February 25, 1999
The day began with the court approving a new lawyer to represent the Moscow City Department of Justice. (Earlier, the court declined to approve the lawyer Sergiyenko as representative for this department. Sergiyenko had a conflict. She had previously represented the Committee for Rescuing Youth from Totalitarian Sects, which had been dismissed from the case two weeks earlier.) The new representative for the Moscow City Department of Justice said little. She listened and began to familiarize herself with the file.
A.P. Savinkin was the first witness for the prosecution. He has been an active member of the Committee for Rescuing Youth from Totalitarian Sects since December 1997. Savinkin complained that his 7-year old son was suffering because the mother, Natasha Nikishina, became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Savinkin and Nikishina previously had a relationship, which ended before Nikishina began associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses. On separation, Savinkin had agreed to the mother having custody. He admitted to a number of conflicts with the mother during this time, including incidents involving physical force. He had signed a statement promising to stop using physical force on the mother. He had pointed what he described as a ‘toy gun’ at the mother in the presence of the child. In the spring of 1998, Savinkin went to court and successfully obtained custody of his son, primarily on the basis that Nikishina was now associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was upheld on appeal and now Nikishina has applied to the European Court of Human Rights. (See this website for copy of the mother’s application to the European Court.) Savinkin testified that all the problems experienced by his son, including declining eyesight and skin infection, were due to his son’s past exposure to the religious teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He claimed that his son was unable to sleep during a thunderstorm because he was afraid of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teaching of Armageddon. When asked about Nikishina’s present efforts to associate with her son, Savinkin admitted he only permitted this under his supervision. Without commenting on the merits of Nikishina’s appeal, the judge reminded Savinkin of the need for his son to communicate with his mother.
The next witness was A.A. Losev, a former member of the military. He also participated in the Committee for Rescuing Youth From Totalitarian Sects and had testified in a previous court about Jehovah’s Witnesses. He complained that the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses broke up his family. His adult son, formerly a member of the military, had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses along with his wife. His son’s psyche changed. He no longer celebrated traditional holidays and was working as an errand boy. His son wouldn’t communicate with him. He also alleged that Jehovah’s Witnesses were undermining the strength of the military in Russia by their preaching. They were a greater danger to national security than the previous wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. He believed Jehovah’s Witnesses were a fascist organization financed by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States. The court asked Losev if he had tried to communicate with his son. He answered, ‘ No, it wouldn’t save him.’
Prosecution then asked Y.A. Zhuravloyov to testify. He began his testimony by emphasizing that he and his wife divorced in 1991, before she became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. His wife obtained custody of the two children, a son and daughter. Later, his wife and children began to associate with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He added that he would have obtained a divorce much earlier if he had known that she would become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He complained that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate in traditional holidays and activities of the Russian Orthodox Church. He particularly was upset that his daughter, when 15 years of age, carried on her person an “Identity Card” which requested doctors to contact her mother about alternatives to blood transfusion. He was upset that his daughter was now attending teacher’s college because, in his view, she was doing so only to preach to students. He explained that if he was a parent and found out that a teacher was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he would demand her immediate dismissal. Zhuravlyov also admitted to being a participant in the Committee for Rescuing Youth from Totalitarian Sects for several years. He urged that something be done about all these religions that were not in Russia before perestroika. He didn’t know that Jehovah’s Witnesses had been present in Russia since at least 1917.
The prosecution’s last witness was Y. Slobodenyuk. He complained Jehovah’s Witnesses broke up his family. His former spouse became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses 7 years previously. They had 4 children. He blamed the divorce and all his family problems on this religion. He stated Jehovah’s Witnesses have no love for their motherland and believe Satan controls modern society (Slobodenyuk was formerly a paratrooper in the military). His children were suffering in school because of their involvement with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He also testified that his former wife claims that he is aggressive, which is a “wild lie” (The judge had to ask him to calm down at least twice during his testimony). On cross-examination, he was asked about his violence toward his wife. He defended himself stating that he slapped her once and she created the problem. As for the Committee for Rescuing Youth from Totalitarian Sects, they helped him many times.