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Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia

A TRIAL, which could see Jehovah’s Witnesses banned from worshipping in Moscow was suspended on March 12th 1999 to allow a panel of experts to review the doctrines of the religious group.
After five weeks of intense questioning of both defence and prosecution witnesses, Judge Yelena Prokhorycheva suspended the court case and gave no indication of when it would resume.
She selected the five members of the “expert panel” that is expected to review the religious doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses but did not say when the pane would finish its work.
The case which started in September was brought by the prosecutors office of Moscow’s northern administrative region.
It is using the 1997 law “on freedom of conscience and religious organisations” as it accuses the Jehovah’s Witnesses of violating the Russian constitution by their missionary activities.
Jehovah’s Witnesses  claim no one is forced to practise their religion and stress that any ban on he group would defy the Russian Constitution and European convention on Human Rights.
“If we lose and we are banned and liquidated, other parts of Russia will follow suit, so for us the stakes are extraordinarily high,” said Jehovah’s Witness Judah Schroeder.
A judgement against the group could lead to the banning of other sects, including the Mormon church and the Seventh-Day Adventists.
The Orthodox Church supports the new law, which enshrines it as the country’s main religious group.
Metropolitan Kiril, one of the Orthodox Church’s Moscow leaders, accused Jehovah’s Witnesses of “intruding on the people’s spiritual world and exerting psychological pressure,” the Interfax news agency reported.


More Pressure


The Moscow Department of Justice has also publicly supported three of the five charges against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Until now, only the local prosecutor had taken a position against the religion. Human rights advocates expressed concern over the new development.
“The Moscow Department of Justice has officially called for the banning of Jehovah’s  Witnesses,” said Lyudmila Alekseyeva, president of the International Helsinki Federation, which monitors human rights.
“If you look at the history of this process, there is no other answer than that the administration of Moscow is supporting this.”
In the past, Moscow city officials have publicly stated that they oppose religious intolerance.
Defence attorney John Burns said he was glad to get a straight answer from the Department of Justice.
“They finally came out of the woodwork and showed their colours,” he said. “Now we know exactly what we are up against. It’s too bad the department is retreating from its previous support of Jehovah’s Witnesses and of religious freedom.”
Regulations require the  Justice Department to give written warnings before taking action to ban a religion. The attorney admitted that now warnings had been issued to Jehovah’s Witnesses and that the department had not investigated the religion.

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