February 16, 1999
As people began to assemble outside the small Moscow court room, regular observers noted something new. There was a delegation of priests from the Russian Orthodox Church, together with four Russian Orthodox Military. Several lady members of the church also lined up, reading prayers and holding icons. All were polite, orderly and keenly interested in the religious trial of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The hearing resumed with the defence asking, ‘what activities are included in the prosecution’s request for a ban?’ Prosecutor Kondtratyeva stated the ban would include public preaching, distribution of literature and religious meetings to the extent the meetings violate Russian law. (Since use of religious literature is integral to meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the ban must include prohibition of community worship.)
The next stage of the process, response by the defence, began. Defence attorney Artur Leontev took the court through many publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses, reading the religious references in context. He explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, as all religions do, they have the true religion, but teach the need for religious tolerance and family unity. On the issue of refusing blood transfusions, he read medical statements, prepared by Russian doctors, stating that Witnesses’ choice of nonblood alternatives must be respected and cannot be considered to be suicide or refusal of medical treatment as a whole. He also pointed to the risks of AIDS and heptatis from blood transfusions and the value of recognized alternatives. On the matter of civil obligations, he drew attention to court decisions from Russian courts acknowledging that the Constitution protects the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to choose alternative civilian service in lieu of military service.
During his presentation, Leontyev relied on no less than five separate scientific studies prepared by leading Russian academics in religious studies, law, hematology, and psychiatry that together refute each of the prosecutor’s claims regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses.
As Canadian lawyer John Burns rose to start his summation, the prosecutor again requested the court deny him participation as a foreigner. The court disagreed. Burns began by requesting the court consider the prosecution’s request for a religious inquiry in light of the European Court’s decision in Manousakkis. In deciding that Article 9 of the Convention protected the religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the European court stated:
The right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Convention excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate.
Burns argued the complaint reveals an effort to turn the prosecution into a doctrinal inquiry, the purpose of which is to determine whether the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses are legitimate. Such inquiry would violate the guarantee of religious freedom.
Burns continued: “Would Jesus Christ be prosecuted if he preached in Moscow?” He referred to several passages from the Gospels, showing that many of the prosecution’s complaints could easily be applied to Jesus. In John 8:44, 45, he severely criticized religious leaders, saying that they were from their “father the Devil.” At Matthew 15:2-9, he condemned traditions contrary to God’s Word. In Luke 18:15,16, he invited young children to come to him. Was he ‘luring teenagers and minor children into Christianity?’, Burns urged the court to protect religious freedom for all Russian citizens, including those of the Russian Orthodox Church. This required dismissal of the prosecution’s request for a religious inquiry.
Galina Krylova ended the day with an impassioned speech. She emphasized that the prosecution had not produced any evidence whatsoever to support its claim, only disagreements with religious ideology. The prosecution had never attended any meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It had never visited the religious centere in Solnechnoye. Its assertions were founded on ignorance, not facts.
Krylova then retraced the banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany and their exile to Siberia during Soviet times. Referring to archival documents, she showed the justification for religious oppression of this minority by the Nazi’s and the totalitarian Soviet state was the same as that advanced by today’s prosecutor. “I am ashamed as a Russian citizen to hear what this prosecutor is requesting of this court in 1999.”
In conclusion, Krylova declared that “one’s faith will not die by order of the prosecutor. This trial is dangerous for Russian society.”
Tomorrow, the prosecutor will have opportunity to ask questions of the defence.