World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses (17.08.2017) – On August 17, 2017, the Vyborg City Court in Russia ruled to ban the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT), a Bible published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Russia’s Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity, signed by President Putin himself in November 2015, explicitly prohibits declaring sacred texts, such as the Bible, to be extremist. In an unconscionable move to circumvent the law, the court relied on a so-called expert study alleging that the NWT is not a Bible, opening the way for it to be banned.

Commenting on the ruling shortly after it was issued, David A. Semonian, international spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses at their world headquarters in New York, states: “It’s impossible to comprehend how a court can justify the decision to ban the Bible. It’s absurd that a court would outlaw the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a Bible respected by scholars around the world, which has not only been distributed in hundreds of millions of copies but also has been translated into over 150 languages. Just how far will Russia’s resistance to religious freedom go? We certainly hope that respect for sacred texts will prevail when we pursue this case on appeal.”

Scores of religious experts following the situation in Russia have not been shy in speaking out in opposition to the case, such as Daniel Mark, chairman of the United States Commission on Religious Freedom, who states: “The conclusion by the court-by any court-that the NWT translation is not a Bible is nonsense.” Likewise, Dr. Mathew N. Schmalz, associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross, declares: “the claim that the NWT is not ‘a Bible’ is absurd.”

Many point to the Center for Sociocultural Expert Studies in Moscow, the group responsible for the “expert study,” as the source of the absurdity. Scholars have roundly denounced the group. For instance, Roman Lunkin, the Head of the Center for Problems of Religion and Society at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Europe in Moscow, has labeled these experts as “fake,” revealing that “not one of [them] has a degree in religious studies.” Countering the claims of the “expert study,” Professor Gerhard Besier, director of the Sigmund Neumann Institute for the Research on Freedom and Democracy (Germany), succinctly defends the NWT, stating: “The New World Translation has received high-praise worldwide from Bible scholars representing diverse religious communities.”

With the decision to ban the NWT, the Russian Federation has assumed a hostile posture that should concern more than just the Witnesses. According to Willy Fautré, director and co-founder of Belgium-based Human Rights Without Frontiers: “Any translation of any other historical sacred book – the Koran of the Muslims, the Tanakh of the Jews, and the Kangyur of the Buddhists – can now be declared illegal in Russia, and any sacred book of any other religion is now vulnerable to state censorship in Russia.”