Sent: Friday, February 16, 2001 9:00 PM
Subject: KNS RUSSIA: Prosecutor calls for ban on Jehovah's Witnesses

KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 16 February 2001

WITNESS BAN. At court hearings in Moscow over whether the Jehovah's
Witnesses should be allowed to function, the prosecutor called for the
closure of the group in the Russian capital and a countrywide ban on its
activity. One of the Jehovah's Witnesses' lawyers attacked this as a
'blatant example of infringement of the fundamental rights and freedoms
of Russian citizens` and warned of the danger of giving the courts
authority over religious belief.


by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

At the court hearings in Moscow -- which have resumed after a two-year
break -- over whether the Jehovah's Witnesses should be allowed to
function the prosecutor insisted she was seeking not only the closure of
the group
in the Russian capital but a countrywide ban on its activity. However,
one of the Jehovah's Witnesses' lawyers attacked the whole essence of the
case. `The prosecutor's action is a blatant example of infringement of
the fundamental rights and freedoms of Russian citizens, whose rights the
prosecutor's office is supposed to defend,' Galina Krylova told the
court. `The prosecutor is seeking to establish the precedence of the
court over
faith, which is dangerous in our multi-confessional country.' Krylova
told Keston News Service on 13 February that the case was `part of the
federal authorities' campaign against new religious movements'.

The civil case against the Jehovah's Witnesses -- which resumed at the
Golovinsky intermunicipal court on 6 February -- was launched by the
prosecutor of Moscow's Northern Administrative district in September
1998. It was suspended on 12 March 1999 to allow expert opinions on the
group's literature to be gathered (see KNS 26 March 1999). Of the five
specialists in religion, psychology and linguistics consulted, four
supported the prosecutor's accusations, while the fifth rejected them.
Jehovah's Witness lawyer Artur Leontiev argues this `takes the court
proceedings back to square one'.

The Moscow justice administration, which is a third party in the case,
supports the prosecutor. On 9 February Yelena Serebchuk of the justice
administration admitted the experts had not cited a single illegal
action, but stressed the Jehovah's Witnesses are a strong organisation
with a well organised system of preaching and attracting new members.
`Imagine what would happen if everybody in the country became Jehovah's
Witnesses,' Serebchuk appealed to the judges in an apparent reference to
the group's rejection of military service. `Who would defend the

Prosecutor Tatyana Kondratyeva called for the ban on the group's activity
across Russia in response to a question from the judge, Yelena
Prokhorycheva. Over 360 Jehovah's Witness congregations have official
registration in the country and on 29 April 1999 the Ministry of Justice
re- registered the group's Administrative Centre, citing the expert
opinion of the state religious studies commission, which Prokhorycheva
refused to admit as evidence.

Prokhorycheva also rejected the defence petition to admit as evidence a
survey of some 1000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow by the department of
sociology of the family at Moscow State University, which discovered the
faith had a positive influence on the stability of marriage. Jehovah's
Witnesses were tolerant towards those who do not share their convictions,
the survey found, and have a higher level of education than the city

The court also rejected an investigation of their literature by the
Institute of Russian Language of the Academy of Sciences, which refuted
the prosecutor's accusations.

On 13 February expert witness Mariya Gromyko, a chief scientific worker
of the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology of the Academy of
Sciences, who belongs to the Orthodox Church, claimed that Jehovah's
Witnesses' critical comments about Christian denominations kindle
religious discord. She argued that a minority cannot criticise the
majority as this leads to social destabilisation. However, Gromyko
confirmed that the expert opinion was based on extracts from Jehovah's
Witness publications and admitted the experts had not included positive
statements encouraging tolerance of all regardless of their religious

Expert witness, Viktor Belyanin, a doctor of philology, insisted the
group's doctrine does not correspond to that of the traditional faiths
listed in
the preamble to Russia's controversial 1997 religion law (which specifies
Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism). He added that `Jehovah' does
not appear in the Bible as a name of God, but conceded he had not read
the whole Bible. After conducting a linguistic analysis of Jehovah's
Witness texts, Belyanin discovered they contain 22% `light' vocabulary
and 22% `dark' vocabulary -- the remainder being neutral -- concluding
that overall their literature has a `negative effect' on the psyche.

On 14 February three more expert witnesses appeared. Sergei Nebolsin, a
sector head at the Institute of World Literature of the Academy of
Sciences, and Dmitri Leontiev, of the psychology faculty of Moscow State
University, echoed the earlier expert witnesses. But Sergei Ivanenko, a
religion specialist and consultant to the Federation Council, disagreed
with the prosecutor, claiming the other four expert witnesses went beyond
the bounds of science and expressed their own personal views. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.

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