April 12, 2017 – Fourth day of the Russian Supreme Court hearing of the case brought by the Justice Ministry to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.
The contents of the following is based on extremely prejudiced reporting from jw-russia.org. The content herein is very biased towards the Jehovah’s Witnesses’. They provide scant details when reporting on arguments presented by the Justice of Ministry and former Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is obvious in the reporting of information presented from timestamps 16:05 onwards.
As you will read you will see clear signs of obfuscation by the lawyers representing the Administrative Center. The reader would do well to bear in mind that when the lawyers for the Administrative Center do not directly answer questions posed by the judge or the Justice of Ministry representative, but instead answer using analogies, this is an attempt by the lawyers to confuse the issue and make statements without having to lie to the court.
Consider the testimony of Vilen Kantere; he claims that his religions does not hinder the pursuit of higher education. This contradicts the testimony of the Governing Body on jw.org. Also, carefully consider the testimony of the female Witness. When asked why she didn’t become a founder of the LRO, she states “I do not see the need”. As she is a woman, she is not allowed within the Jehovah’s Witness faith to be a founder, even if she were to “see the need”. All these responses are misleading the court.
8:00 Cook St, Moscow. It was an invigorating morning with frozen fingers. There were more than 200 people waiting at the entrance. Those at the front of the line arrived at the court by taxi at 5:30am. But they were not the first: believers were sitting in parked cars waiting at the court.
9:30 On the eve of April 11, 2017, most Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Information had come through that the police and other law enforcement agencies invaded their celebration in Snezhinsk (Chelyabinsk region). They revised the worshipper’s right to operate services. Law officers also went to services in Krasnoyarks and Michurinsk (Tambox region) to ask questions of give believers hand-outs.
9:58 “Please rise”. The court announced the continuation of the hearing. The floor is given to Watchtower lawyer, Anton Omelchenko to provide explanations. Omelchenko said that he would explain how the Justice Ministry’s claim violates the provisions of the Constituation of the Russian Federation and international treaties.
10:12 Omelchenko gave a convincing argument showing that the suit of the Ministry of Justice contradicts Articles 9,10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights; Articles 28, 29 & 30 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation; as well as provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. He quotes from judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in which the authoritative court established the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to freedom of religion. The Ministry of Justice’s claims are not justified and proportionate.
10:18 The ECHR, in its decisions, clearly defined which texts could be considered as inciting hatred and enmity – incitement to violence, blood feuds, and calls that justified the need to use physical force. Noteworthy is the fact that the memorandum sent to the ECHR by the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Justice recognized that there are no open calls for violence in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses (para 41).
10:25 Omelchenko noted that the communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which the Ministry of Justice wants to liquidate, received many letters of commendation from local authorities, but they didn’t receive warnings about the inadmissibility of extremist activity.
10:31 Speaking with regard to the disproportionate measures taken by the Ministry of Justice, Omelchenko lists the steps taken by the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Administrative Center:
They notified all LROs about the books listed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials
They established a process to prevent the emergence of extremist materials
They would inform the authorities of any issues
They asked the Prosecutor General’s Office what other measures could be expected of Jehovah’s Witnesses to prevent extremist activity.
10:43 International law prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment. This law protects a person’s dignity, including the right of a person’s mental integrity. The Ministry of Justice’s lawsuit on the prohibition of Jehovah’s Witnesses breaks the moral and physical right of the individual, forcing them to fear openly professing their faith. Some victims of criminal prosecution in Taganrog left the Russian Federation and received political assylum in Europe. Their departure clearly shows that believers are afraid to openly profess their religion. Of course, most of the 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses will not leave Russia, so are more likely to be persecuted.
10:50 Omelchenko analyzed the legality of the Ministry of Justice’s actions. Through the use of current legislation, Jehovah’s Witnesses are recognized as victims of political repression. The law obligates the Ministry of Justice to promote the rehabilitation of believers. However, the Justice Ministry is moving in the opposite direction. Omelchenko lists domestic and international calls for Russia to stop the politically motivated persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses through the misuse of anti-extremist legislation. These calls are signed by the most famous Russian human rights activists, an open letter from the Moscow Helsinki Group, as well as calls from various groups in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations, and others. International Standards for preventing repression require that close attention be paid to calls coming from the human rights community. The Ministry of Justice, while ignoring all these calls, continues to act as a repressive body.
11:04 Omelchenko talks to the prejudiced position of the Ministry of Justice. Expert groups within the Ministry of Justice had come to mutually exclusive conclusions about the same materials of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Ministry of Justice did nothing to correct this situation. Moreover, the Ministry of Justice has always insisted on applying only those conclusions of experts who found “signs of extremism” in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is on this evidence that the Ministry of Justice’s claim to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses is politically motivated.
11:12 Watchtower lawyer, Zhenkov, asked for an opportunity to provide an explanation to the court in relation to the Justice Ministry’s allegation of “an example of violation of the rights of citizens by a religious organization” where a patient chose two alternative medical treatment instead of a blood transfusion.
Firstly, Zhenkov was puzzled as to how the Ministry of Justice got access to a confidential medical document.
Secondly, Zhenkov said that the refusal to a blood transfusion is not just about violating anyone’s rights, but conversely, a citizen has the right to voluntary informed treatment. If a patient were refused treatment only on religious grounds, this would be a violation of rights. Zhenkov read out excerpts from the Order of the Ministry of Health regarding the dangers of the transfusion of blood components. He also spoke of the need for hospitals to receive written consent in advance from patients to carry out such treatment. Zhenkov noted that there is no reservations provided in the order. It seems that members of some religions are allowed to use their right to informed consent, and others are not.
11:30 The judge asks questions of the defendant’s representatives.
Question 1: Does the Administrative Center interpret the Bible for the Local Organizations in Russia?
Answer 1: No. The interpretation of sacred tests is provided by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses (International leadership).
Question 2: According to their charter, in what sense does the Administrative Center ensure the “coordination of activities” of the LROs?
Answer 2: LROs are independent legal entities but the administrative center provides them with “recommendations”. For example, if there is a question of building a liturgical building, the Administrative Center may, with reference to the bible, recommend the construction of a modest, unimproved building. However, the final decision on what will be the new building is made by the LRO.
Question 3: Does the administrative center approve the statues of the 8 LROs that were liquidated by the decisions of the court?
Answer 3: The founders of new LROs apply to the Administrative Center with a request to enter their structure in order to speed up the registration process. In such cases, the Administrative Center unconditionally agrees their statutes to ensure that the founders are Jehovah’s Witnesses and that their mission objectives are in line with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ creeds.
Question 4: Is the Administrative Center the founder of non-commercial, public organization or a LRO as is spelt out in their Charter?
Answer 4: Watchtower’s lawyers attempt to obfuscate the issue by saying that their Charter is there “just in case” but that it was never implemented. They say that the founders of all the LROs are local citizens. As an example, they say that their Charter also provides LROs with the possibility of importing literature but that such importation was never implemented.
Question 5:Are the chairmen of the LROs also members of the Steering Committee of the Administrative Center?
Answer 5: LRO members are never part of the steering committee of the Administrative Center.
Question 6:Are the decisions of the Administrative Center mandatory for the LROs?
Answer 6: The Watchtower Lawyer, Kalin, avoids answering the question directly. Instead, he explains that while the LROs may request material assistance from the Administrative Center (in the form of donations), the center is only interested in how such funds are used. As an example, he said that the Administrative Center provides assistance for a modest religious building project, and the LROs coordinate such a project with the local authorities. Another example he gave was that if a natural disaster were to occur, the Administrative Center donates funds to help believers and collaborates with the LROs to help injured Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as their relatives.
Note:This answer does not answer the question because answering such a question openly and honestly would prove disastrous for Watchtower. The answer to the question is: YES.
Question 7: Are the donated funds spent on the production of printed materials?
Answer 7: No.
Note:Much of the donated funds are sent to the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses where such funds are used in the production of printed materials, including Russian literature that is shipped into Russia. To respond with “No” is incorrect.
Question 8:Did the Administrative Center import literature that was later recognized as extremist?
Answer 8: The defendants explained that the function of the Administrative Center is purely logistical. They said that individuals make orders that are fulfilled by a “foreign publisher” and that they, the Administrative Center, also obtain literature in the same way. They said that the Administrative Center does not disseminate literature.
Question 9:One of the books was imported into Russia shortly before it was recognized as extremist. But when was it distributed among believers?
Answer 9: The Watchtower lawyers said that attorneys review the Federal list of Extremist Materials and when a book is found in it, the Administrative Center immediately informs the members and they request that it no longer be used. The Administrative Center could not distribute the book.
Note:For the lawyers to say that they “could not” distribute the book is not to say that they “do not” distribute the book.
12:30 The line of questioning passes to the Ministry of Justice.
Question: What is the role of the Administrative Center in approving the charters of the LROs and their members?
Answer: Omelchenko gave an example. The role of the Administrative Center in approving the LRO statutes is similar to the role of the Ministry of Justice itself: The Ministry of Justice verifies the statues for compliance with the law, and the Administrative Center checks the statues for canonical compliance.
The Ministry of Justice asks a number of questions devoted to understanding how “independent” the LROs are in their activities; how important the influence is on the LROs from the Administrative Center, including the approvals from their governing bodiess and the charters of the LROs.
Note:jw-russia.org made a conscious effort not to report questions and answers that presented them in a clearly negative light.
The judge asks the Ministry of Justice representative:
From a legal point of view, how does this affect the capacity and personality of the entities?
The Ministry of Justice representative counters with:
Who are the traveling ministers? Who are the special preachers?
Watchtower’s representatives explain that these ministers cooperate with religious groups and not with the LRO.
Note from AvoidJW.org: Although this is true, it’s not a full revelation of the facts. Traveling Ministers and special preachers are directed by the Administrative Center by means of directives sent out as letters.
12:50 The Judge asks the Ministry of Justice representative:
Does the Ministry of Justice have evidence that the travelling ministers and special preachers are somehow involved in the decisions of the competent authorities that recognize individuals or LROs as guilty of extremist materials?
The Ministry of Justice said no, it does not have such evidence.
Does the Ministry of Justice still believe that judicial actions against natural persons and LROs have a prejudicial force in this case?
The Ministry of Justice still believed so because the Administrative Center was aware of these cases.
The court reminded the Ministry of Justice representative that in this legal process, it is necessary to verify the legality of the requirements so proceed to follow the rules of the law.
13:10 The Ministry of Justice attempts to find out whether the Administrative Center provides material assistance to the LRO, or if the Administrative Center and LRO are a single organization with the LRO being a subordinate organization of the Administrative Center.
Zhenkov explains with the following analogy: If a person provided material assistance to his friend, this does not mean that the friend is dependent upon him.
The Ministry of Justice then asks:
Does the Administrative Center inspect the financial activities of the LRO?
Watchtower’s lawyers explain that there is no such duty at the Administrative Center. Instead, they direct attention to the Justice Ministry: The Justice Ministry performs regular inspections of the economic activities of the LRO, as evidenced by hundreds of acts of inspections that are available. None of the inspections revealed the use of funds for non-target purposes.
Note:The above answer was truthful because it was answering a question in the present. However, to make the claim the Administrative Center performs “no such duty” back in February would have been false. A letter issued to the LROs on February 20th changed the duties of the Administrative Center towards the LROs.
13:25 The Ministry of Justice is interested in why the Administrative Center only sent a letter to the LROs about recognizing one of the extremist books only after its inclusion in the Federal List of Extremist Materials when they knew, by their own admission, about the decision earlier from the information on the district court’s website.
The lawyers explain that it is extremely difficult to monitor court decisions on official court websites. Moreover, it was not clear from the brief information on the court’s website that it was a publication of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
13:35 The Ministry of Justice draws attention to the fact that, according to the publication, “Fundamentals of the Doctrine of Witnesses of Jehovah” (obsolete since 2010), the main means of disseminating the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the magazine, “Watchtower”. Permission to distribute this periodical was prohibited in Russia and that the document “Foundations of the Doctrine” were changed accordingly. The Ministry of Justice representative is interested in knowing what source is used now for the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Watchtower’s lawyer’s explain that the bible is the basis for the belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that most of the Witnesses’ religius books are based on the Orthodox Synodal edition. The periodical itself was not considered extremist, but only a few issues. Since 2015, no publications at all are imported into the country.
13:40 The Court announces a break until 14:30
14:30 The Ministry of Justice representative continues its line of questions:
What measures did the Administrative Center take to prevent extremist activity after the warning was issued by the Prosecutor General’s Office on March 2, 2016?
The judge asks the Ministry of Justice:
What if the Administrative Center did nothing at all? Would it be a good idea to liquidate them? Is extremism out of carelessness or inaction? If the answer is no, what is the court trying to find out? Why does the Ministry of Justice attribute this to the fault of the Administrative Center?
14:45 The Ministry of Justice submitted to the court an “internal” document of Jehovah’s Witnesses, received by the Ministry of Justice from other sources. The Ministry of Justice clarifies to the court that it was taken from the website, NTV. The Ministry of Justice believes that this letter would help clarify to the court how the financial departments of the Administrative Center and the LROs are financially connected.
Watchtower’s lawyers are not willing to confirm if the letter is authentic. It is, however, obvious that the LROs are neither recipients or senders of the letter, which means the letter has nothing do witht he process. The court postpones the decision on whether to attach this document to the case materials.
14:58 The Ministry of Justice requests the questioning of four witnesses on behalf of the plaintiff. These are persons who were once Jehovah’s Witnesses but later left. Watchtower’s representatives object. The court grants the questioning of the witnesses by the plaintiff.
15:05 Zavyalov Valentin Mikhailovich, a professor at MISI since 1992 is questioned. He confessed to being a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses for more than 20 years. He said that literature on the Federal List of Extremist Materials was never used at his religious meetings. He said that the names of the publications are posted on the wall of the room where religious services are held. Believers, he said, are careful to inspect the premises before the start of worship to ensure that there is no such literature found at their services.
15:20 Eugene Skladchikov, Doctor of Technical Services, Professor at MSTU became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1998. He says that he was attracted to religion because of the unconditional peaceableness of their bible teachings. It is completely incompatible with extremism. No extremist publications are used at worship services.
15:30 Witness Vilen Kantere, Ph.D, honored worker of Science & Technology.
Administrative Center representative, Toporov asks:
“When you became a Jehovah’s Witness 25 years ago, did you pursue extremist goals?”
“God forbid! No, of course. This is incompatible with the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses”
“Do you use materials that are included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials?”
“Whether I agree with the these publications belong on the list of the Federal List of Extremist materials is another matter. But, as a law-abiding citizen, I destroyed these publications.”
Dozens of his students defended him and his doctoral dissertations. He claims that his religion does not contradict his scientific activity. He explained that his religion does not hinder the pursuit of higher education. As a scientific worker, he believes that education must be approached responsibly.
15:50 Witness Tatiana Kremneve, a Doctor of Educational Science.
As part of her work, she is involved in the prevention of child abuse and extremist materials in the youth environment. She is a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Administrative Center Representative asks her:
“When you became a Jehovah’s Witness, did you become motivated to commit extremist acts?“
“No. The religion is incompatible with extremism.”
“Why did you not become a founder of the LRO?”
“I no not see the need.”
“Did the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses help you raise a child?”
“I am proud of my child, his success in his studdies and work.”
“How do you feel about colleagues and students who do not share your religion?”
“Positively, without hatred, disrespect, contempt or discrimination.”
16:05 The Ministry of Justice now invites its Witnesses. First Witness is Natalia Koretskaya. She left the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses many years ago. Because she has been out for so long, she could not be aware of the facts of extremist activity in recent years.
Note:Natalia Koretskaya was questioned for almost 50 minutes but jw-russia.org failed to report on her testimony.
16:54 The examination of the Witnesses by the Ministry of Justice continues. Testimony is now heard from former Jehovah’s Witness, Pavel Zverev.
18:11 The court drew attention to the fact that the first witness, Koretskaya used personal notes while giving evidence. Omelchenko asked her to explain how her notes were very similar to texts from the site of a well-known anti-sectarian center. The court decided to read Koretskaya’s notes later.
In Questioning the second witness, Zverev, the court asks:
If you are harmed, have you applied to the competent authorities on the matter?
The witness did not apply. Zverev said that under the influence of the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses he felt hatred for the clergy of the Orthodox church. The witness denied that he is in anti-cult organizations, although he met and was photographed with the most famous “sectologist”.
The third witness of the Ministry of Justice is Petrova, a former Jehovah’s Witness. In 1983, when she became a Jehovah’s Witness, she left her work connected with the propaganda of military heroism because it did not correspond with her beliefs. In 2009, she left the religion. As an example of the extremist activities of the Administrative Center, the witness cites the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses exclude those who commit sins from their ranks.
The court asked the Ministry of Justice representative what the arguments of the Justice of Ministry confirmed in this witness’ testimony. The Ministry of Justice speaks about a possible threat to an certain group of individuals.
On a question from the court as to whether Petrova had seen someone spreading extremist literature, the witness replied that she had not.
The court invites the last witness of the Ministry of Justice, V. Koretksy.
18:30 In 2009, Koretsky left the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The judge asked if his knowledge of Jehovah’s Witnesses is limited to 2009. He confirms that it is. The Ministry of Justice asked the witness to explain what he knew about the attitude of Jehovah’s Witnesses to higher education and to state symbols.
The court asks:
“If you did not specify these points in the grounds of the claim, why do we need to know?”
The Ministry of Justice recalls the question. On the question from the court as to whether Koretsky is interested in the outcome of the case, he answers, “Yes”.
The court announces a break until Monday April 19, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.