March 12, 1999
Trial proceedings suspended;
No word on when expert panel will report back
Today Judge Yelena Prokhorycheva suspended the court case against Jehovah’s Witnesses and gave no indication of when it would resume. She selected the five members of the “expert panel” that is expected to review the religious doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses but did not say when the panel would finish its work.
The defence began the day with a motion to use a European Parliament resolution passed Thursday as a basis to dismiss the case. The resolution calls on federal and local officials to guarantee freedom of religion in Russia, citing rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and the 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation. “The European Court of Human Rights has pointed out that the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution excludes any action by the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means of their expression are legitimate,” the resolution stated. The judge would not allow the motion because copy of the resolution submitted was only a faxed copy and had not been certified as official.
Then discussion began on the panelists proposed by the prosecution and the defence. The prosecution will be required to pay for the study. More literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses will be given to the panel. The judge denied the defence’s motion to submit literature of the Russian Orthodox Church to allow a comparison of the way theological language is used by other faiths.* After further back-and-forth discussion about various aspects of the panel, the judge retired for nearly an hour to consider the makeup of the panel and the questions to be asked.
The judge decided that the panel will be made up of five members, three from the list supplied by the prosecution and two from the defence. She specified two of her own questions and eliminated the questions submitted by the prosecution and the defence. Her questions revolve entirely around excerpts from the religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She also said that an appeal on referring the case to an expert panel could be filed within ten days to the Moscow City Court. At this point, the proceedings ended after five full weeks. The judge’s ruling, issued today, lists her questions and the names of the panelists.
* For example, the prosecution has cited as evidence of incitement to religious discord statements by Jehovah’s Witnesses that they practice the one truth faith. The Russian Orthodox Church in its literature has made similar statements regarding itself.