For Immediate Release
February 18, 1999
Prosecutor is a “no show” at Moscow human rights trial
The prosecutor’s office sent a fax to the judge 45 minutes after today’s session in the trial of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow was to begin, saying that they could not send a representative to court. It was signed by A.V. Viktorov, chief prosecutor for the Northern Administrative Circuit. While expressing concern over the need for a speedy trial, Judge Yelena Prokhorycheva allowed a recess until 10 a.m. Monday.
The trial was already postponed in November 1998 to allow the prosecution two months to gather evidence. “The accusations against us are simply not true,” said Vasilii Kalin, director of the Witnesses’ Administrative Center in St. Petersburg. “We are concerned that this delay is just another excuse to manufacture evidence through a smear campaign.”
On Wednesday, the prosecutor questioned the defense on the evidence presented Tuesday. Most of the prosecutor’s questions were on obscure points of doctrine or church procedure and were not allowed by the judge. The prosecutor again on Wednesday asked the judge to excuse herself for bias in behalf of the defense.
The prosecution seems to have thought that Jehovah’s Witnesses should be banned just because the prosecution wants it, said A.V. Leontyev, with the defense team. “We have yet to see real evidence from them at the trial.”
This trial is the first time the 1997 Russian Federation law on religion is being tested in court. Many human rights groups and other governments see the trial as a test of freedom of religion and belief in Russia. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been in Russia for more than 100 years.
Background information on the trial and on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia can be found at www.jw-media.org. For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses, visit www.watchtower.org.
Contact: J.R. Brown (718) 560-5600