For Immediate Release
March 12, 1999
Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses lose
places of worship as Moscow trial continues
Nearly one fifth of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow have lost their houses of worship since a civil case was brought against them in September. While no verdict has been reached in the case, which is an attempt to ban the Christian faith in Moscow, Jehovah’s Witnesses are already suffering the effects of an atmosphere of religious intolerance.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have lost leases on three houses of worship in Moscow, affecting some 2,000 worshipers, in ten congregations. In each case, landlords told church members they were pressured to deny leases to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The congregations affected are now sharing facilities used by other congregations.
“This has caused quite a hardship on our worshipers,” said church member Dmitri Bojevsky. “They must travel one hour each way to attend services. We have been looking for a place closer to where everyone lives but have been unable to find one.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses, who practiced their faith underground for decades during the Soviet regime, say they will adjust to the loss of their houses of worship. However, it is troubling to many that this legally registered religion is facing such harassment.
“Unfortunately, even before this trial is over, Jehovah’s Witnesses are being punished over a case with no verdict and no evidence,” said Vasilii Kalin, director of the Witnesses’ Administrative Center in St. Petersburg. “Guilt or innocence is not an issue anymore. Blatant intolerance is the real problem.”
The civil case against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow, which was brought by an anti-sect group with ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, is the first court test of Russia’s new law on religion. The case started on September 29, 1998, and has been postponed twice. The case most recently resumed on February 9, 1999, and another postponement is expected this week. The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office has come under heavy criticism by human rights leaders, foreign government officials, Russian officials, and journalists for its shoddy prosecution tactics and lack of evidence.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been present in Russia for more than a century, and they have nearly 10,000 practicing members in Moscow. Thousands of others attend their services.
A summary of each day’s court proceedings can be found at www.jw-media.org , along with detailed background information on the trial and on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses, visit www.watchtower.org.
Contact: J.R. Brown (718) 560-5600