For Immediate Release
October 30, 2001
Representative of Orthodox Church to testify against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow trial
MOSCOW—In a dramatic first day of the retrial aimed at banning Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow, the court agreed to hear testimony from Alexander Dvorkin, whom Prosecutor Tatyana Kondratyeva identified as “a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church.” Galina Krylova, a prominent Russian lawyer, objected to the court’s hearing from representatives of any other faith, saying: “We are not here to discuss religious beliefs.”
Earlier, Judge Vera Dubinskaya refused several defense motions. Defense lawyer Artur Leontyev argued that after six years of criminal and legal proceedings, the trial should be halted “because under international law of double jeopardy, it is not possible to be tried twice for the same offense.”
John Burns, a Canadian human rights lawyer, pointed out: “In the eyes of the European Court of Human Rights, this is a criminal case because it carries a severe penalty. Should the prosecution win, Jehovah’s Witnesses will be denied fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to hold religious gatherings and the right to import religious literature.” He added: “The prosecutor is asking the court to ban what the European Court has already classified as a ‘known religion.’” In response, Kondratyeva insisted: “We do not intend to judge individual beliefs. Our aim is to ban the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a legal entity.”
An application is before both the Supreme Court in Russia and the European Court of Human Rights to review the appellate Moscow City Court’s ordering of a retrial. Judge Dubinskaya refused a motion to suspend the trial pending the outcome of these two court hearings.
The previous trial spanned two years, concluding on February 23, 2001. After 35 days in court, during which time 45 witnesses testified and 2,740 pages of testimony was recorded, all charges filed by the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office against Jehovah’s Witnesses were dismissed by Judge Yelena Prokhorycheva because of a lack of evidence.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of a constitutional law in Russia that rehabilitated Jehovah’s Witnesses who were victims of religious oppression under Soviet rule. One of those victims, Vasilii Kalin, who is chairman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and who was present at today’s hearing, said: “The accusations in this trial are starkly similar in tone and content to those made in the Stalin era 50 years ago, when my family and more than 9,000 others were exiled to Siberia for publicly talking about the Bible.”
Contact: J. R. Brown (718) 560-5600