February 15, 1999
Following weekend recess, the hearing settled down with defence continuing its questions of prosecutor on remaining issues in Amended Complaint of 15 January 1999. Questions considered allegations of coercion to destroy family, inclination to commit suicide, infringement on personal rights and luring teenagers and minor children into the religious organization.
Prosecutor’s answers wandered from her disagreement with religious doctrine to her opinions as to traditional holidays that should be celebrated by Russian citizens. For example, she alleged that Jehovah’s Witnesses contributed to destruction of families because they do not celebrate traditional holidays such as New Year’s and Orthodox Christmas. She stated these were generally accepted as common to all progressive humankind. Later in the day, however, she admitted that Russian law did not require an atheist to celebrate Christmas.
The prosecutor claimed that the religious teaching of Armageddon by Jehovah’s Witnesses caused mass psychosis. She had no specific evidence at that point to support the claim but would rely on later testimony of witnesses. Prosecutor further claimed the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses cause psychological damage but could not cite a single example of such damage.
Throughout the questions, it was apparent that the prosecutor’s case was primarily based on selective gleanings from religious literature or internal forms used by congregations or the Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, she alleged that the arrangement for individual Witnesses to serve in the religious administrative centre (“Bethel”) violated Russia’s labour laws. She referred to an application form that requires members to live by the rules of the religious order. On questionning, she admitted that she had never visited Bethel or interviewed any of the members. Her criticisms were based only on reading the application.
In the Amended Complaint, she also asserted that the “organization disorients youth in their choice of their future” and “deprives children from normal rest and emotional joys.” On cross-examination, she admitted that she had never talked to any adults or young persons who had been reared by parents who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her claim was founded on her interpretation of literature and what critics of Jehovah’s Witnesses have told her.
Among the reasons given by the prosecutor for the need to order a government ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, the prosecutor stated that speaking about the possibility of government bans at the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses “incites fear” among believers.
Toward the day’s end, defence counsel asked the prosecutor, ‘what activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses do you want this court to ban?’ She refused to give a straight answer. After some argument between the defence, the judge and the prosecutor, the judge directed that she answer the next day-Tuesday, 16 February 1999. Court adjourned at 5:00 p.m.
On 16 February, court will hear submissions from defence counsel as to the case put forward by the prosecution to date.