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JW World Headquarters (13.06.2020) – Ten years ago, on June 10, 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russian authorities had perpetrated a grave violation of human rights with a years-long campaign to suppress the freedom of worship for Jehovah’s Witnesses. The ECHR’s judgment directed Russia to pay a sizable fine and to reinstate the registration of the Local Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow—which the authorities revoked in 2004.

Is this relevant now?

Yes. The ECHR’s 2010 judgment categorically refuted the baseless charges that Russia continues to level against peaceful believers today in an effort to label them “extremists.” Thus, the ECHR’s objective findings are an authoritative voice that exposes and counters the propaganda Russia has launched against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

What lies did the ECHR expose?

  • Coercion into destroying families—§109-114 (see link above to judgment)
  • Door-to-door preaching invaded privacy of others—§122
  • Infringement of parental rights of non-Witness parents—§123-127
  • Proselytizing, “mind control,” and totalitarian discipline—§128-130
  • Encouragement of suicide or refusal of medical assistance—§131-141
  • Damage to citizens’ health—§143-146
  • Luring minors into organization—§147, 148
  • Incitement of citizens to refuse civic duties—§149-153

In summary, the ECHR concluded that the Moscow Justice Department, along with the Moscow courts, had no evidence to support their claims and “no legal basis” for refusing the reregistration of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Court decried the Moscow authorities, asserting that they “did not act in good faith and neglected their duty of neutrality and impartiality.” Additionally, the Court deemed the Moscow authorities guilty of violating the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Russia is a State Party.—§181, 182.

Who is behind Russia’s lies?

Beginning in 1995, the Committee for the Salvation of Youth from Totalitarian Cults (aka the Salvation Committee), an NGO affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church, persisted in trying to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. In the following years, the Salvation Committee made five attempts at launching a criminal case against the Witnesses but all were terminated.. However, in April 1998, a new investigator recommended that the Salvation Committee lodge a civil action against the Witnesses. This tactic was successful.—§16-22.

In recent years, the Russian member association of the anti-sect umbrella organization FECRIS (European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Sectarianism) has been a major actor in a general plan aiming to reintegrate so-called lost sheep into the Orthodox Church. Financed by the ROC, the FECRIS member assosciation in Russia actively targets Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religions.

Russian law and anti-extremism rhetoric aid the ROC…

In 1997, Russia passed legislation that excluded the Witnesses from a list of “traditional” religions recognized in Russia. The following year, the Salvation Committee’s case against the Witnesses opened under the auspices of that 1997 law, led tothe effective banning of the community in Moscow in 2004.

 

Russia’s Federal Law “On Combating Extremist Activity” (No. 114-FZ), adopted in 2002, was amended in 2006, 2007, and 2008 so that it extends “far beyond any fears of extremism linked to terrorism,” according to the article “Russia’s Extremism Law Violates Human Rights,” published in The Moscow Times.

The law “simply seizes upon the ‘terrorist’ vocabulary that has become commonplace internationally since the 9/11 assault on the Twin Towers in NYC, and uses it to describe unwelcome religious groups across Russia,” explains Derek H. Davis, former director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. Hence, “the ‘extreme’ label,” says Mr. Davis, “has been unfairly and disproportionately used against Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

 

In its 2010 judgment, the ECHR found the Witnesses “not liable for extremist activity.” (§55) “I agree with the ECHR’s finding,” stated former UN Special Rapporteur, Heiner Bielefeldt. “Banning Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to organize themselves according to their religion was ‘drastic’ and ‘disproportionate,’ and violated freedom of religion.”

 

“A miscarriage of justice”

On June 9, 2020, Human Rights Watch’s Rachel Denber described the conviction of Gennady Shpakoskiy, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as “a miscarriage of justice.” She called on Russia to free Shpakovskiy and the other 30 imprisoned Witnesses. She added: “Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia should be allowed to worship on an equal basis with everyone else, without fear of being arrested or harassed.”

 

Below are the latest statistics for Russia’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the Federation and Crimea:

  • 346 under criminal investigation
  • 31 in prison (8 convicted; 23 pretrial detention; 170 have served time in pretrial detention)
  • 23 under house arrest
  • 946 homes raided since 2017 Supreme Court ruling (145 raided in 2020—even during the COVID-19 pandemic)
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