For Immediate Release
May 31, 2001
Moscow judges order retrial
MOSCOW, RUSSIA—On Wednesday, May 30, it took less than three hours for three judges in the Moscow City Court to order a retrial in a protracted case that threatens to ban the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. Contrary to some reports, this decision does not constitute a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses.
All charges filed by the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office against Jehovah’s Witnesses were dismissed on February 23, 2001, by Judge Yelena Prokhorycheva because of a lack of evidence in a trial that had lasted two years. Attempts to ban the religion in Moscow have been in progress since 1995. The same charges, brought by the same people, have been dismissed on five occasions. Yet, the Golovinsky District Court is being ordered to hear the case once again. John Burns, human rights lawyer for the defense, described the decision of the appeal judges as “an example of extreme judicial harassment against a religious minority.” He added: “Since there exists no evidence to substantiate the charges, the whole process is entrenched in an endless cycle of retrials.”
Galina Krylova, lawyer for the defense, expressed surprise at the decision. However, she said, “The track record of Moscow courts has been to consistently delay hearings on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ re-registration applications under the 1997 law on religious freedom. Today’s judgment is just another episode in the stalling process.”
The appeal judges promised a written judgment in one month. Burns warned: “We will evaluate their reasons and determine whether there is a case to answer in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.” Vladimir Tumanov, the first Russian judge of the European Court of Human Rights, has gone on record as reminding the Russian judiciary that the Strasbourg court has passed a number of rulings protecting Jehovah’s Witnesses, as reported by the Kommersant-Daily on March 15, 2001.
The Russian newspaper, Nazavisimaya Gazeta, January 31, 2001, said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses occupy fourth place among Russian religions.” There are an estimated 280,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and associates in Russia. More than 10,000 of those Witnesses live in Moscow.
Contact: J.R. Brown (718) 560-5600