European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom

Statement by the Russian Ombudsman's Office regarding a criminal case against 16 Jehovah's Witnesses


Written the Thursday, August 8th 2013 à 12:52
HRWF





Statement by the Russian Ombudsman's Office regarding a criminal case against  16 Jehovah's Witnesses

HRWF (08.08.2013) - On 24 July 2013, Mr. Mikhail Odintsov from the Russian Ombudsman's Office to the Taganrog City Court of the Rostov Region issued a statement regarding a criminal case against  16 Jehovah's Witnesses.
 

Brief overview of the case
 

On 5 August 2011, V. V. Pustynnikov, the Deputy Chief of the Investigative Section of the Headquarters of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the South Federal Circuit, initiated a criminal case against unnamed Jehovah's Witnesses. This was nearly two years after the 11 September 2009, decision of the Rostov Regional Court to dissolve the LRO of Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog. (The Kingdom Hall in Taganrog was confiscated on 1 March 2010).
 

On 25 August 2011, law enforcement officers searched 19 homes of Jehovah's Witnesses and seized personal Bibles and other non-prohibited religious literature, computers, and other personal items. The searches began at 6:00 a.m. and lasted 8 to 11 hours.
 

On 4 February 2012, a second criminal case was opened against a number of the Witnesses in Taganrog under Article 282.2(2) of the RF Criminal Code (CrC). On 30 May 2012, the third criminal case was opened under Article 150(4) of the RF CrC for allegedly luring minors into committing a crime. The cases were later combined and 16 Witnesses became targets of the criminal prosecution.
 

On 31 May 2012, the 16 Witnesses, received indictments. Four male Witnesses were accused of organizing a criminal community because they serve as congregation elders and conduct peaceful religious services. The remaining 12, including two women, were accused of participating in the activity of a criminal community for merely attending religious services.
 

On 12 April 2013, the accused were officially charged and the criminal case went to trial. On 30 May 2013 the Taganrog City Court began the examination of the case. The case is still being heard.
 

 

Statement of Russian Ombudsman's Office

 

To the Taganrog City Court of the Rostov Region
347900, g. Taganrog, ul. Chucheva, 42/2

Defense representative    Mikhail Ivanovich Odintsov
                                         Moscow, ul. Trofimova, 9, kv. 216

For criminal case              No. 1-289/13

Position of the Defense Representative
concerning the charges against:
N. V. Trotsyuk, A. V. Skvortsov, A. A. Koptev, and Yu. A. Baklushin for the crimes specified in Articles 282.2(1), 150(4), and 150(4) of the RF Criminal Code, and against:

S. N. Trotsyuk, R. V. Voloshchuk, A. V. Goncharov, O. N. Goncharova, V. V. Shchekalev, K. Yu. Minasyan, K. I. Chetverikov, V. V. Kozhukhov, V. V. Kruglikov, T. V. Kravchenko, V. P. Moiseyenko, and K. M. Kravchenko for the crime specified in
Article 282.2(2) of the RF Criminal Code

 

Honorable Court!
 

As provided for in Article 273(2) of the RF Criminal Procedural Code, I wish to express my position regarding the charges made.
 

Over the course of several decades the focus of my scientific interests has been history, the relationship between society and the State, and the legal position of various churches and religions in Russia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among them is the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, and I have devoted several of my scientific articles and compilations to various aspects of its activity. My monograph Sovet ministrov postanovlyayet: "vyselit navechno" (Council of Ministers Rules: "Exile Forever"), was published in 2002 and was dedicated to the history of Jehovah's Witnesses during and after the "Great Patriotic War" and based on previously classified documents and materials I discovered in the state archives.
 

All of this led me to the conclusion that, although the association of Jehovah's Witnesses is a relatively young religion, the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses has grown over the 140 years of its existence from a small group of people with common interests who studied the Bible and Christianity into an international organization. Today there are associations of Jehovah's Witnesses active in 239 lands and territories, uniting nearly eight million members in their ranks. For the vast majority of religious historians and religious scholars it is an undisputed fact that Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian church, a Protestant denomination that is recognized throughout the world.
 

In Russia the history of Jehovah's Witnesses goes back more than 100 years to the 1880s, which has been proven by documented evidence and has impacted the lives of hundreds, even thousands, of persons. Sadly, both the Russian government and the state religion engaged in a policy of persecuting dissenting opinions and religions, and not a few subjects of the Russian Empire were subjected to repression on religious grounds. Among them were members of a new religion in Russia, Jehovah's Witnesses.
 

Little changed even after the October Revolution in 1917. Religious discrimination against citizens continued in Soviet Russia (USSR) just as it had been in tsarist Russia. Many religious organizations, including Jehovah's Witnesses, were arbitrarily, unfoundedly deemed "antigovernment fanatical sects" and were subjected to all kinds of persecution and their members were mercilessly sent to camps, prisons, and exile in hopes that the government could "physically destroy" religions it disapproved. At the very end of the "Great Patriotic War" a number of the leaders and activists of Jehovah's Witnesses were sentenced to 25 years for so-called "anti-Soviet" activity. Thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses were deported from Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltic countries to Kazakhstan, Siberia, and the Far East. State security agencies began investigating all of Jehovah's Witnesses and the places where they held their religious meetings; the directors and most active members were placed under constant surveillance; the location of depots for religious literature and underground printeries were uncovered; and distribution routes for foreign religious literature were tracked.
 

This path of pain and sorrow continued for Jehovah's Witnesses down till the early 1990s, when the State finally realized the injustice that had been done to people with dissenting opinions and religions. According to the Law of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression dated 18 October 1991 No. 1761-1 and the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation on Measures to Rehabilitate Ministers and Believers Who Were Victims of Unfounded Repression dated 14 March 1996 No. 378, adherents of all churches and religions who had been unlawfully subjected to criminal prosecution were rehabilitated as victims of political repression. This completely applied to Jehovah's Witnesses.
 

In October 1997 the Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations entered legal force, requiring that all religious associations be reregistered. On 29 April 1999 the Russian Federation Ministry of Justice reregistered the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, which for the first time in our Russian history created all of the necessary legal conditions for communities of Jehovah's Witnesses in various regions of the country to normally carry out their activity. The reregistration was preceded by a state religious expert study of the beliefs and practices of the religious association of Jehovah's Witnesses performed by the Expert Council for Conducting State Religious Expert Studies under the RF Ministry of Justice. That study confirmed that such expressions of faith as refusal to perform military service on religious grounds, dissemination of one's faith, and many others, were in compliance with the law. The Expert Council reached the conclusion that in cases where a citizen consciously and voluntarily refuses a blood transfusion or other medical procedure, this cannot in any way be considered a violation of the law, and that corresponding requirements of the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses fully harmonize with international legal requirements. Finally, the Expert Council established that the practices of Jehovah's Witnesses do not fundamentally differ in content or form from the activity of other "traditional" or "new" religious organizations, since they are exclusively religious in nature, are aimed at providing for a person's right to freedom of religion, and serve to satisfy the spiritual needs of adherents.
 

Taking all of this into account, the charges against my clients can in no way be construed as justified. The indictment is lengthy, but it cannot be determined from the indictment what specific crime each of the defendants committed for which he must be called to criminal accountability.
 

The charges are formally based on the ruling of the Rostov Regional Court dated 11 September 2009 to dissolve and ban the activity of a specific legal entity, the Local Religious Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses "Taganrog," which had operated in accordance with Article 8 of the Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. However, the indictment obviously twists the legal sense of that ruling, unfoundedly applying it to the religious activity of specific believers, all of whom are acting strictly within the bounds of the constitutional right to freedom of conscience. I call the attention of the honorable court to Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, where it says: "Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with others any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to them."
 

This right of man and citizen is guaranteed to the fullest extent for the entire territory of the Russian Federation; this includes the city of Taganrog, which belongs to a territorial subject of the Russian Federation, the Rostov Region. It is guaranteed to everyone, that is, to any resident of Taganrog who chooses a particular religion, including the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, or any particular set of convictions. It cannot be arbitrarily restricted or denied by anyone.
 

Therefore, everyone who chooses the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses has the right to freely hold and disseminate his religious convictions and to act in harmony with them, including by, together with fellow believers, professing one's religion, holding religious services and prayer meetings at which the Bible or other religious books are read, and preaching. All of these things as well as other aspects of internal church affairs (particulars of worship, hierarchy, structure, distribution of responsibilities during prayer meetings, and so on) and religious worship are ways in which a citizen (person) exercises his constitutional rights. Therefore, to raise the possibility of criminally prosecuting a person for this is illegal and absurd.
 

Equally illegal and absurd are the unsubstantiated and demeaning assertions by the prosecution that during the religious services of that religious group calls are supposedly made to refuse to perform civic duties and to not obey the law. At the same time, members of the group are charged with inciting enmity and hatred toward other religions, with breaking up marriages and families, and with preaching their exclusivity and superiority over other religions. I have to say that such assertions cannot but offend these persons, many of whom have worked in their fields for a long time, have raised children, participate in the life of their city, and have received commendation and awards. The prosecution did not bother to familiarize itself with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, where a legal appraisal has already been made of such types of "charges" when considering the applications of Jehovah's Witnesses in Chelyabinsk and Moscow. The Court rejected all such "arguments," and, to our bitter dismay, Russia was found to be in violation of the European Convention.
 

In summing up, I would like to emphasize that Jehovah's Witnesses are able to openly and freely carry out their religious activity, as characteristic of their Christian denomination, in every city of Russia where religious organizations and religious groups of Jehovah's Witnesses operate; only in Taganrog are they persecuted for this.
 

I am convinced that it is impermissible to condemn a citizen for his right to be a believer and a member of a specific religious association, for adopting religious convictions and carrying them out in his personal and family life; no matter what, he is still a believer.
 

In view of the foregoing, and in harmony with Article 302(2.3) of the RF Criminal Procedural Code, Article 28 of the RF Constitution, and Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, I believe the court has every basis for conducting an objective trial and acquitting all of the defendants in this criminal case.
 

Respectfully,
 

Defense representative                                                                                             [signature] M. I. Odintsov

                                                                                                                                                       24 July 2013



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