March 9, 1999
Duma deputy exonerates Jehovah’s Witnesses; Defence objects to delay
A deputy to the Duma told the court today that his experience with Jehovah’s Witnesses refutes the prosecution’s charges. Discussions continued on the creation of an expert panel to examine the doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The defence expressed concern that the creation of an expert panel would result in an unnecessary delay of justice.
Duma Deputy V. Borshchev testified that the accusations against Jehovah’s Witnesses could be leveled at any religion. He stated that in his work as chairman of the Duma Committee on Social and Religious Organizations, he has not seen any evidence that supports the prosecution’s charges. Among other things, the prosecution charges that Jehovah’s Witnesses break up families and lure children into their faith. Borshchev specifically addressed the complaints of several prosecution witnesses. The fact that family members sometimes disagree when it comes to religion is not unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses, he said. For example, some parents are upset if their adult child joins a monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church. The fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses teach their religious beliefs to their children is not grounds for liquidation. Borshchev argued that rearing one’s children in line with one’s religious beliefs is protected by law. He reminded the court that he was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church as a child. When asked about the Committee to Rescue Youth, Borshchev repeated that family conflicts based on religious differences were common among all faiths and cannot be considered evidence that a particular religious organization is violating the law. (Complaints from the Committee to Rescue Youth, an anti-sect group with close ties to the Orthodox Church, are the basis for the trial.)
The defence objected to the creation of an “expert” panel. Civil law requires a case to be resolved within a month. Defence attorney Galina Krylova argued that the trial can be resolved with the evidence already presented. The panel will create an unreasonable delay and deny justice to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The stated purpose of the panel to examine the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Defence attorney Artur Leontyev argued that the civil code allows an expert opinion only to assess the facts of a case, not the theological merits of religious literature. Both Krylova and Leontyev expressed their concern that this trial is about differences in religious theology, a matter not under the authority of the court.
The discussion on the expert panel will resume tomorrow at 2:15 p.m.