For Immediate Release
September 8, 2003
Annual conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses
disrupted and canceled in Russia
STAVROPOL, Russia—On the morning of August 29, 2003, the annual three-day convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses opened at the Culture and Sports Palace stadium in the city of Stavropol. Hundreds of families present for the peaceful convention were stunned to see police officers enter the stadium, force their way onto the stage, push the speaker aside, and order all in attendance to leave the premises. At the same time, city and police officials outside attempted to prevent anyone from entering the stadium, causing confusion for the 1,300 in attendance. The following day, entrances to the stadium were locked, and arriving delegates were ordered to go home, thus forcing cancellation of the convention.
One week earlier, August 22, 2003, a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russian sign language was scheduled in Stavropol. However, city officials and police officers repeatedly demanded that local sign-language congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses cancel the event. In an effort to disrupt the convention, the electricity and the water supply to the convention facilities were shut off for periods of time on August 22 and 23.
In July of this year, a district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Pyatigorsk was disrupted by police, forcing its cancellation. Arriving delegates found the entrances to the convention site blocked by police. Over the next three days, up to 10,000 delegates—including the elderly and little children—came each morning to the stadium but found the gates locked. Thousands stood for hours waiting in vain for the gates to be opened. Because of this interference, no one could gain access to the stadium, and it was impossible to hold the convention.
Similar incidents of disrupting conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses have occurred before in the Stavropol Territory, in the town of Nezlobnaya in 2001 and in the city of Georgiyevsk in 2000. Since there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to clarify the situation with local officials in the Stavropol Territory, there is no indication that officials will cease disrupting conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees the right to freedom of conscience and religious confession, which includes the right to peaceful assembly for worship. There are over 130,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.
Contact: J. R. Brown, (718) 560-5600