MOSCOW—On December 8, 2009, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation considered the appeal of a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and upheld the earlier lower court ruling to pronounce 34 pieces of educational religious literature “extremist.” The Supreme Court dismissed the congregation’s appeal. This congregation now faces “liquidation.”
Arli Chimirov, the lawyer representing the interests of Jehovah’s Witnesses, decried the ruling: “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is a ruling against the freedom to manifest religious beliefs, and it affirms a misapplication of the Federal Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who distribute these publications internationally. Jehovah’s Witnesses will appeal this matter to the the European Court of Human Rights in order to protect freedom of religion in Russia, including the right to worship using religious literature of one’s choice and to peacefully share one’s beliefs with others. Meanwhile, I fear there will be many more acts of religious intolerance and hatred taken against Jehovah’s Witensses because of the Court’s ruling.”
Members of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taganrog (Rostov Region) at the center of the case, as well as worshippers throughout Russia and abroad, are also deeply concerned that this high court ruling will unleash a greater wave of religious intolerance, even worse than the attitudes and actions already fueled by the regional court decision. There are seven other cases pending against congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses for the same “extremist” charge put upon the Taganrog congregation.
The Chairman of the Presiding Committee of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, Vasily Kalin, said: “I am very concerned that this decision will open a new era of opposition against Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose right to meet in peace, to access religious literature and to share the Christian hope contained in the Gospels, is more and more limited.” Mr. Kalin can speak from personal experience. “When I was young I was sent to Siberia for being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and because my parents were reading The Watchtower, the same journal being unjustly declared ‘extremist’ in these proceedings.”
The Watchtower has been in print for 130 years; it is available in 170 languages and each month some 37 million copies are distributed worldwide. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been practicing their faith in Russia for over 100 years.
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