JW Bulletin

Jehovah's Witnesses in the Media

Translation: Медиазона – 26th April 2017

Медиазона – 26th April 2017


“Extremists. Who are they? What do they believe in? ” Will they start planting Jehovah’s Witnesses after the decision of the Supreme Court?

On April 20, the Supreme Court decided to liquidate and recognize the “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia” as an extremist organization. Now any public activity of adherents of this creed will become illegal, and the property of the organization will be confiscated in favor of the state. Mediazone explains what threatens Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses.

From Alexander III to Alexander Konovalov

In Russia, the followers of the creed of Jehovah’s Witnesses appeared in the reign of Alexander III; The first mention of the organization in Russia dates back to 1887. Soon, in the framework of the missionary tour of Europe , American Christian Russell, founder of dogma, visited Odessa; in 1913, Jehovah’s Witnesses, then known as Bible Students, were officially registered in the Russian Empire.

By the Soviet period, “Witnesses” were a fairly large movement, which attracted the attention of the authorities, says Roman Lunkin, a leading researcher at the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society at the Institute of Europe, RAS, sociologist of religion. In the spring of 1951, the USSR Ministry of State Security conducted Operation North on the mass relocation of Witnesses to Siberia and Central Asia. In the early 1990s, under President Boris Yeltsin, all the deported followers of the organization received the status of victims of political repression and were rehabilitated.

Since then, Jehovah’s Witnesses have not been subjected to serious harassment or discrimination until 2009, when a campaign began to declare their literature extremist and liquidate regional organizations. The Ministry of Justice was then headed by Alexander Konovalov, who received a theological education at the Orthodox St. Tikhon University; He holds this post today.

“Many believe that the prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Justice led all to the Supreme Court,“ accumulating ”cases. This was a good reason [for filing a lawsuit], ”Lunkin argues.

The head of the Sova Analytical Center, Alexander Verkhovsky, in an interview with Vedomosti, suggested that the security forces might be behind the rout of the Svitedely: “Most likely, the security forces are behind this, the ROC would not have had enough opportunities to lobby for such a multi-year campaign. Perhaps the role was played by someone’s personal prejudices and the fact that it’s safe to chase the Witnesses, because they are not radicalized: they will not even go to the rally, but will behave like nothing has happened and it turned out to be convenient. Local prosecutors made themselves accountable for their prohibition. However, it is not clear why the matter should be brought to liquidation. ”

What exactly banned the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court recognized as extremist and liquidated the “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses” – a centralized organization that performed administrative functions. Together with the center, 395 local communities that were part of the organization are banned.

How many Jehovah’s Witnesses are in Russia?

The “Jehovah’s Witnesses” themselves cite data of 175 thousand people. According to a member of the expert council at the Ministry of Justice, Roman Silantyev, this belief is practiced by 165 thousand Russians.

Now they will be prosecuted against them?

Maybe. If the “Witnesses”, as before, continue to gather for joint prayer and Bible study, they are unlikely to refuse it. Such a case was already in Taganrog, where the court recognized the local community as an extremist organization. Believers did not stop their meetings, and a criminal case was opened against them. 16 court Taganrog “Jehovah’s Witnesses” sentenced to fines and suspended sentences.

Is there extremism?

Initially, several brochures and issues of Jehovah’s Witnesses magazines were banned – the federal list of extremist materials mentioned the brochures “Jehovah’s Witnesses: Who are they? What do they believe in? ”, The book“ What does the Bible really teach? ”, As well as dozens of issues of the Watchtower and Awake! Magazines. The decision to ban them was made on the grounds that the literature asserts the superiority of the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses over other religions, explains Olga Sibireva, an expert of the Sova Center. After the decisions of the courts, members of the organization voluntarily removed prohibited books and brochures from their libraries.

“But any religion by definition implies that if a person chooses a religion, he considers it the only true one – according to the same principle, all other religions can be banned, and any believer can be convicted as an extremist. The ban on brochures was completely unlawful, just like the recognition of an extremist organization — these people did not call for violence, they did not accept it. Their creed does not involve violence, and there is no indication that we usually consider extremism. Extremism and Jehovah’s Witnesses – it would be funny if it were not so sad, ”says Sibireva.

And if you find?

According to the federal law “On Countering Extremist Activities,” when a religious organization is banned, all its property is subject to confiscation and appeal in favor of the state. According to Olga Sibireva, we are talking about prayer houses (the so-called “Kingdom Halls”) and the property of the “Management Center” itself – in particular, its branch in the village of Solnechnoye near St. Petersburg.

“Here, in each case, you need to understand: it happens that the property is registered in a religious organization, somewhere a formal person is officially the owner. He was the owner of the building and gave it to his community. In this situation, they can and will be able to save something, ”the expert says.

A member of the governing committee of the “Management Center”, Yaroslav Sivulsky, after the end of the hearings in the Supreme Court, said that the complex in Solnechniy had already been stoned and the windows were broken . “From the regions we receive reports that they are already sealing some of our liturgical buildings. For example, in the Crimea, the police came to the liturgical building right yesterday, interrupted the meeting, sealed the hall, ”he said.

Do you respect me?

Although the federal law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” indicates more than a dozen grounds for terminating the activities of a religious organization, in the Supreme Court, representatives of the Justice Ministry insisted only on the extremist nature of the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They said that the statements of Jehovah’s Witnesses about the banned literature were proclaimed that the “Administrative Center” “does not repent of extremist activity”, and in the texts of dogma there are “impermissibly insulting ways of expressing the truth of their beliefs”.

A former member of the “Witnesses” Pavel Zverev, summoned by the Justice Ministry to court, said that under the influence of their literature, he “felt hatred for the priests of the Orthodox religion.”

Finally, the Ministry of Justice considered it “cynical” the fact that “in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses the word” extremist “(applied to the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses) is quoted.

The Justice Ministry also raised the issue of blood transfusion – Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently refused to transfuse whole blood, or its individual components. According to the representative of the department Svetlana Borisova, this ban creates a threat to human life.

Card Hall of Realms

The “Management Center” is a centralized organization that coordinates the work of all the communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses (according to the center itself, there are 395 local organizations registered in Russia). She conducts administrative work, “as a synod in the Russian Orthodox Church,” explains Olga Sibireva. At the same time, there is no hierarchical structure for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Together with the liquidation of the centralized organization, that is, the “Management Center”, local communities should also be closed.

According to the Sova Center report , in 2016, five communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses were liquidated – in Stary Oskol, Belgorod, Elista, Orel and Birobidzhan; at least seven more organizations received warnings from the prosecutor’s office on the inadmissibility of extremist activity. A year earlier, the community in Abinsk of the Krasnodar Territory was recognized as an extremist organization , and all in the list of the Ministry of Justice appear eight regional organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which are recognized as extremist and prohibited.

In 2004, the Moscow community of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” court denied registration and banned its activities. Six years later, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the complaint of the members of the organization: in Strasbourg, they found the decision of the Russian court illegal and awarded the applicants compensation of 70 thousand euros. Soon the registration was resumed.

Roman Lunkin, a sociologist of religion, considers the mechanism of prohibiting local communities to be dubious. Initially, under the pretext of implementing anti-extremist legislation, the numbers of the Watchtower were banned, he explains. Then, the forbidden literature was found in one of the members of the community or in the prayer house, although the “Witnesses” themselves insisted that the security forces threw it . In the end, the local organization was accused of distributing extremist literature and was liquidated on this basis.

The main rule of Jehovah’s Witness is not to talk about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

After the decision of the Supreme Court, any follower of dogma in Russia can become a person involved in the criminal case on extremism; the occasion in this case may be formal. In 2015, 16 members of the local community were convicted in Taganrog for continuing the activities of an extremist organization banned by the court (Article 282.2, part 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code) – the investigation insisted that four community leaders, knowing about the ban on the organization, continued its activities.

Olga Sibireva from “Owl” notes that to initiate proceedings there can be a rather private talk of the “Jehovah’s Witness” about the Bible “about which someone will report”, or if a group of 5-10 people will come together.

The expert is perplexed: “People who prohibit a religious organization believe that if they banned it, then the believers are no longer believers, they no longer need to pray, including joint prayers, and so on. But the believers do not stop doing this, do not stop believing, do not stop preaching, because this is part of their mission – spreading the word of God as they see fit. ”

* 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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