Overview of Judicial Practice
G. A. Krylova
The judicial process for the liquidation of the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, initiated in Moscow by the prosecutor of the Northern Administrative Circuit, has attracted widespread attention. This is so not only because it sets a precedence, since for the first time in Russia the demand was being made to ban religious activity on the basis of the 1997 law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations.” If the raised accusations will be accepted by the court as sufficient to liquidate the (religious) society, then the possibility cannot be ruled out that in the future other religious organizations will meet with such an outcome as well.
Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of a worldwide Christian organization that numbers more then 5 million individuals. In Russia there are close to 250,000 believers. They engage in bible study, accepting it not only as God’s Word, but also as a guide for daily living. If some widely accepted standards or traditions of the secular world contradict the Bible, believers adhere to the literal application, which is far too often misunderstood in society. Jehovah’s Witnesses are politically neutral; they do not speak out against authority and do not espouse radical views. Recognizing the state, including its right of the state to form an army and to protect itself, Jehovah’s Witnesses on the basis of principle do not participate in politics or warfare; they refuse to take up arms. Among other distinctions of their doctrine is their rejection of blood transfusions, which is based on the bible requirement to “abstain from . . . blood.” Service is carried out on a voluntary basis; they do not have a church hierarchy or a paid clergy. They have only one religious holiday, the yearly memorial of the death of Jesus Christ. Other state or religious holidays are not celebrated.
The history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia goes back more then a hundred years to the visit of Charles Taze Russel, the founder of the doctrine. At first the bible study groups were very small in number, those associated for the most part being inhabitants of western regions of the USSR. After World War II, however, when Jehovah’s Witnesses were exiled to Siberia and to the Far East, their faith was spread to the eastern oblasts of the USSR, beyond the Ural Mountains.
Jehovah’s Witnesses were officially recognized only in 1991, when their Administrative Center was registered. Until that time (their activities) were considered illegal and they were subject to repression. The judicial process in the Golovinskiy Court shows however, that religious intolerance is not a thing of the past. There is a chance that the aggressive hostility toward the minority religion, as expressed in the State Duma, at various official events and on the printed page will obtain the status of a legal precedence.
It is impossible to examine the process outside of the context of the present state church politics of Russia. At the initiative of the semiofficial Orthodox Church, which openly aspires to the role of state religion, the authorities have been speaking out more and more violently against the spiritual competitors of the Moscow Patriarch. Once again the idea is being constructed in society that the enemy is seen in the face of the “sectarians.”
The prosecutor makes the following assertions in regards to Jehovah’s Witnesses:
- the sowing of religious discord, which is supposedly expressed in the distribution of literature, which claims that only the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the true faith;
- forcing families to break up, since supposedly the families break up because of the religious beliefs of the believers, which is furthered by their refusal to recognize “a traditional way of life” or to celebrate “traditional holidays”;
- an inclination to suicide, which supposedly manifests itself in the refusal to accept blood transfusions—in infringement upon the person, rights and freedoms of citizens without any concrete indication as to whose rights and freedoms were violated and which person specifically, experienced such an infringement;
- involving adolescents and minor children in the activities of the organization.
The accusations are not new. They were heard during the time of Stalin’s repression, the Krushchev thaw and the time of depression. And now they are being exaggerated by means of the mass media. We will not try to anticipate the decision of the court and give an evaluation of the presented “evidence.” The author has set before himself a different goal. In Russia anti-cult literature is actively being spread, in which is cited the “advanced experience” of western countries, supposedly long successful in limiting the activities of this “sect.” Moreover, there are those who “rehabilitate” “victims” with help from psychologists. Thus in the analytical notes of the chairman of the Committee for the Rescue of Youth it is slanderously stated that there are some 500 centers for the sole purpose of rehabilitating Jehovah’s Witnesses.
What in actuality is the true nature of this matter? To answer this question we need to examine the legal practices of a series of countries and compare them with the analogous legal practices of the USSR and post perestroika Russia. We will see how systems of justice responded to accusations similar to those raised by the prosecutor of the Moscow Northern Circuit. Concrete examples will clearly demonstrate the difference in approach of democratic and totalitarian societies to the exact same problem. It is unfortunately necessary for the author to establish, that it is impossible to label as successful the liberal attempts to reform Russia in this sphere.
To recognize ones religion as the one true religion is a characteristic mark of any religion. It is not right to view this as heating the fires of religious difference; forasmuch as without faith in the trueness of a religion, the very essence of religious conviction is lost. Any religious confession demands of its believers faith in its own exclusiveness and claims that it has the truth in the highest instance. It was not the declaration made by Jehovah’s Witnesses of the truthfulness of their teaching which attracted the attention of secular authorities, but rather their insistence on confessing and spreading their faith. In Greece where proselytism is forbidden by the constitution, this has even brought about criminal prosecution.
We will now make note of several specific cases.
In Canada during the 50’s there was a serious of trials in regard to this religious organization. In Quebec a law was passed forbidding Jehovah’s Witnesses from freely distributing their religious literature among the citizens of that city. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that this law was unconstitutional for the reason that it violated the fundamental guarantee of freedom of expression and religion. In the decision it was also brought out that defense of the legal freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses represents a “principle of fundamental character” which has “the utmost constitutional meaning for the (entire) dominion (of Canada).” (Saume vs. Quebec (1953) Supreme Court of Canada 299:)
The General Prosecutor of Quebec used a series of discriminatory measures against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the criticizing of their religious views in comparison to several doctrines of the Catholic Church, the dominant religion in Quebec. The Supreme Court of Canada established that the distribution of Jehovah’s Witness' religious literature did not constitute a criminal offense and did not disturb community order. The court also noted that Jehovah’s Witnesses, like all other citizens, enjoy the constitutional protection of freedom of thought and speech and the court found no evidence that the religious views they spread incite to violence. (Bush v. The King (1951) Supreme Court of Canada 265:)
The principle relationship to these kinds of questions was formed during the examination of actions by police in the province of Quebec, breaking in on a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses and confiscating bible and religious literature. The supreme court of Canada condemned the attack on the religious meeting, binding the police to pay a considerable monetary compensation to the believers. The courts established, that Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as “ . . . all religions, having equal rights, just as much as Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and other adherents of various religions, enjoying full freedom of thought. The conscience is the personal matter of everyone, individually, and no one has a right to interfere. It would be sad, if the majority could force their religious beliefs on the minority.” (Shapu v. Romain (1955) Supreme Court of Canada 834, (1956), 1 D.L.R. (2d) 241).
Similar decisions were made 10 years earlier by the justice system of the United States.
In 1940, in the deciding of a specific case, the Supreme Court of U.S.A. established, that the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion and defended the spreading by Jehovah’s Witnesses of their religious views among their fellow citizens. The distributing of their religious brochures did not present any threat to the peace and order of the community, and any law, limiting that lays “a forbidden burden upon the exercise of liberty protected by the constitution”. (Cantwell v. the State of Connecticut 310 U.S. 296, 60 S. Pages. 900 (1940)
Regarding a different case, the Supreme Court of U.S.A. decided, that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and freedom of press provides the right for Jehovah’s Witnesses to distribute religious brochures from house to house. The Court pointed out that interfering with this right prevents citizens from freely receiving information and making personal decisions. (Martin v. City of Struthers, Ohio 319 U.S. 141. 63 S. Page 862 (1943):)
In Europe serious problems for Jehovah’s Witnesses were experienced in Greece, since article 13 of the Constitution forbids proselytism. Greek authorities tried one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for sharing his religious convictions and discussing them with fellow citizens. The case went to the European Court of Human Rights, which in 1993 established, that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a “known religion” and (Jehovah’s Witnesses) have the right to protection of their freedom of religion in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court came to the decision, that the prosecution and conviction (of Jehovah’s Witnesses) “contradicts the spirit of tolerance and free thinking which should exist in a modern democratic society.” (Kokkinakis v. Greece 17 E.H.R.R 397 (1993))
In light of the doctrinal arguments being carried out at the initiative of the prosecutor in the Golovinskiy Intermunicipal Court, the following conclusion of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Manoussakis and others v. Greece carries special import: “the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Convention excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate.” (Manoussakis and others v. Greece: September 26, 1996), Strasburg 510/26.0/1996 (ECHR):
The non-participation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in politics and in official ceremonies has also become an object of judicial observation. The courts of the countries of the New World were the first to express themselves on this matter.
Thus, the Ontario Court of Appeal, the highest court in Ontario, ruled that the Board of Education had acted illegally when they expelled a Jehovah’s Witness student because, on the basis of conscience, the student refused to salute the flag. The Court ruled that the guarantee of freedom of religion exempted the student from ceremonies that contradicted his religious convictions. The court ruled that the student quietly and respectfully stood during the ceremony, not disturbing the discipline of the school or disrupting the peace. (Donald and others v. Board of Education, town of Hamilton (1945) O.R. 518, 3 D.L.R. 424 (Ontario Court of Appeals)
A similar care was heard by the Supreme Court of the U.S.A., which declared unconstitutional the state law requiring students to salute the national flag. The case was brought to the attention of the Supreme Court after the Board of Education decided to expel from school Jehovah’s Witness students who had for reason of conscience refused to salute the flag, even though during the ceremony they stood up, thus showing respect. The Supreme Court of the United States declared unconstitutional a state law, which compelled school students to salute the United States flag. The school board had expelled students that were Jehovah’s Witnesses for their conscientious refusal to salute the flag, even though they stood respectfully during the ceremony. The Supreme Court decided that exemption from such ceremony was guaranteed under the constitutional right of freedom of speech and religion. It determined that forcing conformity would only be detrimental to the state, resulting in “the unanimity of the graveyard.” (West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette and others 319 U.S. 624 (1943))
Later this question was raised in countries of the third world. The Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled that the decision to expel Jehovah’s Witness students from school for their refusal to salute the flag, represented a violation of the right to freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by the constitution of the Philippines. The court pointed out that such actions had not disturbed the peace of their neighbors and that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a recognized religion in the Phillipines. (Ebalinag v. the director of the school district Sebo (1993) 219 SCRA 256).
A similar decision was handed down by the Supreme Court of India. Declaring the barring of Jehovah’s Witnesses from school to be unconstitutional, the court stated that this religion is recognized and protected by the highest courts of the U.S.A., Australia and Canada and that the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses are protected by the constitution. In the decision the following statement was made: “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy teaches tolerance; our constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it.” (Emmanuel v. State of Karela (1986) 3 SCC 615 (Supreme Court of India)
Some more recent events in this judicial history involve the European Court of Human Rights examination of suits made by Greek citizens against their country. In the case about participation of students in school parades, the court ruled that it was unacceptable to force involvement (upon the individuals), since these parades include participation in nationalistic ceremonies, something which conflicts with the religious convictions of the students. The Court set out that the students are entitled to protection on the basis of the Convention for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
(Efstratiyu v. Greece (December 18, 1996), Strasburg 77/1995/580/666 (ECHR); Valsamis v Greece (December 18,1996), Strasburg 74/1995/580/666 (ECHR)):
The most serious complaint of opponents of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the refusal of believers to accept blood transfusions. The press, so as to paint the picture of a socially dangerous sect, has been propagating various stories of those who have died because of a religious ban on blood transfusions. The Analytical Bulletins of the State Duma as well as various forms of official references have also communicated such information. Are believers required to reject medical help? Do they have the right to select the form of medical treatment (right for them)? On this matter there is silence. There has also been silence regarding article 30 of Fundamentals of Legislation of the Russian Federation on the protection of the health of citizens, provides for the right of the patient to an informed voluntary agreement for any medical actions and the right to reject such actions. The judicial practices of a number of countries have not called into question the right of the patient to choose from various medical treatments. Questions were raised about the advisability of presenting this right to individuals who, because of their age or their ill state were not fully able to realize the consequences of their decision. The courts reaffirmed the right, even of minors to select alternative forms of treatment for dangerous diseases, such as leukemia. We will list several typical examples, where the adolescents suffering from leukemia rejected blood transfusions, where the parents made the decision for their minor children, and finally, where the doctor made the decision for the unconscious patient.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Jehovah’s Witness parents have the constitutional right to decide the method of treatment to be used on their children, including the right to a medical alternative to the transfusion of blood. The court held that the state should only intervene in such decisions where parents have been given a fair judicial hearing to explain their views and choice. (B.(R.) v. Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto,  1 Supreme Court of Canada 315:)
A single Provincial Court judge held that doctors had violated a 12-year-old girl’s constitutional right to choose alternatives to blood transfusion in treatment of her leukemia. The attending doctor and hospital had administered blood without her consent. The court found that the minor was mature, and evidence showed that treatment should be administered consistent with her religious values in order to give her the best opportunity to fight the potentially terminal illness. (Re L.D.K. (1985), 48 R.F.L. (2d) 164 (Ontario Provincial Court Family Division)):
The unanimous Court of Appeal for the Province of New Brunswick (five judges) decided that a 15-year-old minor was mature enough to make his own decision in choosing alternatives to blood transfusions. The minor, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, had chosen alternatives to blood transfusion in the treatment of severe leukemia. The court found that it would be in his best interests to treat the minor consistent with his religious values. (Walker (Litigation Guardian of) v. Region 2 Hospital Corp. (1994),150 N.B.R.(2d) and 385 A.P.R. 366, 4 R.F.L. (4th) 321 (N.B.C.A.)):
Intermediate appellate court’s reversal of trial court order authorizing transfusion of seventeen-year-old patient affirmed; although she was below the statutory age of majority, patient demonstrated adult like decision-making capacity and therefore was allowed to make her own decision on basis of common law mature minor rule. (In re E.G., 133 Ill. 2d 98, 549 N.E. 2d 322 (1989)(Illinois Supreme Court)):
The Ontario Court of Appeal ordered that a doctor pay one of Jehovah’s Witnesses substantial damages for administering a blood transfusion contrary to the information found in the unconscious patient’s advance written directive. The court stated: “To transfuse a Jehovah’s Witness in the face of her explicit instructions to the contrary would, in my opinion, violate her right to control her own body and show disrespect for the religious values by which she has chosen to live her life.” (Malette v. Shulman (1990), 72 O.R. (2d) 417 (Ontario Court of Appeal)):
The judicial process has also ruled on disputes between parents of differing religious beliefs in regards to the upbringing and religious education of their child. It is not uncommon in disputes between parents in a broken family, about the upbringing of children, that the parent maintaining traditional views attempts to use the differing faith of the former marriage mate as an argument for limiting the rights of that one. For Russia, where judicial decisions have already been reached regarding such cases, the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are of the utmost interest, since the possibility that Russian citizens might bring suits of this type (before the ECHR) can not be ruled out. However the judicial practice of other countries show as well, that the civilized world has developed an approach, founded on principles, to disputes of this nature.
The European Court of Human Rights reached the verdict that the courts of Austria violated the guarantee of freedom from discrimination when they gave child custody to the father, and not to the mother for the reason that she is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The court ruled that the mother is protected by the Convention for Protection of Human Rights. 7. Hoffman v. Austria (June 23, 1993), Strasburg 15/1992/360/434 (ECHR):
A single judge of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland held that a mother—one of Jehovah’s Witnesses—could not be deprived of custody because the Catholic father did not agree with her religious values. The court awarded custody to the motherand stated (p. 200): “The courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, have not found the practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses negative to the public or to the government (see Roncarelli v. Duplessis,  S.C.R. 121, 16 D.L.R. (2d) 689 [Que.]; Saumur v. Quebec (City),  2 S.C.R. 299, 106 C.C.C. 289,  4 D.L.R. 641). Nor have courts found that the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses cause actual harm to children. Specific examples abound.” Barrett v. Barrett (1988), 18 R.F.L. (3d) 186 (Supreme Court of Newfoundland):
A judicial practice has been formed as regards the question of religious education of children.
The majority of the Supreme Court of Canada reversed a lower court, which had prohibited a father, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, from sharing his religious beliefs with his own children. The father did not have custody but did have the right to visit the children who were in the mother’s custody. The court held that it was in the best interests of the children that they come to know the religious views and values of their father since there was no evidence that these religious views posed any risk of harm.(Young v. Young,  4 S.C.R. 3):
In another case the unanimous Supreme Court of Canada reversed two lower courts, which had prohibited a custodial mother from teaching her son the religious views of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as taking him with her to religious meetings and accompanying her in her community visits. The court found that there was no evidence that the religious activity was contrary to the best interest of the child. (S. (L.) v. S. (C.),  3 S.C.R. 1003):
In Hockey v. Hockey, the three-judge panel of the Ontario Divisional Court reversed a lower court that prohibited a father-one of Jehovah’s Witnesses-from sharing his religious values with his children. The court found that the sharing of these religious values was not contrary to the best interests of the child. In fact, it found there was benefit to the child in learning about the father’s religious views. Hockey v. Hockey (1989), 21 R.F.L. (3d) 105, 69 O.R. (2d) 338, 60 D.L.R. (4th) 766 (Ontario Divisional Court):
Having taken into consideration all of these decisions, one can only imagine what kind of evaluation could be given to the principle position taken by our own legal system. On April 14, 1998, the Lyubertskiy Court of the Moscow Region, in the case of Nikishina, in giving custody of the child to the father, indicated the following reason for their decision: “The court finds that the defendant drew the child into the religious organization “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, which is affecting his outlook on matters, his state of mind, (causing a) formulation of idealistic views which differ from those which are accepted in our state and society.” And this is so despite the fact that part 2 article 4 of the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” calls for the non-interference in a citizen’s decision concerning his relationship to religion or religious affiliation, in the education of children by parents or their substitutes in accordance with their own convictions and taking into consideration the right of the child to the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Higher legal bodies, having examined the case of the mother’s complaints, have agreed with the decision of the court of first instance. At the present time a complaint in regards to this case has been taken up for examination by the European Court of Human Rights.
And finally, in the matter of refusal of military service, it is necessary to take into consideration that the judicial practices of other countries consider this right in a much wider aspect then do Russian courts.
Whereas in Russia in order to dismiss the criminal case of a citizen sentenced for insisting on his right, guaranteed by part 3 article 59 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, to alternative service, the decision of the Supreme Court is required (Determination #14-Dp96-20 in case of Bakalin, Bulletin of the Supreme Court RF #3, 1997), the judicial practice of other countries demonstrates a different approach. They recognize the right to refuse military service on the basis of principle.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the government of Greece had discriminated against Jehovah’s Witnesses, thus violating the Convention for Human Rights. Religious ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned for refusal of military service, when at the same time religious ministers of the Greek Orthodox Church were freed from this obligation. The declaration was made that the Greek authorities should make material compensation to the ministers of Jehovah’s Witness for moral damages. (Tsirlis and Kouloumpas v. Greece (May 29, 1997), Strasburg 54/1996/673/859-860 (ECHR); Georgiadis v. Greece (May 29, 1997), Strasburg 56/1996/675/869 (ECHR):
We will now site a portion of the Supreme Court decision to confirm Jehovah’s Witnesses as a known religion. The court ruled that the fact their religious tradition may differ in certain respects from Orthodox religions is of no concern of the Court. There was no basis in fact for denying the petitioner’s claim (a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses) to ministerial exemption under 6 (g) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, and his conviction for refusing to submit to his local board’s induction order is reversed. “He [plaintiff] was ordained in accordance with the ritual of his sect and, according to the evidence here, he meets the vital test of regularly, as a vocation, teaching and preaching the principles of his sect and conducting public worship in the tradition of his religion. That the ordination, doctrines, or manner of preaching that his sect employs diverge from the orthodox and traditional is no concern of ours . . . ” (Dickinson v. United States, 346 U.S. 389 (1953)):
The Supreme Court of Japan held that the decision of school authorities to dismiss a student-one of Jehovah’s Witnesses-for refusal to participate in compulsory martial arts was a violation of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. The student was willing to do alternative programs in physical education. The school refused to accommodate because of his refusal to participate in martial arts. This was contrary to his religious conscience, which directed he not participate in physical violence. (Kobayashi v. Matsumoto, Supreme Court, the 7th Year of Heisei <Admin.TSU> No. 74, ruled on March 8, the 8th Year of Heisei ):
Questions regarding the dangerousness of the religious organization, on the whole, where raised only in a totalitarian society. Thus Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted in Nazi Germany for their faith, which prevented them from saying the greeting “Heil Hitler” and from serving in the army. They had the courage to openly preach pacifism and to not recognize the national-socialist ideology, because it contradicted their religious beliefs. On the basis of the decree of the Reich’s President “On The Protection Of The German People And Government” of February 28, 1933, their activities were banned for the following reasons. “Under the guise of a scientific study of the Bible, the International Bible Students Association in connection with its organization in verbal and written form is carrying out a clearly slanderous campaign against the government and the church. By labeling both of these institutes as weapons of Satan, they are undermining the foundation of national unity. In their numerous publications . . . they mock the government and church, ill intently distorting bible illustrations. Their methods of conflict are characterized by a fanatical influence upon their followers; having solid financial resources, they are gaining power, so as to undermine our culture with their Bolshevik propaganda . . . Whereas the efforts of the aforementioned Association are in sharp contrast with the interests of the present state and its cultural and moral foundations, it is natural that “the international Bible Students” in accordance with the goals of its conflict considers the national-Christian state in its period of national rise as its characteristic enemy, against whom they are directing all their energies . . . The Bible Students Association and the society connected with it are also contributing to the inculcation of communism in the political sphere and soon they will be able to become a refuge for all types of antigovernment elements . . . Therefore, in order to resist (such) undermining activities and to support community order and safety, it is necessary to liquidate the Association with the goal of protecting citizens and state.” By the decree of the Reich president of internal affairs of September 13, 1934, which was supported by a ban on the “publication and distribution of tracts and other propagandistic literature of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society . . . The former Association of Bible Students was also denied the right to congregate and to teach its faith.”
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses were the first Christian community that Hitler banned, shortly after his rise to power, this did not evoke indignation from the other churches. We will cite a portion of a letter sent to all church parishes by the High Evangelical Church Counsel of Stuttgart, June 20, 1933. In the letter there is reproduced a clarification of an order for district and city police stations, according to which, Jehovah’s Witnesses “by their propagandistic activity . . . have deviated from the bounds of what is permissible, which, from the standpoint of the Christian German society, should be established under strict observance of the right to freedom of conscience and religion . . . in spite of this they often do not even stop at the blatant slander of Christian churches and their leaders, which are accepted in Germany as religious communities on the basis of public rights . . . This undermining activity, which manifests itself in the abusing of the right to freedom of speech and the sowing of religious discord, not only among various families, but through all of society, is not consistent with the notion of the German people in Christian unity, so that is why the government cannot show tolerance any longer.”
In complete agreement with their legislation, the Nazis confiscated religious literature, broke in on meetings of the community, arrested believers, and sent them to prison and concentration camps-Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, and Ravensbruck. Both the official documents, and the slanderous campaign of the Nazi press rouse unpleasant associations in the modern Russian reader. The magazine “Deutche Youstits”, printed by the Reich Minister of Justice contains a report in the beginning of the year 1937 about the fight against crime in Germany. “It became apparent, that the Bible Students constitute themselves to be a serious threat. They were accepted as an innocent organization comprised of religious oddities. However, this organization turned into a host of undermining elements, fighting against military service, against vows of faithfulness and against the basic principles of the third Reich. It appears that this organization has become a secret branch of communism. The prosecutors have received the order to enforce with all severity the law of February 28, 1933 on the International Bible Students.” The newspaper “Vestdeucher Baubachter” dated August 21, 1938 in the article “Messengers of Jewish(derrogatory) Bolsheviks” writes: “They want to replace ethnic, moral world order with chaos of an unclean race ruling together with the Jews(derrogatory).”
Now we will cite portions of the sentence in the case of mine worker Adam Haim and others: “The International Bible Students Association, in reality a Jewish-communist association, acting under the shield of religion, desires under the appearance of predictions and prophecies to destroy Christianity and to create a Jewish world empire and to implant Jewish missionary thinking. It has been irrefutably proven, that their teaching must be considered as anti state . . . According to their doctrine, the state is the offspring of Satan, and any participation in state activities is rejected. It is necessary to reject any commands of the state if such commands, according to their opinion, contradict the commands of God. Therefore this is a clear call to refuse military service. Believers are forbidden to be involved with any form of political activity. Therefore Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate in elections and in any holidays of the German people. As a rule, the Bible Students refuse to say the greeting “Heil Hitler”, claiming that this greeting amounts to the deification of a person. They recognize ‘Jehovah’ as their only leader.” In accord with this sentence of October 15, 1936, nine individuals were sent to concentration camps.
Jehovah’s Witnesses did not renounce their faith and thus went through living hell, though to procure their release all that was necessary was to sign the text declaration of denunciation. Just as the Jews were forced to wear a yellow star, and political prisoners wore a red triangle, the identifying symbol of Jehovah’s Witnesses, prisoners of conscience, was a purple triangle.
The judicial practice of other countries has never faced the question of the dangerousness of the organization as a whole. We will briefly make note of several cases that only with a great stretch can be called to a certain degree decisive in this question. During the Second World War, Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned for a very short time; however, The High Court of Australia declared that a government order banning the religious worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses violated the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty. The court found that the religious activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses caused no harm or threat to law or social order in Australia. The court stated: Section 116 [Australian Constitution] is required to protect the religion (or absence of religion) of minorities, and, in particular, of unpopular minorities. (Adelaide Company of Jehovah’s Witnesses Incorporated v. the Commonwealth,  67 C.L.R. 116):
In Greece, where proselytism is forbidden, under the influence of the Greek Orthodox Church, the authorities have made attempts to legally limit active, believing Jehovah’s Witnesses. More then once this has become the subject for examination by the European Court of Human Rights. Although at first glance, separate questions were being examined (active preaching, renting a building etc.), in reality these questions had a principle character for the realization by Jehovah’s Witnesses of their right to freedom of conscience. The plaintiffs who brought the case of Manoussakis and others, before the European Court of Human Rights, had been convicted in Greece for having opened and used a house of prayer which was not part of the Orthodox Church, not having received for this the required permission of the authorities. The European Court, requiring Greece to compensate the claimants for court costs, ruled that the Minister for Education and Religion in Greece had violated the rights, guaranteed by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, when he hindered Jehovah’s Witnesses from receiving a place for the conducting of their meetings. The court set forth that the religious congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses come under the protection of freedom of religious expression according to the European Convention. Case of Manoussakis and others v. Greece (September 26, 1996), Strasburg 510/26.9/1996 (ECHR) :
In this very case the European Court stated the principle considerations, which are especially meaningful for Russia in light of its acceptance in 1997 of the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations.” The Court noted that Greek law allows for “far-reaching interference by the political, administrative and ecclesiastical authorities with the exercise of religious freedom.” It added that the procedure required to obtain a permit was used by the State “to impose rigid, or indeed prohibitive, conditions on practice of religious beliefs by certain non-orthodox movements, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Therefore, having an understanding of the judicial practice of various countries, we will return to our nations judicial system. Russia’s attempt to go its own way, while varying from the generally accepted course of the times, is completely in keeping with its own judicial practice.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USSR underwent cruel repressions, were exiled to distant regions where they served long sentences of deprivation of freedom, dying from hardships in prisons and camps. It was not until the year 1991, on a wave of democratic euphoria, that they were able to officially register, but today, once again, they are occupying “the courtroom bench” in the civil process of the accusation of the illegality of their religious faith.
In the time of Stalin the usual punishment for being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was 25 years deprivation of freedom in the camps of the North and of the Far East. Believers continued to preach in confinement and exile and to fight for their rights, which brought about a new wave of repression. In 1949, Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs with a motion calling for their legal recognition. The motherland answered them with a Decree of Special Conference, which affected even infants. In the archives of Jehovah’s Witnesses are preserved many yellowed documents—certificates of release, or of rehabilitation. The human tragedy cannot be hidden between the lines. Turning to one of those certificates—Dikusar V.Z. at three years of age was exiled from Moldavia to the far region of Chitinskiy in accordance with the Decree of Special Conference of the Ministry of State Security USSR ? 60-b of December 22, 1949, as a member of a family of participants in the illegal anti-Soviet sect of the Jehovists. And there were many such children. In 1951 alone, by the decree of the Council of Ministers of USSR ? 667-339ss of March 3, 1951 about the exiling of active participants in the anti-Soviet sect Jehovists and members of their families and by Order of the Ministry of State Security USSR ?00193 of March 5, 1951 more than 4 thousand children were exiled. Included in that number was the head of the religious organization—the coordinator of the administrative center V. M. Kalin, who at the age of 4 was exiled together with his parents from the Ukraine to Siberia.
From just the Baltic republics, Moldavia, the western regions of Ukraine and Byelorussia, 9,389 persons were exiled to the Irkutsk and Tomsk districts. Family heads were separated from their loved ones and sent to places of confinement, where as a result they were sentenced or died before trial. Believers were exiled as participants in an “anti-Soviet sect”, and then while already at the camps, many were convicted of “anti-Soviet agitation.” As a rule, they were all sentenced to deprivation of freedom with confiscation of (personal) property.
It was only in 1965 that, in accord with the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet USSR of September 30, 1965 ?4020-1Y the exilic restrictions were lifted and members of the “sects “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, “The True Orthodox Christians”, “The Innocents”, “The Adventist-Reformers” and members of their families were released from administrative surveillance by agencies for the preservation of social order. However, in the Decree it was clearly stated that return to ones former place of residence was allowed only if permission was obtained from the executive power of the district, administrational territory or republic, and that belongings that were confiscated due to the exile were not to be returned. In reality this meant that, just to return to ones birth place it was necessary to obtain permission from the level of the district administration, which practically prevented the exiles from taking advantage of this “kindness” they had been granted.
The massive repressions did not stop. Just the tactics of the state changed. In the Kruschev period of cooling off, and the depression that followed, the authorities began to use individual sentencing. The activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses were considered illegal—according to the Instructions for Application of Legislation about Cults, as set forth by the decree of the Council for matters of religious cults through the Council of Ministers USSR and the Council for matters of the Orthodox Church through the Council of Ministers USSR of March 16, 1961 registration was not applicable to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Therefore, on the basis of their religious convictions, which were not considered acceptable by the state, believers were sentenced to deprivation of freedom. Neither the analytical overview of the legal practice nor even emotional commentary can convey the full tragedy of the clerical stamp of Soviet justice. We will now cite, in chronological order, some typical sentences, behind which stand the concrete destinies (of individuals).
Samples from the verdict of the Judicial Board for Criminal Cases of the Gorno-Altayskiy District Court of 1964, in regards to Shlegel V.T., Zhitnikov M.A., Zimantovskiy A.G., Grachev V.I., Fedyaeva G.A.; “Until the year 1961 in the territory of the Loktevskiy region of the Altaiskiy Administrational Territory, the sect of the organization Jehovah’s Witnesses actively functioned with its center in the settlement of Gornak. By sentence of the general meeting of the representatives of the workers collectives of the settlement Gornak, June 11, 1961, the leaders of the sect, Karsten Ivan Aleksandrovich, Dubrovskiy Ivan Aleksandrovich, and Zhitnikov Makar Afanaseyevich, for their anti-community, parasitic way of life and active sectarian works were exiled for 5 years each to the village of Kurai in the Gorno-Altaiskiy Autonomous District . . . Having settled into the villages of Kurai, Aktash and Ongudai, the sectarians returned to their active sectarian operations by organizing the building up of the sect, rallying its members, drawing in new members from the local residents, and by the setting up of financial service and a regular connection between the center of the organization of the Jehovists and the groups located in various villages. As a result, during the years 1962-1963, the united, firmly established, anti-community, underground sect of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” took shape and actively functioned, in the territory of the Gorno-Altaiskiy Autonomous District. The anti-community, reactionary nature of the activities of the sect of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” can be defined by the following factors: in accordance with the instructions for the application of legislation about cults (sect. 1u and 28) since the sect “Jehovah’s Witnesses” is anti-state and has a savage nature it is not subject to registration, therefore its activities within the borders of the USSR are underground and illegal. Guidance of the sect is given by the “World Headquarters” of the Jehovist, which is in the Brooklyn region of the city of New York and in charge of which is one of the greatest financial big wigs of the U.S.A., Nathan Knorr . . . The activity of the organization “Jehovah’s Witnesses” is incompatible with the practice of the building of communism and with the vital interest of the Soviet people. Being the most irreconcilable opponents of our communist world outlook, the Jehovists actively invade into the political life of our state, bringing harm to our community and the work of building communism . . .
Various unstable elements of our society under the influence of this religious narcotic, having become members of the organization of Jehovists, have turned out to be such who are unable to carry out and fulfill their civil obligations before the socialistic society . . . None of the members of this sect are members of trade union organizations, and their children are not members of Comsomol or Pioneer organizations, . . . the members of this sect do not go to the movies or to clubs, they do not subscribe to periodical literature, by which they isolate themselves from every culturally educational influence.”
The guilt of the parents was evidenced to in that their children, as was noted in the sentence, “showed their adherence to the sect . . . their not believing in the idea of the building of the communist society . . . ”
The court considered as aggravating circumstances, that the individuals standing before them had already been punished for their convictions. Thus, Dubovinskiy N.B. by sentence of the Supreme Court USSR, July 30, 1957, received 25 years deprivation of freedom with confiscation of belongings for the crime of conducting anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, participation in the religious sect “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Others, as well, were convicted by this article. “Shlegel, having been freed from his place of confinement, (where he had been) for counter-revolutionary crime, not only did not cease his criminal activity directed against the socialist society, but on the contrary immediately took charge of the Jehovist underground and led the work aimed at infringing upon the rights of citizens, at motivating citizens to reject community activities and the fulfillment of civil obligations with a drawing in of minors into the Jehovist groups. The given circumstance testifies clearly enough to his definite hostility to the work of the building of communism.”
Conclusions of the court: “They all showed fanatical adherence to the given sect, they did not repent for what they had done and they declared that they would not give up their sectarian activity.” All of them were sentenced to 5 years deprivation of freedom (Shlegel to serve the entire sentence in prison), with the only exception being made for Fedyaeva G.A., who received 3 years deprivation of freedom to be postponed until after the birth of her child.
(What a remarkable resemblance there is between the “sentence of the general meeting of the representatives of the workers collectives of the settlement Gornak” in accord with which the believers were exiled for 5 years, with the present aggressiveness of the anti-cultists, who are confident in the right of a few “representatives of the people” to demand the religious persecution of hundreds of thousands of believers. Only now “the work of building communism” has been replaced with “traditional values.”)
Sentence of the Peoples Court in the case of Gladyuk V.F., Sudaryenko I.N. and Chargeshvilli N.N. January 22, 1974 who were pronounced guilty in the leadership of the “sectarian group “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, the activities of which, carried out under the guise of preaching religious rituals, entailed motivating citizens to refuse community activities and the fulfilling of their civil obligations”, and “a drawing in to the sect of minor children.” The entire guilt of these individuals was that they had given religious instruction to their children -- Chargeshvilli was brought before the court for “drawing into the sect” her 15-year-old son, Gladyuk V.F. “drew into the sect his 12 year old daughter Raya.” Irrefutable evidence of their “guiltiness” was presented: “In preliminary investigation to the court, the minor Topuriya Z.M., the son of the defendant Chargeshvilli N.N. and Gladyuk Raya, the daughter of the defendant Gladyuk V.F. testified that they believed in the god Jehovah, during which, Topuria Z.M., declared to the court that he does not join Comsomol, because it is a matter of his conscience, and 12 year old Gladyuk, Raya declared that she does not wear the (Pioneer) necktie, since she does not consider herself worthy of the Pioneer necktie. This testimony of the minors Topuriya Z.M. and Gladyuk Raya, clearly shows that namely by their parents, and not by anyone else, were they drawn into the sect of the Jehovists, since no one else could be able to do this . . . ” The children of Sudaryenko I.N. could not testify since, 4 years before that sentence the court had stripped her of her motherhood “for raising her children in a religious spirit.”
The punishment for religious education was quite severe: Gladyuk V.F., in consideration of his former conviction of 5 years deprivation of freedom for his refusal to serve in the army, was sentenced to 5 years deprivation of freedom, Sudaryenko I.N.—4 years deprivation of freedom, Chargeshvilli—2 years deprivation of freedom with the removal of her maternal rights.
Verdict of the Judicial Board for criminal cases of the Krasnodar Administrational Territory Court, of December 28, 1983 in the case of Gavrish V.N., sentenced to 3 years deprivation of freedom on the basis of Article 190-1 UK (Criminal Codex) RSFSR for the systematic distribution of deliberately untruthful fabrications which smear the Soviet, the state and the community structures. “During sermons which were delivered at secret meetings of the Jehovists, organized under the appearance and cover of weddings and funerals, Gavrish amidst (talk of) religious positions more then once slanderously maintained that persecution of believers for their religious convictions was intensifying in the Soviet Union.” In the materials of the criminal case are “analytical notes” and “the conclusions of specialists,” by which it is established that the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses “contains slanderous fabrications against the USSR.”
(You open a different newspaper and read, how rights activists “slanderously” claim that the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” has legalized religious discrimination, which even in a time of democratic increase was not excluded from state politics.)
Sentence of the Zheleznodorozhniy Regional Peoples Court, city of Habarovsk, November 16 1984, in accordance with which Voronin Anatoliy Georgievich, sentenced August 29, 1957 in accord with article 58-10 part 2 UK(Criminal Codex) RSFSR to 8 years deprivation of freedom and having served completely his sentence, along with 8 (other) Jehovah’s Witness believers is again sentenced according to article 227 part 1 and article 142 part 2 UK RSFSR to 5 years deprivation of freedom in ITK (Corrective Labor Colony) under strict discipline with confiscation of property. Of what were Voronin A.G. and others perceived guilty in 1984?
In the sentence it was brought out, that in the territory of Haborovsk “the unregistered, ultra secretive religious association “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was active, in which the leaders of various links (of the organization) or members themselves were convicted persons. “Having a wide web of autonomous schools for the instruction of religion to citizens, including minors, as well as choir, musical and theatrical circles, the indicated leaders at the activities of the schools, and also during conducting of meetings, under the guise of the study of religious teachings and the carrying out of religious ceremonies, encroached on the rights of citizens, calling on them to reject community activities, political rights and the performing of civil obligations required by the Constitution of the USSR and by other Soviet Laws. In part, members of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” were forbidden to join the Young Octobrists, Young Pioneers, Comsomol, KPSS(Communist Party of the Soviet Union), to take part in elections of Soviet governmental bodies, to celebrate Soviet holidays, to serve in the ranks of the Soviet Army and to give truthful testimony to questions about the organization and activities of the (said) religious organization.” They were also accused of levying monetary dues of 1 ruble per month (the court was not troubled at all by the testimony of witnesses about the voluntary nature of the contributions), reproducing and distributing the magazines “The Watchtower” and “Awake”, drawing citizens into the religious organization (from the text it can be seen that this “drawing in”, was accomplished by composing answers to the questions of those interested in the religious teaching).
The guilt of those charged was evidenced to by their own testimony — the believers explained, that they do not participate in political life and do not serve in the army, since their religious teaching forbids a believer from taking up weapons. They also assessed the refusal of their children to wear the Pioneer necktie, to wear the Young Octoberists star, to join Comsomol, to attend military lessons. As was indicated in the verdict “the reference by those being tried that the question of confession of the religion by the adolescent was decided by the parents, has no legal meaning, since the luring of minors into a group, the activities of which entails encroachment upon the rights of citizens and an appeal to repudiate civil obligations, even if such luring is done by parents, constitutes a crime on the part of the leaders.”
A “forensic-ideological examinitaion” maintained that the magazines “Awake” and “Watchtower” contain calls to violate legislation about religious cults, by which the experts implied the Decree CNK (Council of National Commissars) RSFSR of January 23, 1918 “About the separation of the church from the state and the schools from the church.”
The conclusion (of the court) is also worthy of quoting, since it is analogous to the accusation being presently put forward: “The court finds, that in the course of judicial examination the following has been firmly established, that the activity of the religious association “Jehovah’s Witnesses” entails:
- an encroachment upon the rights of citizens
- an appeal by them to refuse to participate in community activities and the fulfillment of civil duties
- luring minors into the association
- a violation of the established laws governing performance of religious cults.”
(It was not until 1989 that this criminal case was dismissed for the absence of the commission of a crime by the believers.)
In the beginning of the 1990’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses were rehabilitated as victims of political repressions. It appeared that there would be no return to the past. The decree of the President of the Russian Federation, ?378 of March 14, 1996 “About measures for rehabilitation of religious ministers and believers who had been victims of unfounded repressions” condemned the “terror of many years, unleashed by the Bolshevik party and Soviet regime upon religious ministers and believers of all confessions.” But was that the end of religious discrimination?
Starting in the middle of the 1990’s, the powers for whom freedom of conscience meant first of all freedom for the traditional religion of Russia, began to feel more and more confident. By means of the mass media, in the analytical bulletins of the State Duma and in official documents with increasing insistence their rang out the cries to battle against the so-called non-traditional religions, abusively labeled as “sects.” Community (action) committees were formed, which, in carrying out a definite order, went forth as initiators of hysterical appeals, demanding the banning of a number of religious associations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is hard to believe that these committees, whose activity, as a rule, is participated in only by their leaders, could be so visible in society, if the state and certain sectors of the Russian Orthodox Church were not standing behind them. It is obvious that the dominant confession finds it indecent to fight for the souls of its fellow-countrymen using police methods. It is no less obvious that the state, formally anchoring democratic principles into its Constitution, is not able to independently set off on a great initiative of religious persecutions. But if the discrimination were to be cloaked by a smoke screen of demands “of the people,” then external proprieties could be safeguarded. In such a way, it would be impossible to say that the semiofficial Orthodoxy, whose weak spot is one-on-one work with believers, was trying to compensate for this by persecuting those who have success in such (one-on-one work). It would also be impossible to accuse the state of tyranny and interference in the spiritual life of individuals. Simply at the urgent request “of the people” there was being conducted a criminal investigation, and then the question is decided by a civil court. That is, if they pass a ban, then (it is done) with out violating pseudo-democratic procedures.
Since the autumn of 1998, the case about the liquidation of the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Moscow and the banning of its' activities, as called for by the prosecutor, has been heard in the Golovinskiy Intermunicipal Court. Not being unfaithful to the traditions of official unity of thought, the prosecutor of democratic Russia has put forth accusations that are analogous to the claims of the Soviet authorities. Even the long established vocabulary has not been changed. Only the object of the state’s affections has taken a different form — communist values have been replaced by traditional values.
The judicial process has visibly exposed who the powers are, that oppose Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the hall of the judicial sessions and behind its doors menacingly stood Cossaks and Barkashovts. Having declared that they were there to safeguard the communal order, it was only by the persistent request of the judge that they sat on the benches in the hall, like the rest of the observers. No less expressive was the composition of the accusatory side. By motion of the prosecutor, the anti-cult Committee for the Rescue of Youth represents “the people.” The court and the prosecutor ignore the fact that the decision about participation in the process was made by 3 members of the government, who, not even the representative of the Committee could identify by name. And the court and the prosecutor are ignoring as well (the Committee’s) obvious interest in the outcome of the case- collectively and individually members of the Committee more then once have appealed to the court with suits against the religious organization, expecting to recover to their benefit significant monetary funds. A deputy of the State Duma, Lisenko V.N., tried to participate in this case as well. Members of the LDPR or communists, known for their extreme religious intolerance and efforts towards legally controlled conformity of thought, would be right at home sitting next to the prosecutor. But a respectable member of parliament from the Moscow circuit, who declares his adherence to democratic values, and at the same time announces that he has come to the court to support the demands of his constituency for the banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was, if you will, a significant figure. His appearance brings to mind the fact that only 6 members of the entire Duma voted against the discriminatory law in 1997. A year later and one of the democrats who did not stand against its passing, personally came to support religious persecution. There is yet another revealing (point). The deputy was unable to answer who exactly from his constituency had appealed to him to accept the measures to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses. “The voice of the people” (as before) remains anonymous.
If this was a theatre, the prosecutor could be compared with the director, presenting the spectacle entitled: “The People of Russia verses Jehovah’s Witnesses.” And as in Soviet times, so it is today that this “people” have been deprived of individuality, and, as in the past, its interests have been expressed by representatives “of the people” and by the authorities.
Let us take a quick look at the accusations. For example that Jehovah’s Witnesses allegedly sow religious discontent through the distribution of literature, which recognizes their religion as the one, true (faith). In support of his thought the prosecutor presented to the court the magazines “The Watchtower” and “Awake”, the possession of which in Soviet times was punished by deprivation of freedom. It did not trouble the prosecutor that sowing religious discontent is a criminally punishable violation, which as is clearly indicated in the prosecutions investigation, Jehovah’s Witnesses did not commit. Nor was the prosecutors confidence shaken by the quote cited by the defendant that was taken from an Orthodox catechism, published by the Moscow Patriarch in 1998 which stated that “Only one faith is true — the Orthodox, all other faiths are false, they are fabricated by the Devil and by human pride.” It did not trouble the prosecutor that according to the standards of the Civil-process Codex, legally guarded interests are subject to legal protection, religious preference and religious controversies not being considered legally guarded interests. To the contrary, references to religious literature without any listing of facts about illegal actions gives witness to the prosecutors aim to leave the legal field and to use the court as a doctrinal tribunal.
Let us examine the accusatory witnesses. Among them — members of anti-cult committees, officials of the Russian Orthodox Church, and psychiatrists, who consider it possible to cure individuals with differing religious views in psychiatric rehabilitation centers. Publicity material of the State Duma, the opinions of famous anti-cultists — the Russian Orthodox ministers A. Dvorkin and O. Stenyaev, and the opinions of religious experts and psychiatrists who consider the doctrine of the Witnesses to be “pseudo-Christian” were presented as evidence of the dangerousness of the community.
The position of the body of deputies of the State Duma, expressed in an open letter from a number of deputies and anchored by the Decree of the State Duma, is quite one-sided: “This sect (in speaking about Jehovah’s Witnesses -G.K.) has a strong anti-state, anti-social and anti-traditional as well as an anti-christian orientation, (it) lays prohibitions upon the participation by an individual in the life of the state and society.” This document is among the materials of the case as evidence of the illegal activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“The church considers the activity of sects, like “Jehovah’s Witnesses” to be anti-church in nature and provocative, working objectively for the discrediting of Christianity . . . The sharp anti-church position of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” is completely unacceptable under the present conditions, where the major portion of Russian society is turning to the values of Orthodox Christianity, as well as to other traditional denominations of the Russian people, in the search for spiritual ideals and the pursuit of moral convalescence, when the Church itself as an institute is with difficulty overcoming the serious aftereffects of mass repressions.” Who is it that is so concerned about the authority of Orthodoxy? It is the secular specialists of the religious study group of the Institute for the Development of Personality of the Russian Academy of Education, Galitskaya and Metlik, who have openly declared themselves to be apologists of the Russian Orthodox Church, and have subjected the religious teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses to sharp at times offensive criticism having reached the conclusion that (such teachings) “on the whole have a clearly expressed asocial orientation.”
“The aforementioned literature motivates citizens to repudiate civil obligations, in part: to refuse service in the army and alternative service; incites members of the community to continue their activities even when organs of justice have declared such activities to be illegal; encroaches on the institute of the family, recommending its destruction in certain cases for religious motivations; forms a disrespectful view toward state symbols—the flag and the hymn, forbidding its adherents from celebrating state holidays, creates a potential threat to the life of citizens, forbidding believers and their children to have blood transfusions . . . The views preached by members of the organization “Jehovah’s Witnesses” can lead to . . . the forming of an aggressive attitude towards those who espouse a traditional, national way of life.” This is the “expert conclusion according to facts of the illegal activity of the religious organization “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, of professor Ovsienko V.F..of the department of religious studies of the Russian Academy of State Service under the President of the Russian Federation, who, in analyzing the magazines “The Watchtower” and “Awake”, did not give one fact about the activities of the organization.
Having pointed out that there are no known cases of the examination of persons, admitted for determination of the detrimental effects to their health of the activities of the organization “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, the director of the group for working up materials about the negative medical-social consequences of the activity in Russia of organizations having a destructive character and totalitarian sects, at the Serbskiy State Scientific Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, Professor Kondratev F.V., sets off on his own self realization as a theologian. “The theology of the witnesses of Jehovah is extremely primitive, contradictory and oriented towards people who do not know Orthodoxy, the beginnings of the history of religion, philosophy and physics . . . “Further, it is seen how Professor Kondratev F.V. mixes the functions of psychiatrist with those of the preacher: “Many ordinary members of the sect are sincerely and fanatically sure of the nobleness and uprightness of their mission, passionately defending their views. Since they do not want to listen and to consider objections, it is very hard to show them their mistakes.” Finally, the conclusion is made that “the practice and instruction of the organization” is aimed “at the opposition to and abasement of the traditional spirituality of the peoples of the Russian Federation.”
So, just who is it that is guarding the “traditional values” and is criticizing the teachings of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” from Orthodox’s position? As we see, it is the employees of state scientific institutions who label themselves experts. Since more then once in the past they spoke out in a similar way against other religious organizations, a conclusion can be drawn about their filling a given order. Therefore it is namely to them that the investigation and the court turns for a “scientific” foundation for their forbidding purposes.
The ministers of orthodoxy are looking after the interest of the state in this process, emphasizing that a threat to the state has issued forth from out of the ocean.
“At the present time the center of the sect is located in Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.. From there direction is realized for the activities of the sect in other countries, including Russia . . . Members of the sect consider themselves to be messengers of “Jehovah” and recognize only his authority. The refuse to serve the army, to fulfill civil obligations, they do not recognize any (special) dates or holidays (state, religious, family). Members of the sect are called to reject participation in elections and other forms of state or community activity. Thus the leadership of the sect encourages citizens to reject the fulfilling of civil obligations.” -- Oleg Stenyaev, Orthodox priest and director of the Center of rehabilitation of the victims of non-traditional religions in memory of A.S. Homyakova, is concerned about the participation of citizens in elections and “other forms of state or community activity” in his conclusion presented to the court. Aleksandr Dvorkin, of the Department of Catechistic and Religious Education of the Moscow Patriarch, echoes (Stenyaev) in his answer to the inquiry of the Moscow criminal investigation department: “The Watchtower society (“Jehovah’s Witnesses”) is a socially dangerous pseudochristian international organization whose headquarters are located in Brooklyn (New York).”
Let us compare their conclusions with the text of the verdict of the Georgiyevskiy Regional People’s Court of the Stavropol Administrational Territory of November 21, 1986. Gurinovich V.A. and Rusin I.I. and others were accused “of organizing or directing a group, the activities of which, carried out under the guise of preaching religious beliefs and carrying out civil rites, entailed the inflicting of harm to the health of citizens or with other encroachments upon the person or the rights of citizens, or with the motivating of citizens to repudiate community activities or the fulfilling of civil obligations, and equally with the drawing into the group of minors . . . According to the conclusions of experts in the investigation of sects, the indicated literature is ideologically harmful, having an anti-society orientation, aimed at the non-fulfillment of Soviet laws, in (the literature) there are calls to not fulfill civil obligations, to repudiate participation in societal life, to actively draw into the religion minors . . . It has been established by investigation, that the sect, the so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses” (center located in Brooklyn, U.S.A.) is carrying out active, anti-Soviet work in the territory of the Soviet Union. Its participants do not recognize the Soviet authority; they refuse service in the Soviet Army and participation in political functions carried out by the party and by the Soviet government.”
Reflecting like a mirror the process going on at the federal level is the new union of “the sword and the ploughshare” in the Golovinskiy Intermunicipal Court, where ministers of the Orthodoxy, apparently hope to cultivate seeds of the true faith on Russian soil, cleansed by the sword of the state inquisition and considered by them as their canonical territory. It does not trouble the zealots of confessional-state interests that all of this has already occurred in the past.
In the criminal file for Jehovah’s Witnesses there are some curious materials for study in the system of official preparation of the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs), the 1995 (manual) “Agencies Of Internal Affairs In Battle Against Transgressions Of The Law By New Religious Movements—Sects”, the authors of which are MVD Colonel Hilya-Olinter, called by the prosecutor as a witness in the Golovinskiy Court, and Captain Lukyanov S.A. (In the manual it is clearly indicated that significant help was rendered to the authors by the already mentioned “sect investigator” A.L. Dvorkin). In the historical overview, the significant role played by police agencies in asserting control over religious teachings in opposition to the Orthodox Church is noted. For the completing of similar functions, the Manifesto of 1802 gave the assignment of “the averting and suppression of “heresies” and sects” to the first division of the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Empire. According to the “Regulations of criminal legal proceedings” of 1864 “those who have given up the Orthodox faith for a non-Christian (faith) or the Orthodox (faith) for a different Christian teaching, as well as those having gone astray from the Orthodox faith to some kind of heresy, in each case, are to be edified in the true faith and admonished by the spiritual authorities in accord with Orthodox laws . . . A preliminary investigation in the case of going astray from the Orthodox faith or apostatizing from the Christian faith should be initiated only by demand of the spiritual authorities.” The Soviet authorities did not depart from this historical tradition as well. Researchers of the MVD, having indicated that “VKP (b) could not allow the functioning of structures that were ideologically foreign and had an influence on the population”, in connection with which they persecuted all religions, further note, ” . . . the Soviet regime in 1943 set up a certain “modus vivendi” with organized religion . . . The authorities more then once used “traditional” confessions in legal processes against “Jehovists”, “Adventists”, and other “ideologically harmful” and “subversive” sectarian organizations. The leadership of the ROC (Russian Orthodox Church) and other confessions were used in ideological warfare with dissidents in the 1970’s.” In this light, “the symphony of the authorities and the Church” gives completely predictable results.
It is curious that several historical parallels were discussed directly in the course of the process, when the presiding judge wanted to know where and when in the world Jehovah’s Witnesses had been banned. The answer of the representatives of the (religious) community, referring to concrete judicial decisions, that this had occurred only in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union, clearly did not meet with the court’s approval.
So, let us sum up this matter. Attempts to use religious teachings as evidence of the illegality of a religious activity on the whole, is nothing new, nor are the accusations new. The difference lies in the suggested sanctions. If during Stalin’s repressions Jehovah’s Witnesses were shot, exiled to camps for 25 years or exiled permanently, and in the 1980’s the standard sentence for religious convictions for Jehovah’s Witnesses was 5 years deprivation of freedom, now it is being suggested “only just” to liquidate the community and to ban its religious activity. Such progress.
Representatives of the religious community are prepared to speak in the legal field just as much as they are in the doctrinal field. The problem is that, theological debates cannot be the subject of judicial examination, all the more so, since in this case the participation of the dominant confession and reference to traditional values allow us to predict the result. A debate in the legal field in essence is lacking, since the demands of the prosecutor are not of a legal nature and concrete accusations with supporting facts of illegal activities of the community have not been brought forth, since there are none.
The propagandistic assurances of officials, that they do not have any influence on the process in one, isolated courtroom, and that they are not involved in the activities of the court, are clearly hypocritical. The state and opponents of religious freedom have put too much on the table in this process. The “liquidators” of freedom of conscience are the desired partners of the authorities in their effort to obtain to the general national values, lost in post-communist Russia. The maintaining of a sovereign Orthodoxy in a society sharpened by Marxist atheism is impossible without a return to repression of those whose beliefs differ. And just as it was in the Soviet period, the applying of force in the realm of spirituality is carried out jointly, by the prosecutor exercising his “higher oversight of legality”, by those engaged by the authorities to represent the anonymous “public” and by the legal system, trying to look impartial. The shift to the communist past took place over a period of several years, unnoticed under the cover of the slogans of the battle for democracy. Now revanchists have felt confident enough to throw off the decrepit decorations and to strive for the “towering heights”, no longer burdening themselves with constitutional rhetoric. Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the first who happened to be in their way. Will a history full of suffering be repeated? Is Russia ready to follow its own Constitution and put it into practice, and not at the word of the European Convention for human rights? The answers to these questions will be given in this, separately held, legal process.
The author expresses his deep appreciation to John M Burns, Artur Leontev, Aram Musayelyanu and Drew Holliner for help in the preparation of this article.