Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses lose places of worship as Moscow trial continues.While no verdict has been reached in the case, which is an attempt to ban the work and worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow, the group’s members are already suffering the effects of an atmosphere of religious intolerance.
To date it is reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses have lost leases on three Kingdom Halls in Moscow, affecting some 2,000 worshipers, in ten congregations. In each case landlords told members they were pressured to deny leases to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The congregations affected are now sharing facilities used by other congregations.
”This has caused quite a hardship on our worshipers,” said church member Dmitri Bojevsky.
“They must travel one hour each way to attend services. We have been looking for a place closer to where everyone lives but have been unable to find one.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses say they will adjust to the loss of their houses of worship.
However, it is troubling to many that this legally registered religion is facing such harassment.
“Unfortunately, even before this trial is over, Jehovah’s Witnesses are being punished over a case with no verdict and no evidence,” said Vasilii Kalin, director of the Witnesses’ Administrative Centre in St. Petersburg.
“Guilt or innocence is not an issue any more. Blatant intolerance is the real problem. The civil case against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow, which was brought last year, is the first court test of Russia’s new law on religion.
The case started on September 29, 1998, and has been postponed twice. The case was halted, most recently, on March 12, 1999.The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office has just come under heavy criticism by human rights leaders, foreign government officials, Russian officials and journalists for its shoddy prosecution tactics and lack of evidence.