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RUSSIA: Two Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to four and seven years in prison

Two Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to four and seven years in prison

Over 80 Jehovah’s Witnesses are in prison in Russia, including four of them sentenced in the first three weeks of January 2022

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

 

The European Times (01.21.2022) – https://bit.ly/3GVzcu8 – On January 20, 2022, the Seversky City Court found Jehovah’s Witness Yevgeny Korotun guilty of organizing the activities of an extremist organization under Part 1 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to seven years in prison with subsequent restriction of liberty for two years and a five-year ban on working in educational institutions and “placement of any educational information”, including on the Internet. Thus, the court granted the request of the prosecutor who asked for such a verdict during the debate.

 

The initiation of criminal proceedings against Korotun became known in July 2020. He was placed under house arrest, but in September he was detained. According to the investigation, under the leadership of Korotun “from July 2017 to July 2020 in ZATO g. Seversk, Tomsk region, a group of persons organized the activities of the banned local community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, knowing about its ban, held “closed conspiratorial meetings”, distributed prohibited literature and worked “to recruit and involve new participants from among the residents of the city of Seversk”. The court began consideration of the case in April 2021.

 

See more information about the case here.

 

On the same day, the Seversky City Court found another Jehovah’s Witness, Andrei Kolesnichenko, guilty of participating in the activities of an extremist organization under Part 2 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code. He was sentenced to four years in prison with subsequent restriction of liberty for a year.

 

Earlier during the debate, the prosecutor asked Kolesnichenko to be sentenced to five years in prison and a year of restriction of liberty.

 

Kolesnichenko’s case was initiated in March 2021 and has been considered since July. See more information about the case here.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are accused of involvement in the activities of an extremist organization due to the fact that in April 2017 the Supreme Court of Russia decided to recognize the Jehovah’s Witnesses Management Center in Russia and 395 local religious organizations  as  extremist.  We  believe  that  this  decision,  which  entailed  mass

 

prosecution of believers in criminal proceedings, had no legal basis, and regard it as a manifestation of religious discrimination.

 

This is further evidence that local authorities continue to disregard Russia’s Supreme Court Plenum back in October 2021 outlining that individual or collective worship should not in itself be viewed as participation in the activities of a banned religious organization.

 

Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses states: “There are over 80 Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison in Russia—the most since the Russian Supreme Court liquidated the Witnesses’ legal entities in 2017. It’s unthinkable that peaceful Christian family men like Yevgeniy and Andrey would be accused of extremist activity and given harsh, lengthy prison sentences usually reserved for violent criminals. The escalating discriminatory assault against Jehovah’s Witnesses is putting a huge burden on a growing number of families to support themselves without the help of their husbands and fathers, who were often the family’s primary source of income. In Yevgeniy’s case, his son, Alexander, is only a preteen. He will now be forced to spend the rest of his childhood and teen years without his father. We hope that soon the callous persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia will end—families will no longer be needlessly separated—and they can worship freely in their home country as they do in over 200 other lands.”

 

In comparison, according to

Article 111 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, grievous bodily harm draws a maximum of 8 years sentence;

Article 126 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, kidnapping leads to up to 5 years in prison; Article 131 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, rape is punishable with 3 to 6 years in prison.

 

Sources: Sova Centre (Moscow) – JW World Headquarters (New York)

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses sent to prison in Russia in 2022

 

20 January 2022: Yevgeny Korotun, 52 years old (7 years + 2 years of restricted liberty)

20 January 2022: Andrei Kolesnichenko, 52 years old (4 years + 1 year of restricted liberty)

19 January 2022: Alexei Ershov, 68 years old (3 years)

17 January 2022: Maksim Beltikov, 42 years old (2 years)

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website





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TAIWAN: Fabricated tax evasion cases are violations of religious freedom

Deliberate arbitrary taxation and fabricated tax evasion cases are violations of religious freedom

Contribution to the webinar co-organized by CESNUR, HRWF and Action Alliance to Redress 1219 on 16 January 2022, the US Religious Freedom Day

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (21.01.2022) – In 1993, the then President of the United States proclaimed January 16 “Religious Freedom Day” in remembrance of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786 adopted by the Virginia General Assembly. The statute would eventually become a foundational principle in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which preserves an individual’s right to belief and to choose and exercise faith without government coercion or reprisal.

 

According to international human rights standards, freedom of religion or belief involves

the right to have or not to have a religion or beliefs,

the right to change or to retain one’s religion or beliefs

the right to share one’s religion, beliefs or worldviews and to make new members

the right to freedom of worship and assembly

the right of association.

 

However, despite these fundamental tenets of freedom of religion or belief, states can demonstrate great ingenuity in developing policies which can unfairly and dangerously threaten its very essence. One of them is the deliberate arbitrary taxation of religious organizations or even fabricated cases of tax evasion with the intention to destroy them financially.

 

This was the case of four religious and spiritual groups in France: Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Evangelical Church of Besançon and two Aumist belief groups.

 

In 1996, the French National Assembly published a report about 172 allegedly dangerous cults (sects in French), which were almost portrayed as criminal associations. The Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses was the first one to be targeted by the tax administration which unduly claimed the payment of 45 million Euros on manual donations.

 

Fifteen years later, the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of Article 9 (the right to freedom of religion). It noted that the manual gifts received by the association represented the main source of its funding and over-taxation of 60% imposed on the association was violating the right of its followers to freely exercise their religion in practical terms.

 

Subsequently, the other stigmatized religious associations benefitted from this pilot judgment and the French state had to reimburse all of them.

 

Some months ago, the High Court in Quebec (Canada) ruled

 

  • that a Taoist Tai Chi Institute was to be regarded as a religious association rather than an institute for physical exercise,
  • that it had therefore been illegally taxed by three cities and was to be reimbursed.

 

In Taiwan, in April 1997, Dr Hong Tao-tze, the founder and spiritual master of Tai Ji Men, was indicted by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen for alleged tax evasion concerning manual donations for the years from 1991 to 1996 by dizi to their shifu. This practice had forever been recognized as non-taxable and donations had always been tax exempt in the case of Tai Ji Men. The nature of the relationship between Tai Ji Men’s shifu and his dizi has remained unchanged since the inception of the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy 55 years ago; however, illegal taxes and heavy penalties were imposed on Tai Ji Men for six years based on the unlawful indictment. It took Dr Hong ten years to be declared non-guilty of tax evasion and all the defendants were acquitted on final appeal at the Supreme Court in July 2007. As the court had ruled that no tax was owed by Tai Ji Men, the tax bills should be revoked according to the law but they were not for the year 1992.

 

Prosecutor Hou as well as officials of the National Taxation Bureau (NTB) and the Administrative Enforcement Agency (AEA) lost their face in this matter. They should have also lost their bonuses, a vicious system which creates a conflict of interest encouraging illegal over-taxation and even fabrication of tax evasion cases for personal winnings.

 

However, artificially and illegally, the two state institutions maintained their prosecution against Tai Ji Men for an allegedly unpaid tax on dizi’s donations to their shifu dating back to 1992, despite the fact that, in July 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the donations were gifts, which were tax-exempt income and nontaxable. In addition, the Supreme Administrative Court of Taiwan concluded that its previous final judgment for 1992 tax bill had failed to take into account new facts and evidence, and that the 1992 tax decision is unjustified. The consequence of this administrative abuse was that in late August 2020, Taiwan’s Administrative Enforcement Agency and the National Taxation Bureau arbitrarily seized and auctioned the land intended for a self-cultivation center for Tai Ji Men dizi.

 

Despite the international jurisprudence set in stone in France and in Quebec, Taiwan is still failing to do justice to Tai Ji Men.

 

In Taiwan, for 25 years, the taxation administration has been turning a deaf ear to outside experts and has not consulted any. It has ignored all the court rulings and even the Supreme Court. It has illegally imposed taxes and auctioned Tai Ji Men’s property instead of abiding by the highest national court, instead of apologizing and reimbursing Tai Ji Men.

 

A political decision should put an end to this denial of justice.

Further reading about FORB in Taiwan on HRWF website





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RUSSIA: Two Jehovah’s Witnesses already sent to prison in 2022

Aleksei Yershov is already the second Jehovah’s Witness to be sent behind bars in 2022

A court in Seversk sentenced this 68-year old Jehovah’s Witness to three years in a penal colony. A week ago, Maksim Nikolayevich Beltikov was sentenced to two years in prison

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

The European Times (19.01.2022) – https://bit.ly/3KqdpwC – On 19 January 2022, Judge of the Seversky City Court of the Tomsk Region Yalchin Badalov found 68-year-old Jehovah’s Witness Alexei Ershov guilty of participating in extremist activities (Part 2 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to three years in a penal colony. The convict was taken into custody in the courtroom, reports the correspondent of the Portal “Credo.Press” with reference to sources among Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The prosecutor’s office had asked the court to reclassify him under Part 1 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organization of the activities of an extremist organization) and sentence Ershov to five years in prison but he was not followed by the court.

Yershov case history

In July 2020, the regional investigative committee announced the initiation of criminal proceedings against a group of persons who organized the activities of the banned local community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, knowing about its ban. Then Ershov and other believers’ houses were searched.

In March 2021, Ershov and three other Jehovah’s Witnesses were summoned for questioning and notified that they had received the status of suspects  after a woman named Klira Klisheva collaborating with the FSB services had put video recordings of Jehovah’s Witnesses at their disposal. For about a year, she had pretended to be interested in the Bible but was obviously infiltrating their community.

Ershov, in particular, was accused of “taking part in a conspiratorial meeting in the form of a collective religious service, <…> consisting of reproduction of audio and video recordings and <…> consistently performed songs from a special collection of religious teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and prayers to God Jehovah”.

The trial began in July 2021.

When Klira Klisheva was asked why she determined that Jehovah’s Witnesses were extremists, she answered in court: “Because they pronounce the name of God – Yahweh.” Such testimony of this witness is based on the accusations against five more believers from Seversk.

In his closing statements to the court (link), Aleksei defended himself and other Jehovah’s Witnesses by frequently quoting from Russian religious scholar Sergei Ivanenko’s book, “About people who never part with the Bible.” Aleksey concluded: “The facts in this book show that Witnesses do not resort to violence, work conscientiously, pay taxes honestly, and generally have strong, close-knit families. Living in accordance with biblical principles, they are reliable workers, good neighbors, caring parents. They do not impose their views on anyone. To listen to their preaching or not is a matter of conscience and free choice of each person.”

 

Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses states: “There now over 80 Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison in Russia. This is the highest number since the Russian Supreme Court liquidated the Witnesses’ legal entities in 2017. It’s patently absurd that a peaceful Christian family man like Aleksei would be accused of extremist activity. It’s yet another miscarriage of justice on the part of the Russian courts that began with local authorities unjustly raiding homes of Witnesses. For those who have not seen video footage of such raids, visualize officers with face masks, fully armed and outfitted for combat, gang-raiding homes of peaceful Jehovah’s Witnesses. The officers often breakdown the doors while people are sleeping, sometimes torturing and beating one of the believers while their families in earshot are forced to listen to the screaming. Now who are the extremists in that scenario? Any reasonable person would agree, it’s not the Jehovah’s Witnesses. We hope that soon this systematic discriminatory assault on Jehovah’s Witnesses will end so they can worship freely in Russia as they do in over 200 other lands.”

 

In November 2021, the same court sentenced 80-year-old Elena Savelyeva, a teacher with forty years of experience, to four years probation – also for talking about the Bible. In total, since May 2018, seven criminal cases have been initiated against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the sole Tomsk region.

Additional background on the case can be found here.

 

This case is further evidence that local authorities continue to disregard Russia’s Supreme Court Plenum back in October 2021 that outlined that individual or collective worship should not in itself be viewed as participation in the activities of a banned religious organization.

 

What happened since the Supreme Court Plenum?

 

  • Five Jehovah’s Witnesses (including Aleksei) sentenced to prison colonies (sentences from 2.5-5 years)
  • 11 have received suspended prison sentences ranging from 2.5-6 years (the oldest being 80-year old Yelena Savelyeva)
  • Five have been fined between 300,000-500,000 rubles

 

The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recognized all 396 religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia as extremist in April 2017. Soon after, law enforcement agencies began criminal prosecution of believers of this denomination in almost all regions of the country, including in the annexed territory of Crimea.

Photo : Credit: credo.press

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website





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RUSSIA: Prospects for religious freedom in Russian-occupied Ukraine

Prospects for religious freedom in Russian-occupied Ukraine

By Dr Aaron Rhodes for Human Rights Without Frontiers

 

HRWF (14.01.2022) – In 2014, the Russian Federation brought parts of Ukraine’s Donbas region under its effective control by a process of military infiltration in collusion with pro-Russian separatists, promoting the establishment of two entities, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), loyal to Russia.  Russia also annexed Crimea outright, incorporating the Republic of Crimea as a Russian federal subject.

 

Ukrainian citizens now face the prospect of further military and cyber assault by the Russian Federation or perhaps a coup d’etat, leading to more parts of the country being brought under Russian dominion; indeed, some foresee an attempt to reconstruct a new Russian empire among states that declared their independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  While many in the international community focus on the grave geopolitical implications of these scenarios, it is also important to understand how human rights have been curtailed in occupied regions where laws and administrative practices have been changed by Russian authorities, and thus how these patterns might be extended.

 

Russian control in occupied parts of Ukraine has particularly affected the fundamental right to freedom of religion and belief.  Not surprisingly, respect for religious freedom in Donbas and Crimea has been sharply degraded to mirror, in important respects, the situation in the Russian Federation itself.  Over the past several decades, the Russian state has introduced increasingly intrusive and restrictive legislation in this area, aimed in particular at minority religions.  In 2021, the United States Commission on International Freedom (USCRIF) named the Russian Federation a “Country of Particular Concern,” along with a small group of other states including Iran and North Korea, noting that the government “continued to target ‘nontraditional’ religious minorities with fines, detentions, and criminal charges.” Russian legislation criminalizes “extremism” without adequately defining the term, enabling the state to prosecute a vast range of nonviolent religious activity.  The government has banned as “extremist” the Jehovah’s Witnesses altogether, making it illegal for about 170,000 people to practice their religion; the USCRIF report noted that 188 criminal cases had been brought against members of the group, and that “instances of torture” continued “to go uninvestigated and unpunished.”  Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamic organization, has been banned in Russia since 2003, and numerous members have been sentenced to prison by Russian courts for so-called “terrorist” activities, sentences that have been condemned by Human Rights Watch.

 

Restrictions on freedom of religion in occupied Ukraine follow these patterns.  Russian authorities in Crimea have prosecuted numerous Tatars, indigenous Turkic Muslims, associating them with Hizb ut-Tharir and charging them with extremism and terrorism; scores remain incarcerated on charges deemed as misuses of Russian anti-terrorist legislation by reliable civil society experts.   According to the American-based NGO Freedom House, citizens were encouraged to inform on any who voiced opposition to these policies to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

The Russian Federation ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses has also been applied in Crimea; five members of the faith have been jailed there.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are also banned in both the Russian-backed “Luhansk People’s Republic” and the “Donetsk People’s Republic.”   The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that numerous religious groups that  had been recognized under Ukrainian law were denied registration in these illegal jurisdictions for allegedly not meeting criteria applied in the Russian Federation; Baptists; Pentecostals, and Seventh-Day-Adventists have thus been denied registration.

Russian occupied and controlled parts of Ukraine have been subjected to policies aimed at coercing citizens to embrace the Moscow Patriarchate of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and destabilizing the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which Russian authorities see as an obstacle to the spiritual, as well as political unification of the two countries.  The Brussels-based NGO International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), along with the Center for Civil Liberties, wrote in a 2015 report that in the Donbas, the “Orthodox religion is used as an ideological foundation of ‘state building’ by the rebel groups and anything that is non-Russian Orthodox is seen as alien.” The groups reported that over the year since the conflict began, “dozens of places of worship have been seized,” and “cases of abduction, torture and other ill treatment as well as the murder of clergy members and the prohibition of religious practice other than that of the Orthodoxy of Moscow Patriarchy in the region.”  In the subsequent years, Russia has continually fomented tensions between the two branches of Eastern Orthodoxy.

 

The basis for these policies was clearly enunciated by Russian president Vladimir Putin in an article he published in June of 2021, entitled “On the Historical Unity of Ukrainians and Russian.”  In the article, Putin wrote that the Moscow Patriarchate of the Eastern Orthodox Church was the “centuries-old symbol” of the “kinship” between Russians and Ukrainians, and dismissed the OCU as a political construction by secular authorities dating back to when Ukraine was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

 

Religious freedom is at the center of Russia’s challenge to Ukrainian sovereignty and identity, and calls to respect freedom of religion need to be at the center of state and civil society advocacy aimed at returning Russian-occupied regions to Ukraine.  Under the current unstable and violence ridden status quo, European and international authorities must hold the Russian Federation accountable for upholding the freedom of religion and all legal human rights obligations in regions that Russia illegally occupies.  But to do so risks indirectly acknowledging and legitimizing Russian rule.  No demand to respect the basic freedoms of people in Russian occupied Ukraine should imply recognition of Russian sovereignty over these regions; all should insist on upholding internationally recognized borders.

 

 

Aaron Rhodes is Senior Fellow in the Common Sense Society and President of the Forum for Religious Freedom Europe.  He is the author of The Debasement of Human Rights (Encounter Books 2018). 

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website





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EGYPT: Jehovah’s Witnesses banned since 1960 defend their case at the UN

Jehovah’s Witnesses deregistered since 1960 defend their case at the UN Human Rights Committee

Text of their submission

HRWF/ AAJW & EAJW (12.01.2022) – On the occasion of the upcoming 134th session of the UN Human Rights Committee (28 February – 25 March 2022), the African Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses (AAJW) and the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses (EAJW) filed a joint submission about the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Egypt.

I. INTRODUCTION

  1. The Christian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been present in Egypt since 1912. They obtained official registration in 1951 but were arbitrarily deregistered in 1960.
  2. The campaign of misrepresentation and false accusations that led to the banning of the Christian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Egypt continues to keep these law-abiding citizens from enjoying the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution of Egypt and in human rights instruments, including the Covenant, which was ratified by Egypt on 14 January 1982. Although more than 60 years have passed, officials continue to deny the Christian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses the opportunity to meet with key authorities in order to resolve the situation.

II. Violations of the provisions of THE COVENANT

  1. Loss of Religious Recognition and Denial of Re-registration (articles 18, 21, 22, 26 and 27)
    1. In the 1930s, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were established in Alexandria and in Cairo. By the post-war years of 1945–1950, there were already a significant number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Egypt.
    2. Well into the 1950s, Egyptian Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoyed relative freedom of worship. On 3 November 1951, the Cairo Governorate granted recognition to a branch of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (Watch Tower Society), a legal corporation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1956, the Governorate of Alexandria granted similar recognition to the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    3. In 1959, a campaign of false accusations labelling Jehovah’s Witnesses as “Zionists” caused the police to order the Witnesses to cease holding their religious services.
    4. On 20 June 1960, a decree of the Ministry of Social Affairs deregistered the local branch of the Watch Tower Society and effectively banned the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in all Egypt. The pretext for the ban was an alleged failure to re-register according to Law 384 of 1956. All the property owned by Witness entities was confiscated. Efforts to re-register were rejected for “security reasons”.
    5. The campaign of anti-Witness articles in the Egyptian press increased, with articles becoming more numerous and increasingly defamatory. The inaccurate portrayal of Jehovah’s Witnesses as Zionists caused them to be viewed as a security threat. The Boycott Office of the League of Arab Nations handed down a decree on 12 May 1964, stating that Arab nations would “ban absolutely all dealings with said society [Jehovah’s Witnesses], along with all its branches and offices wherever these may be found, including the ensuing closure of its branches and offices in Arab States, and prohibiting the bringing in, and circulation/distribution of its publications and printed material”.
    6. For many decades Jehovah’s Witnesses have been consistently taking a religious stance establishing that they are not Zionists. The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is entirely religious and does not advocate any political arrangement, which would include Zionism. The political neutrality of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been well documented, and in some lands the Witnesses have suffered severe persecution rather than compromise that neutrality. These views are reiterated today at greater length on the Witnesses’ official website and should ensure that there is no ambiguity about their position.[1]
    7. The Administration of Land Registration and Documentation of the Ministry of Justice in Egypt issued three directives (in 1985, 1993 and 1999) that prohibit its agencies from registering any property belonging to the Watch Tower Society or to other entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    8. A 1985 decree of the Ministry of Justice (Administrative Law No. 9) prevents Jehovah’s Witnesses from officially registering both property ownership and marriages. On 23 March 2019, the High Administrative Court of Egypt rejected an appeal (No. 10698) to reverse this decree. This court also refused to refer the case to the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt for judgment. The court claimed that the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses contradict public order and morals in the country of Egypt.
    9. As a result, property cannot be bought or owned in the name of any organized group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As an organization, Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot even obtain land to bury their dead but must use privately owned cemeteries.
    10. The misunderstanding or misrepresentation that led to the ban in 1960 continues to keep honest, law-abiding citizens who are Jehovah’s Witnesses from enjoying the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in their Constitution and in human rights instruments ratified by Egypt, including the Covenant. More than 60 years later, Jehovah’s Witnesses have still not been permitted to clarify their position by meeting with the highest authorities in the country.
    11. Currently, the National Security Agency (NS) unlawfully interrogates and verbally harasses Witnesses on a monthly basis, summoning them without official authorization on the pretext of protecting national interests.
    12. Restrictions on Places of Worship and on Manifestation of Belief (articles 18, 21, 22, 26 and 27)
    13. The NS continues to search for and threaten Jehovah’s Witnesses who are foreign nationals, especially those believed to be “leading ministers” and those associating with Egyptian Witnesses. During interrogations, agents try to intimidate the Witnesses and often threaten them with arrest in order to obtain information both about fellow believers in Egypt and about how the Witnesses are organized. By way of example:
      1. March 2020: NS agents forcefully entered the homes of at least two Egyptian Witnesses, without a warrant or consent, in order to interrogate them about a married Witness couple who were foreign nationals lawfully resident in Egypt. Because of the threat of arrest and deportation, the couple fled Egypt and returned to the United States.
      2. April/May 2020: NS agents interrogated two Sudanese Witnesses about their peaceful religious activities.
    14. Owing to the now over 60-year ban, Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot build or own places of worship. Consequently, they are obliged to hold their peaceful religious meetings discreetly, in private homes. Many Witnesses report continued surveillance of their telephone conversations, their homes and their meeting locations. Additionally, the Witnesses are not permitted to import their religious literature or to manifest their religious beliefs by peacefully sharing a Bible message with persons who wish to receive it.
      1. On 29 February 2020, two female Jehovah’s Witnesses spoke about their faith to a Christian woman at a food court in Cairo. After the conversation ended, a member of the mall staff and a security officer approached the woman and interrogated her about the conversation. The two Witnesses were able to leave the area before they could be questioned.
      2. On 28 March 2020, an NS agent visited a Witness family in central Cairo to interrogate them about meetings held in their home.
  • In February 2020, an Egyptian Witness who owns an apartment arranged for it to be completely renovated so as to be suitable for religious meetings and rented it to fellow worshippers. Since Witnesses cannot obtain a zoning permit to use property for their religious meetings, the NS repeatedly attempted to obtain a copy of the rental contract in order to file charges against the Witnesses involved. Despite repeated telephone calls and threats, the Witnesses refused to give the NS a copy of the contract. NS agents then interrogated and harassed the Witness landlord and ordered that the apartment be emptied and closed immediately. Subsequently, Jehovah’s Witnesses have not been able to use the property.
  1. The above incidents have occurred since the European Parliament’s adoption of the 24 October 2019 Resolution on Egypt, which “stresses the importance of guaranteeing the equality of all Egyptians, regardless of their faith or belief; calls for Egypt to review its blasphemy laws in order to ensure the protection of religious minorities … calls on the Egyptian authorities, including the military and security forces, to respect the rights of Christians, protect them against violence and discrimination and ensure that those responsible for such acts are prosecuted.” (P9_TA-PROV (2019)0043)
  2. During 2021, owing to Covid-19 precautions, all of Jehovah’s Witnesses religious meetings have been held via videoconference. The NS has strenuously investigated who holds licences for a proprietary videoconferencing system, how meeting details are distributed, who the hosts are, the names of the attendees, etc. Such details constituted part of the information sought during interrogations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

III. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Egypt and as a worldwide organization express concern for the government’s refusal to recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Christian religion, its over 60-year denial of re-registration and its restrictions on places of worship and manifestation of peaceful religious beliefs. They respectfully request the Government of Egypt to take the necessary steps to:
  • Ensure that Jehovah’s Witnesses are able to register their local religious organizations.
  • End the continuous and intrusive surveillance and interrogations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • Allow Egyptian and foreign Jehovah’s Witnesses to worship peacefully and to associate with one another.
  • Cancel the directives of the Administration of Land Registration and Documentation of the Ministry of Justice in Egypt that prohibit its agencies from registering title to property belonging to legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • Abide by its commitment to uphold the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Covenant for all citizens, including Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    1. AAJW and EAJW will consider submitting an additional complementary submission with the CCPR after the list of issues has been adopted.

 

Photo : istockphoto.com

[1] “Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Zionists?” Available at https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/beliefs-about-zionism/; Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, “Does Bible Prophecy Point to the Modern State of Israel?” Available at https://www.jw.org/en/library/magazines/wp20101101/bible-prophecy-modern-state-israel/.

Further reading about FORB in Egypt on HRWF website


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