JW Brodcasting: Russia Legal Update - January 2017 (Transcript)
John Ekrann (Helper to the Coordinators' Committee): Thank you for joining us on this update on the legal situation in Russia. Our report will discuss the latest development after an important court decision on January 16 (2017). For some time the Russian government has claimed that Jehovah's Witnesses are extremist. Last year the prosecutor general issued a warning for extremist activity against the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, which is our branch office. We appealed that warning as we have not been engaged in any extremist activity. But on January 16th of this year, the Moscow City Court dismissed that appeal. The three-judge panel rejected all arguments filed by our attorneys and rendered it's decision after a ten-minute recess. Now we don't know what the implications of the decision will be, but we do know that in the past when warnings have been issued in Russia against some of our local entities, our property has later been seized. Despite the outcome, the January 16th court hearing provided a great witness. Our representatives were given the opportunity to present evidence showing that certain Russian officials have been running a campaign of painting us as an extremist organization. Additionally our brothers highlighted the peace that exists among Jehovah's Witnesses. We now have Brother Sergei Cherepanov with us live from the Administrative Center in Russia. Now Sergei what does this recent court decision really mean?
Sergei Cherepanov (Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia): What the Government chooses to do now we don't know, but we do know, is that our brothers will continue worshiping Jehovah. They will go to the meetings, they will go to the field ministry, and keep up to their spiritual routin. Whatever future might bring we know that worshipping Jehovah will continue in Russia. And, of course, we have done everything possible and we will continue doing so, that is to legally defend our right to worship Jehovah freely in Russia but we have to understand that we cannot expect perfect justice in this world of injustice.
John Ekrann: Well considering the groundless accusations that are being made against Jehovah's people in Russia, how did the brothers and sisters react? are they bitter?
Sergei Cherepanov: No not at all. Well our brothers continue to be in subjection to the authorities. We respect the authorities, and we understand that not all of them are against us, but just like Paul admonished in 1 Timothy 2:1 and 2 - we pray for them, so that they will understand the nature of our work and we will be able to continue our calm and quiet life with complete godly devotion.
John Ekrann That's a wonderful attitude to have. What is the message that the brothers and sisters in Russia would like to convey to our worldwide brotherhood?
Sergei Cherepanov: Well brothers, you don't need to be overly worried about us, but please keep us in your prayers.
John Ekrann: We certainly will Sergei, and please convey our love to all the brothers and sisters there in Russia.
Sergei Cherepanov: We will. Thank you very much.
John Ekrann: Although the legal case is currently focused on the administrative center in Russia. How did we get to where we are today? To understand the background we need to go back to 2015 when a City Court ruled on allegations against Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Taganrog Russia.
Caption: A verdict has been issued. Court hearing held in Russian Federation, Taganrog, Rostov Region
Narration: On November 30th 2015 the Taganrog City Court convicted 16 Jehovah's Witnesses. And in March of the next year Rostov Regional Court confirmed this decision .
Aleksandr Skvortsov (Taganrog): I was hoping that the arguments for the defense and statements of the accused would be heard by the judicial chamber and we would be excused. But neither were heard at that time.
Narration: So on what are the charges of extremism based? The first step taken by the authorities was to get several publications of Jehovah's Witnesses added to the Federal list of extremist materials.
Yury Toporov (Attorney): It means that importing these publications in the country, storing them in their places of worship, and distributing them was prohibited. The basic reasons to ban these publications were based on statements which alleged that they incite religious discord by pointing out the superiority of Jehovah's Witnesses over all other religions.
Narration: Following that logic, the Courts have pronounced as extremist over 80 publications of Jehovah's Witnesses and their official website. Not surprisingly many specialists in the field of Human Rights consider the court decisions erroneous.
Vladimir Ryakhovsky (Member of the President of Russia's Council for Civil Society and Human Rights): If I say that my faith is the right one. It is the only true religion. What would that mean? Is it advocating exclusivity, or inferiority, or supremacy? No, of course not.
Narration: Jehovah's Witnesses stopped using these publications and removed them from their places of worship. Despite this the authorities moved on to the second stage of their persecution.
Yury Toporov: For several years law enforcement officers have repeatedly used the following scenario: A third party places banned literature at the place of worship of Jehovah's Witnesses; a few minutes later police officers and prosecutors show up to inspect and search the building; and, as if by chance, find planted publications. And all this is done just to accuse believers of extremism and to ban their activity.
Narration: As a result of such literature plantings the authorities have succeeded in liquidating seven local entities of Jehovah's Witnesses in different cities of Russia. This was the third step of the persecution.
Yury Toporov: It is important to understand. It is a local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, or LRO, which is not the same thing as a congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. A LRO includes 10 to 15 believers and have certain rights, such as to own and maintain a religious building. The actual activities relating to their worship is carried out by the believers independently of the LRO.
Narration: And, at last the authorities moved onto their main goal. With reference to the fact that local entities have been banned, the Prosecutors Office now expressed its readiness to ban the Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. Prior to this the Prosecutor's Office had already initiated several inspections. Then in 2013, a team of approximately 60 officials turned up at the Administrative Center to inspect it. However, despite all their efforts, nothing unlawful was found. Such events remind many human rights advocates of the days of religious repression in the past.
Ludmila Alekseeva (Member of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights): I have known about Jehovah's Witnesses for mnay years. During Soviet times they were persecuted for their faith, and received long sentences in prison camps. They would go to prison for their faith. Such sincere feelings called for respect. Heartfelt faith excludes extremism.
Vasiliy Kalin (Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia): Although Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia are going through certain difficulties. Today our brothers and sisters continue to serve Jehovah with great joy and zeal. We are also receiving words of support from our brothers and sisters all around the world.
Yury Balkushin (Taganrog): During this difficult time of persecution I have received a lot of help from our brothers and sisters. Recently one brother from New Zealand wrote that his six-year-old son is praying for me every night. It was a great encouragement.
Alexey Koptev (Taganrog): And, of course, we remember one family who sends greetings from France. Nine people, seven of them were children, that's something.
Aleksandr Skvortsov: My relationship with Jehovah is only getting stronger through all of this. During any trial I tried to get to know Him better, understand him and it strengthens our relationship.
Caption: The verdict has been announced. Do you have any questions? The court hearing is now adjorned
Aleksandr Skvortsov: Brothers! Endure difficulties. Stand firm in the faith, and blessings from Jehovah will come
John Ekrann: Our brothers in Russia have gone through a lot in the past few years. King Hezekiah experienced something similar as you may remember from last year's Regional Convention drama. Jehovah said in Isaiah 30:15 "Your strength will be in keeping calm and showing trust." Now Hezekiah trusted in Jehovah, and Jehovah proved to be with him. But how can we remain calm when negative things take place around us? Well, first we trust that Jehovah will care for us no matter what happens. We know that he's pleased by our faith and courage; second, we know that all we're asking for is to be able to worship Jehovah in love and peace - our neutral peace-loving stand is known around the world; and third, our worldwide Brotherhood stands with us. Brothers and sisters in Russia - your trust in Jehovah is a great example for all of us to imitate. Please know that we are praying in your behalf because we love you very much. There's no doubt that Jehovah is on your side and he will continue to guide and protect you. This is JW Broadcasting from the world headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses.