March 5, 1999
Religion professor gives cult “expert” failing marks
A professor of religion and a notorious critic of minority faiths both testified in court today. At the close of court, several prominent Russians spoke at a press conference expressing their concern over the mockery of justice represented by this trial.
Professor N. S. Gordienko, doctor of philosophy and lecturer with the Religious Studies Department of A. I. Gertsen State Teachers’ Training University, was called by the defence. His critical analysis of the prosecution’s expert study of the theology of Jehovah’s Witness had previously been submitted into evidence. Professor Gordienko told the court that the charges against Jehovah’s Witnesses are ridiculous. “When the experts accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses for their teachings, they do not realize that they are actually making accusations against the Bible.”
A. L. Dvorkin, an employee of the Moscow Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and director of the anti-cult Center of Iraneus of Lyon, appeared as a prosecution witness. A letter prepared by Dvorkin on Jehovah’s Witnesses for the Department of Internal Affairs of the Moscow City Administration was examined. The judge asked Dvorkin what proof he had for the accusations in his letter. He rambled but could not give specifics. The judge allowed defence attorney Galina Krylova to ask Professor Gordienko what he thought of Mr. Dvorkin’s testimony. Gordienko stated that if Dvorkin were one of his students making a presentation, he would fail him.
Time did not allow Duma member Valeriy Borshchev to testify today. He will be heard on Tuesday when the trial resumes at 10 a.m. The court intends to appoint a panel of experts to evaluate the doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The makeup of the panel will also be discussed in court on Tuesday.
The trial was followed by a brief press conference at the courthouse. Jehovah’s Witnesses expressed their disappointment that this trial may see yet another delay. “The lack of credible evidence presented in the current case calls for an immediate dismissal of all charges,” said Aleksei Nazarychef, spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “If the charges are not dropped, Jehovah’s Witnesses can only conclude that political or religious pressure is forcing yet another delay.”
Borshchev, deputy to the Russian Duma, chairman of the Duma Committee on Social and Religion Associations and member of the Russian Orthodox Church, said that he has studied the material in this case, and it is not legally valid. “If they can use this kind of measure against Jehovah’s Witnesses, then they can ban any religion,” said Borshchev. “So that all religions will not be banned, I have come to say a word for Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Vladimir Pozner, president of the Russian Academy of Broadcasting, paraphrased German author Martin Niemuller: “If I keep quiet when they come to take my neighbor who is a Jew, and I keep quiet when they come to take the Catholic or the Muslim, then I will keep quiet when they come to take me because no one will be left to hear me.” Pozner explained, “I am not a religious man, but I support the right of people to have a religion.”
Professor Gordienko spoke next, saying that he is ashamed of this trial and of what he saw in court today. “How can I explain this case to my students?” said Gordienko.