COMMON DENOMINATOR OF PERSONAL FREEDOM
“This case is dangerous for society as a whole,” according to Jehovah’s Witness attorney Galina Krilova.
NG-religii, 28 November 2001
The reopened case against the “Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses” could not leave us indifferent. We have decided to acquaint our readers with two differing points of view on the activity of this society. This edition contains material from the Jehovists’ attorney Galina Krylova and an interview with the senior aide of the prosecutor of the Northern Administrative District, Tatiana Kondratieva, who initiated the suit in this notorious case.
In addition, we are publishing a note in which the teachings of the Jehovists are laid out and attention is called to several interesting facts of their history.
In the Golovin Intermunicipal Court of the city of Moscow, the case dealing with the application by the prosecutor of the northern district for the liquidation of the religious society “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Moscow was begun again on 30 October 2001. I will recount the prior story of the case.
Since 1994 anticult committees have persistently appealed to various state structures demanding the prohibition of the activity of “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Their declarations have frequently included examinations of the religious organization, including criminal cases opened in Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan, and other cities. All criminal cases have been dismissed on bases that were exculpatory—nothing criminal has been found in the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Then the Committee for the Protection of the Family and Individual of St. Petersburg and the Committee for the Rescue of Youth of the city of Moscow in 1996 appealed in court requesting the liquidation of the Russian Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses and seeking compensation of 100 billion rubles. In 1998 the city court of St. Petersburg ruled that, in accordance with existing legislation, the committees did not have the right to bring such suits to court. Only prosecutors and agencies of justice have such rights.
The main weight of the burden was transferred to the religious congregation in Moscow, which numbered about 10,000 persons. The criminal case that was opened on the basis of the anticultists' complaints was closed four times since nothing criminal had been found in the activity of the society and its members. Moreover, in the ruling closing the criminal case on 28 December 1997 the investigator stated directly: “Analyzing the list of charges from the Committee for the Rescue of Youth regarding the violation of the constitutional rights of citizens by the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the investigation has come to the conclusion that the statements by the Committee for the Rescue of Youth are based on an active rejection of this specific religious organization and on a refusal to grant its members the possibility of exercising their constitutional rights by reason of their religious confession.” However the anticultists have consistently issued a flood of complaints to all instances and, when the prosecutor’s office again closed the criminal case in April 1998 it sent to the court, at the same time, an application for the liquidation of the congregation. This time the order to close the case employed directly the conclusions of the anticultists: The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a powerful totalitarian sect of worldwide dimensions that “inflames hatred toward traditional religions and religious movements of the Russian Orthodox church, which leads to the destruction of national traditions in the minds of the younger generation.”
In court the prosecutor took on the role of the defender of national traditions, supporting her conclusions with exclusively doctrinal literature or the conclusions of experts of various specialties, essentially dealing in theology incompetently. The absence of any specific instances of violation of existing legislation by the society or its members led to victory on 23 February 2001 by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in this case that had dragged on since the spring of 1998, although the decision was overturned on 30 May 2001 by the Moscow city court with the recommendation that the court of the first instance order a new expert analysis of the society’s literature.
Now there is a new attempt with these sides but before a differently composed court. This is a precedent-setting case inasmuch as it is the first attempt in judicial practice to liquidate a religious organization on the basis of the extremely vague fourteenth article of the discriminatory law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations,” and it undoubtedly will determine how it will be applied in the future.
Two weeks of hearings in the case only strengthened the long emerging opinion that the case is of a political nature. Judge for yourself.
In 1998 the prosecutor petitioned for the participation in the case of the anticult Committee for the Rescue of Youth, which is the very one that requested the liquidation of the religious organization in Petersburg and upon whose declarations and materials the criminal case had been investigated. Since the petition bore an illegal character, it was rejected by the court. But just like previously, this time Mrs. Riabinkina openly introduced into the case for the prosecution all the “incriminating” literature of the heretics and Mr. Gerasimov, who had testified as a witness for the prosecution in 1999, was summoned to testify now also.
In 1998, both inside and outside the chamber of the trial, cossacks and Barkashovites had stood in a threatening manner, declaring that they had shown up to preserve public order. The prosecutor requested the participation in the case of State Duma deputy Vladimir Lysenko. The respectable parliament member from the Moscow district evidently had actually decided to demonstrate his adherence to his declared democratic values by supporting the request for the prohibition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In this case his reputation remained unsullied since the court denied the request.
Now the prosecutor has asked for admission to the case of Alexander Dvorkin as a representative of the Russian Orthodox church, and, citing the National Security Doctrine, she declared that the Jehovah’s Witnesses represent a threat to it (security) since they are not a part of “our” multiconfessional society.
But like before, again now the prosecutor cannot point to specific instances of violations or explain just whose specific rights and freedoms have been violated and which specific individual has been subjected to harm. But at the same time she states that she is defending the interests of all Christians as well as the believers of the congregation since their rights are being violated by the organization. It is beside the point that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have asked to deliver them from such “protection,” but in four years the prosecutor has not gotten around to acquainting herself more closely with them by attending a meeting or at least inviting them to her office at the procuracy for explanations. All of her citations of doctrinal literature cannot constitute evidence of actions and they bear witness simply to her intention to abandon the legal field and use the court as a kind of doctrinal tribune.
What are the accusations that are brought against the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Kindling religious strife. In three years of investigation of the criminal case the prosecutor did not find a single specific instance. In the civil case it was shown that the Jehovah’s Witnesses' conviction that their religion is the only true one and their doctrinal critique of other confessions are sufficient evidence of kindling strife. In this regard the prosecutor spoke passionately about how the Witnesses appeal to the concept of the “Great Babylon,” and talk of how “I do not bring peace but a sword” or “they will separate the sheep from the goats.” There is no need to explain to readers of NG-religii that these were not made up by the Witnesses. But is this a matter for judicial investigation and should Orthodox believers be taken to court because they consider that “only their faith is the true faith and all others are devices of the devil and human pride” (quote from the Orthodox catechism)?
Coercion to break down the family. The prosecutor found in Jehovah’s Witnesses' literature terrible quotations, including “whoever leaves father and mother and follows me will inherit the kingdom of heaven.” There it is—“sure proof.” Not a single case of “coercion” to break up a marriage, nor a single family that was broken up on this basis, nor any statement from the prosecutor of the deprivation of parental rights on the basis of believers harming their children was introduced.
Yet another of the prosecutor’s arguments. It is necessary to celebrate state and religious holidays together; this draws a family together and, besides, these days are designated in the constitution as nonworking days. The Witnesses’ rejection of holidays breaks up the family. But why they should celebrate Orthodox Christmas when they hold different religious convictions the prosecutor was not able to explain. To be sure, I, like all citizens who read or even do not read the law, suggested that this is a personal matter whether to go to a May Day parade or to church on Christmas, or to spend these days in some other way in accordance with one’s personal choice.
Inducement to suicide. What is in view is the refusal of blood transfusion. But according to law any one of us has the right to choose forms of treatment. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not reject medical intervention, but they wish, in cases of necessity, to use alternatives to blood transfusion, particularly blood substitutes. They have even set up a special committee for relations with hospitals in order to have the opportunity to provide information about other methods of treatment and to provide blood substitutes for each patient needing them. If the prosecutor is so concerned about the health of Russian citizens, wouldn't it be better to think about those who are infected with AIDS, viral hepatitis, and other infections by means of blood transfusions?
Infringement of the person, rights, and freedoms of citizens. The prosecutor finds this in the religious life of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as such—they devote a great deal of time to preaching, meetings, reading the Bible and religious literature, and they sometimes express a desire to serve and they do serve in their distinctive monastery, Bethel, outside St. Petersburg. But if one is truly a believer that means reading the Bible and spreading one’s faith, and preaching, and speaking about one’s faith. Only the believers themselves can determine how much time to devote to this.
The prosecutor is not acquainted with either the structure of the organization or its believers, although she laments that Jehovah’s Witnesses actively preach, and somehow this violates their rights. Then what about the high respect for the religious heroes of Orthodoxy who devoted all their life to this (preaching and spiritual exhortation)? Why does the prosecutor not bring a representation to the court requesting the liquidation of Orthodox monasteries, where people renounce their families and the world and spend twenty-four hours a day in the service of God as they understand it? Why doesn't the prosecutor, who insists on an eight-hour working day in accordance with the law on labor, know that labor legislation does not apply to monastery work, preaching, or prayer.
Enticement of teenagers and minor children into the organization’s activity. Patriarch Alexis served in the church from six years of age. I was baptized as an infant in the Orthodox faith and I thank my grandmother for this. Even in the soviet period this was possible both for the person who subsequently was to head the Russian Orthodox church and for a sinful attorney. Why, at a time of the formal declaration of democratic values, does a representative of the state deny Jehovah’s Witnesses the opportunity to educate their children in their faith?
Let’s turn from accusations to evidence. Appeals to doctrinal literature unsparingly sprinkled with quotes from the Bible and the conclusions of experts. The prosecutor maintains that Witnesses interpret the Bible incorrectly and requests a total ban on their literature. But who told our Russian (or even soviet) prosecutor how the Bible should be interpreted? And how far have we come from those times when literature was confiscated and destroyed?
Take the experts. The well known author of the theory of “sectomania,” Professor Fedor Kondratiev. In the previous court session he was caught in blatant plagiarism—of the seven pages of his pseudoscientific conclusion that the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine can be called mass psychosis, he copied verbatim from the notorious handbook of the Moscow patriarchate of 1997, without omitting a single comma. The prosecutor again summoned him to this trial in the capacity of a specialist.
Or religion scholar Igor Metlik. After long explanations in the previous trial about the “sharply antichurch position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the time when Russian society is turning to the values of Orthodox Christianity,” he was not able to answer the attorney’s question about the meaning of the name “Jesus;” this is reflected in the transcript of the trial. And the prosecutor summoned him in the capacity of a specialist. As proofs of the dangers of the congregation were presented publicistic materials of the State Duma, opinions of famous anticultists Alexander Dvorkin and Fr Oleg Steniaev, conclusions of religion scholars and psychiatrists who called the Witnesses’ doctrine “pseudo-Christian,” and parents who disapproved of the religious choice of their children and advocated “deprogramming.”
This is all extremely regrettable. And the issue is not just the wretchedness of the legal conclusions of the prosecutor. These have occurred before and not just in our history. Jehovah’s Witnesses “undermine the foundations of national unity;” that is from Hitler’s decree banning them on 28 February 1933. Jehovah’s Witnesses “do not participate in elections and holidays of the German people;” an excerpt from a specific sentence where the punishment was concentration camp. The purple triangle on a prisoner’s chest distinguished him just like the yellow star, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only officially recognized prisoners of conscience of fascism.
Now the prosecutor denies Jehovah’s Witnesses the right to be a part of the Russian multiconfessional society in light of the National Security Doctrine. Just like it was when they, like many other soviet people, were driven in groups to Siberia, placed in camps and prisons, and deprived of their children “for enticement,” which even now in the prosecutor’s opinion is a basis for banning the activity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here is an excerpt from a specific sentence: “When they become members of the Jehovists' organization, workers are placed in the position of being unable to realize and fulfil their civic duties before socialist society. All members of the sect are not members of a labor union and their children are not members of komsomol and pioneer organizations. Members of the sect do not attend movies or clubs, and they do not subscribe to periodical literature, whereby they isolate themselves from all cultural influence.” The day of the beginning of the trial was exactly ten years after the Russian president’s decree acknowledging that Jehovah’s Witnesses had been victims of political repression. But the prosecutor was not troubled by the coincidence of the accusations. To be sure, the time is milder, as are the sanctions. Prohibiting activity and literature and liquidating the congregation are really not the same as exiling and shooting.
I consider that this trial is dangerous for all of society as a whole because the individual is being reduced to the lowest common denominator by means of force. Jehovah’s Witnesses constitute a large organization and they attract public attention. But that is not the point. The point is the state-imposed unanimity of thought and unity of faith within our traditions. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 December 2001)