling.
      “That limo was coming down that hill probably over 60 miles per hour,” said Jessica Kirby, 36, the manager of the Apple Barrel Country Store, where she said customers were hit near the parking lot. “All fatal.”
      “I don’t want to describe the scene,” she added. “It’s not something I want to think about.”
      Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/nyregion/wedding-limo-crash-schoharie-ny.html
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      'Biased assumptions'
      While most of the comments on the post in the Facebook page debated the merits of the celebrations and the priorities of the district, some focused on the religious beliefs of those who don't celebrate Halloween.
      Halloween began as the Celtic festival Samhain, where people would light bonfires and wear costumes to frighten ghosts, according to History.com. Due to its roots, the holiday isn't celebrated by certain religions or groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses, some Christians, Orthodox Jews and Muslims.
      "It is the stated strategy of some to use our own laws against us," reads on comment on Facebook. "Wake up people. Nothing is an 'American Tradition' anymore. (And many who move here aren't doing so to become American)."
      Another comment asked "Who is ruining traditions?" The response from a different person, which has since been deleted, read: "Muslims."
      Kucinski said statements such as these are "very hurtful to people who are equally American but may be of a different culture, religion, or hold different beliefs than those who are making these comments."
      "This discussion has emboldened certain voices in our community to make sweeping biased assumptions against groups of people that may or may not be the ones that are holding their kids home from school," she said. "Does it matter what group or groups are keeping their kids home and missing a fun celebration at school? No."
      Littman said it's anyone's right to not celebrate a holiday, though others don't have to follow suit.  
      Read more: 
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    • By Srecko Sostar
      3) We do not lobby, vote in political elections, run for government office, or try to change governments. …Otherwise, how could we have a clean conscience when we preach the good news that only God’s Kingdom can solve mankind’s problems? source: 
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      lobby verb [ I or T ]  UK  /ˈlɒb.i/ US  /ˈlɑː.bi/
      C2 to try to persuade a politician, the government, or an official group that a particular thing should or should not happen, or that a law should be changed:

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      Recent example how WT Company and JW members participated in "lobbying" was writing letters to Russian Government and their politicians. 
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      More than 200 Jehovah's Witnesses - a religious organization banned in Russia - have applied for asylum in Finland. More than 100 members of this organization have arrived in the European country only so far in 2018. According to Juha Simila, representative of the Finnish migration service, about 10 cases have been analyzed so far and, in most of them, Finland rejected the asylum application. Simila explained to the Finnish newspaper Aamulehti that some denials have been appealed to the court and that in one of the cases the negative decision of the migration service has already been confirmed.
      Read more: 
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    • Guest Nicole
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