JW Bulletin

Jehovah's Witnesses in the Media

Translation: Медиазона – 23rd October 2018

Медиазона – 23rd October 2018

Secret Witnesses against Jehovah’s Witnesses. After the decision of the Supreme Court, dozens of believers have been arrested throughout Russia.

A year and a half ago, the Supreme Court of Russia declared extremist and banned the central organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses and all its regional branches. Since then, the life of the Russian followers of this doctrine — the Witnesses themselves talk about 175 thousand believers — has become very complicated, over a year in the SIZO or under house arrest there were more than 50 people. Elizaveta Pestova tells how the prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses who are constantly waiting for the end of the world is arranged.

“No one should see, no one should know, we will secretly promote our plans. The secrets of our mafia securely guard, information leakage can prevent us. And the stakes are high, and the secret is great, let’s take a bigger world, but for now – remove the witnesses, remove the witnesses, remove the witnesses, ”- this is how the first verse of the song of the founder of the“ Zero ”group Fyodor Chistyakov begins, dedicated to Dennis Christensen. Danish citizen Christensen has been on trial in Orel for several months on charges of organizing an extremist organization.

In April 2017, the Supreme Court liquidated the entire structure that Jehovah’s Witnesses built in Russia: together with the main “Administrative Center”, almost 400 local communities were banned – all of them were recognized as extremist organizations. Some communities, including Oryol, the head of which the investigation calls Christensen, were recognized as extremist even earlier – in fact, the ban of some communities and became the reason for the liquidation of all Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations by the Supreme Court.

“Practice shows that no court decisions can prevent a Christian from fulfilling the tasks assigned by Jesus Christ or God to acquaint other people with the norms of God, with His intentions, with His personality. Most likely, this activity will continue, ” said Yaroslav Sivulsky, a member of the governing board of the“ Management Center ”, after the decision of the Supreme Court said after the decision of the Supreme Court.

According to the Memorial Human Rights Center, by the end of October 2018, more than fifty “Jehovah’s Witnesses” became charged under various “extremist” articles of the Criminal Code. The geography of the unfolding persecution covers the whole of Russia: Kamchatka Krai – Magadan – Yakutia – Vladivostok – Birobidzhan – Khabarovsk – Kemerovo Region – Tomsk – Krasnoyarsk – Omsk – Orenburg – Ufa – Perm – Kirov – Kostroma – Tatarstan – Saratov – Penza – Ivanovo Region – Kabardino Balkaria – Smolensk region – Oryol – Belgorod – Murmansk region – Pskov.

The vocalist of Zero, Fyodor Chistyakov, himself an adherent of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said that the fate of Christensen who had ended up in the pre-trial detention center and the defendants’ box was “a signal for many”. Chistyakov announced his emigration from Russia in July 2017. Dennis Christensen, 45, wasn’t going to leave: he was detained on May 26, 2017 after searches in the house of Jehovah’s Witnesses on Zheleznodorozhnaya Street in Orel. Christensen was charged under part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organization of an extremist organization, the maximum sanction is ten years in prison); the next day the court sent him into custody.

Christensen was born in Copenhagen into the family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the organization’s website says , was baptized in 1989, graduated from carpentry courses and received a diploma in engineering. In the mid-nineties, he came to Russia to build the building of the “Administrative Center” of the “Witnesses” as a volunteer in the village of Solnechny near St. Petersburg.

“He fell in love with Russia and in 1999 moved to live in Murmansk. There he met his future wife, Irina, who by that time had relatively recently become the Jehovah’s Witness. They were married in 2002, and in 2006 they decided to move to the south, to Oryol, ”Christensen’s co-religionists wrote. In Orel, according to them, he was engaged in construction as an individual entrepreneur and equipped the playground in the yard of his house.

Who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

The founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the American farmer Charles Taze Russell: in the early 1870s, he organized the movement of Bible Researchers, and in 1881, the Watchtower of Zion. After his death in 1916, Joseph Rutherford became the head of the society of the tower, who in 1931 renamed him Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As the sociologist and researcher of religion Roman Lunkin notes , Rutherford “concentrated in his hands enormous power, organized the structure of the movement and organized the work of the apparatus. It is to him that the idea belongs that Jehovah expresses his will through a strictly hierarchical and essentially authoritarian governing corporation. ”

The foundation of the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses is strict monotheism. The adepts of the movement insist that there is only one god, Jehovah. “Jehovahism is the solution to the problem of salvation in its most rigid and consistent form, in the form of creating an organization, the execution of the laws of which already guarantees salvation. In Jehovah, the dream of many of a strictly organized order awaiting the end of the world is embodied. This is a teaching without compromise, but without the painful questions about the immortality of the soul and the trinity of God, ”writes Lunkin. He describes the organization of the “Witnesses” as “party” with total control and discipline.

Artem Zhukov , a professor at Trans-Baikal State University, a religious scholar, wrote that Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine of God is “dual in nature”: during the first sermon, it is spoken of as merciful, and later it becomes “irreconcilable, not forgiving, jealous god of revenge, seeking to destroy everything that does not agree with the policies of the organization. ” At the same time, adherents of dogma insist that the Bible must be read in the only correct translation – Jehovistic.

In August 2017, the Vyborg City Court recognized as an extremist material a translation of the Bible, made by Jehovah’s Witnesses, published under the title “Holy Scripture. Translation of the New World. As the Sova Analytical Center noted , the linguistic religious forensic examination of the case was carried out by experts of the autonomous non-profit organization Center for Socio-Cultural Expertise. Experts from this center are known to have carried out research on several high-profile cases – for example, in the case of the Karelian historian Yury Dmitriev and the case of the punk prayer service Pussy Riot . “Owl” stressed that the book was recognized as extremist despite the law , which prohibits recognizing as such the sacred writings of religions and their fragments.

In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to Lunkin, “have occupied the niche of one of the most popular Christian-Christian movements in the past.” The first communities were created in the 1920s; in the Soviet Union, the activity of the movement was banned, many of its followers were repressed or sent to Central Asia. Representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses say that there are more than 175,000 of them in Russia today.

“The activity will definitely continue”

“Muzzle to the floor, riot policemen are working,” the bailiff mumbles with a smile as Christensen is led along the corridor of the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Orel. Monday afternoon, the trial looks deserted. In a low building on Maxim Gorky Street, two vessels are located at once – in addition to Zheleznodorozhny, also Soviet, and the local FSSP office. Courts on the second floor: on the left – Zheleznodorozhny, on the right – Soviet.

According to the investigation, Christensen was the “actual leader” of the Orel community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which the regional court recognized on June 14, 2016, was extremist and liquidated. He coordinated and coordinated his actions with the “Management Center”, received from him religious literature and “special forms for the designation of refusal of medical intervention.” The prosecution believes that the literature and forms Christensen distributed “in order to involve in an extremist organization” new adherents. In addition, the Dane disposed of the property of the community and organized the collection of money, the investigation is confident, and also gave instructions to transfer them to bank accounts. The total amount amounted to almost 64 thousand rubles.

“Using his authority as the spiritual leader of the followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses” <…> Christensen personally determined the personal composition of speakers at religious services according to the topics recommended by higher organizations, explaining the features of covering topics in order to increase the psychological effect on others <…>, to convince them of correctness and the indisputability of the actions of the leaders of the “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia” <…>, including by encouraging the rupture of kinship and family relations with persons who are not Followers of the doctrine, ”the indictment says.

Christensen is also charged with organizing “Witness” meetings. The indictment mentions three meetings – February 19 and 26, as well as May 25, 2017. All meetings of the adepts were held in the “hall of kingdoms” on Zheleznodorozhny. Thus, at the divine service on February 19, the congregation sang songs and prayed to Jehovah; at the same time, the divine service “contained statements”, in which “persons who are not followers of religious studies, as well as state bodies and local self-government” were negatively evaluated. At the same meeting on February 26, the advantage of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in relation to other religions was discussed, the investigation wrote.

The meeting on May 25, which was organized by Christensen, did not take place as a result – the criminal actions of the Dane “were stopped” as a result of a search with which officers of the FSB came to the “kingdom hall”. The search continued until five the next morning.

The house in which Jehovah’s Witnesses gathered was located in the private sector, a ten-minute walk from the Oryol station. To get there, you need to turn into one of the small lanes from Moscow street, and then go down the road from the rubble. The “Hall of Kingdoms” stands out among other houses – unlike them, this small one-story building stands in the depth of a plot fenced off by a brown fence. Behind him is a lawn and flowers. On the day of the visit of the Mediazone correspondent in July, the gates of the house were closed.

Christensen’s lawyer Anton Bogdanov says that the case is based on the testimony of a secret witness and video recordings of the meetings. The secret witness “Alexey Petrovich Yermolov” (his name completely coincides with the name of General Yermolov ) was interrogated in early June. During the interrogation, he was in a separate court room, those present in the hall could only hear his changed voice. Yermolov explained that he started attending meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2016. Then Christensen was introduced to him as an elder in the region. At meetings, he was advised to maintain “normal relations” with the state, but not to cooperate – not to participate in elections and not to serve in the army.

“Yermolov” basically repeated the theses of the indictment. According to him, the “Witnesses” literature was brought from Belarus, but in 2015 it became difficult, therefore, believers were recommended to download it from the Internet. He mentioned that the forbidden literature (now in the federal list of extremist materials there are more than 30 brochures and issues of the Watchtower magazine) “underwent a little processing, for example, the name was changed.” “Yermolov” added that the Orlov “Jehovah’s Witnesses” were recommended to invest in the passport a “leaf” – the same form of refusal to transfuse blood. According to him, members of the community followed the process of banning “Jehovah’s Witnesses” both in the Oryol regional court and in the Supreme Court of Russia.

“However, the issue of stopping the work of the Oryol organization has never been discussed. It was unequivocally said that the organization would continue to work in any case, accepting, of course, some secret rules, ”he said in a deaf mechanical voice. Among the conspiratorial rules were on duty at the gate of the house of worship and on the territory of the site.

“Yermolov” claimed that the members of the community communicated exclusively among themselves, and with family members who were not followers of “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, the communication was recommended to be stopped (followers of this doctrine are often blamed for this). If the Jehovah’s Witness decided to leave the organization, it was a “social death,” said a secret witness. Such a person was considered dead and no longer in contact with him.

After the decision to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses – Eagle entered into force in October 2016, the witness recalled, the community decided to meet as before: therefore, on the contrary, it is necessary to fulfill your religious duties with great zeal. ”

In fact, lawyer Anton Bogdanov suggests, the identity of Yermolov is no secret to anyone – this is Oleg Gennadyevich Kurdyumov. “I am not a witness to confirm anything. Based on our position and case materials, video analysis, video filming, which was conducted, we can state this with sufficient confidence. Logically, this conclusion follows from the case materials, ”says Bogdanov. His petition for declassifying “Yermolov” was dismissed.

Kurdyumov’s name is mentioned in the case file – he was interrogated as a witness. “In addition, as we believe, he was interrogated under a fictitious pseudonym. This artificial split-up of witnesses happened to confuse the defense, ”the lawyer said. The site of the Russian State Library states that Oleg Kurdyumov is the author of the book “Peculiarities of the Ideological Confrontation of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Heresy of the Heresy in the 19th Century (based on the materials of the State Archive of the Oryol Region)”. He is also listed as a history teacher at the Turgenev Orlovsky State University. The website of the university saysthat Kurdyumov actively participates in the “Orel Church and Archeological Society” and the non-commercial partnership “Orthodox Theological Society.” On his page “VKontakte” he puts memes about historical figures.

Why was Jehovah’s Witnesses banned in Russia?

The “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses” – the head organization of the adherents of this doctrine – was recognized by the Supreme Court of Russia as extremist and liquidated in April 2017. Some local communities were recognized as extremist even earlier; the first was the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taganrog, it was banned in 2009. In the criminal case on participation in the activities of the Taganrog community , 16 believers were held : four of them were accused of organizing the activities of an extremist community, and the remaining 12 were accused of continuing the activities of this community (Article 282.2, part 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code). In addition, four “organizers” were also accused of involving minors in criminal activity (part 4 of article 150 of the Criminal Code).

In 2014, the Taganrog City Court sentenced the case. Seven people were convicted, having received terms from five to five and a half years in prison and were released due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Three more received fines, the court also released them from payment. Nine people were acquitted. A few months later, the Rostov Regional Court overturned this decision and sent the case for new consideration; in 2017, the criminal case was closed .

The decision of the Supreme Court to ban the “Administrative Center” states that over the past seven years, facts of extremist activity have been established annually both by the “Administrative Center” itself and its structural subdivisions. The court considers the liquidation of the center as “proportionate and necessary” intervention in a democratic and legal state, since it “ensures the elimination of the violation of rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of an indefinite circle of persons”.

The Ministry of Justice, which initiated the ban, pointed out that the materials distributed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, provoke religious discord and promote “exclusivity, superiority and inferiority of citizens on the basis of their attitude to religion.” The “Management Center”, which, according to the Ministry of Justice, led the importation of literature and coordinated the work of the communities, did not take any action to eliminate “the causes and conditions of extremist activity”.

The “management center” insisted that it had nothing to do with extremist activities. The organization believes that the ban violates the constitutional rights of citizens, namely the right to freedom of religion and association. “Jehovah’s Witnesses” stressed that the decision of the Supreme Court “is not a justifiable measure, does not pursue a legitimate aim, and is not necessary.” Immediately after the ban, Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, and the court accepted their complaint.

“All this is in the minds of church propagandists”
Anton Chivchalov, a 39-year-old author of the Bible Corner blog and a 20-year-old Jehovah’s writer, argues that local communities do not have a leader as such, and elders only deal with organizational issues. All meetings, he notes, are held according to a specific program adopted for Witnesses around the world. Chivchalov insists that the elders do not control the life of believers and do not force them to break the connection with their families.

According to him, until the end of the 1990s in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses were treated calmly, but then the campaign to demonize believers began: “NTV is the main locomotive of anti-hysteria in Russia. They shoot absolutely crazy some reports, blood, axes. They show a video series that is absolutely not connected [with us], where people are raging, waving their hands. And they serve it all against the backdrop of sinister music. People work professionally to slander believers, ”Chivchalov insists. In fact, he continues, there are no “horrors”: neither the selection of real estate, nor the destruction of families.

The same thing Chivchalov says about the ban on blood transfusions. He explains that this is an “ancient ban,” but today, thanks to blood substitutes, it does not prevent Jehovah’s Witnesses from being treated. “That is, all this is in words, on anti-sectarian sites, in the heads of church propagandists. There is nothing at the level of facts. We treat ourselves with pleasure, ”the blogger concludes.

Chivchalov calls the ban of the “Management Center” in Russia “multi-purpose”, which has lasted since 2009. At first, the courts began to recognize the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremist, then, he argues, security officials began to throw it into local communities, which became the basis for the elimination of these communities. As a result, the Ministry of Justice accused the “Administrative Center” of the fact that its leaders “did not take sufficient measures to prevent the storage of extremist literature” and banned the entire organization and the communities included in its structure.

“Now, on the basis of this, you can imprison all who consider themselves to be Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the blogger concludes.

* all translations provided on JWBulletin.com are for information purposes only and are sourced from automated translation services.  These are not checked for accuracy.  To ensure accuracy, please refer to the original language text.

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