Mock Trial of Christians—The Shame of Portugal!
TOWARD the end of June and the beginning of July a trial of forty-nine of Jehovah’s witnesses and their associates in Lisbon captured attention throughout Portugal. Although the courtroom could accommodate only a limited few, thousands of persons gathered every day for the sessions. Never before had anything like it been seen in Portugal! Even people in other countries closely followed reports of the foreign correspondents present at the trial.
Many Portuguese citizens may feel that they know what went on at the trial. Why, in a matter of just two days, Lisbon newspapers contained 176 column inches of publicity about Jehovah’s witnesses and the approaching trial. But these reports were extremely biased, often containing outright lies. Only propaganda of those seeking a conviction was presented; the defense of Jehovah’s witnesses was never published. One newspaper told inquirers that when a fair story had been prepared and set up in type, Government censors prevented it from being printed.
Officials soon found, however, that even biased publicity resulted in more interest in Jehovah’s witnesses and their activities. So this, too, was greatly diminished. Therefore, relatively few people really know what went on during the actual course of the trial. You will find these matters of keen interest.
ARREST AND IMPRISONMENT
On the evening of June 10, 1965, the Feijó Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses was peacefully assembled in a private home in a suburb of Lisbon. About seventy were present, studying the Bible among themselves, as is the regular practice of Jehovah’s witnesses. Then, about 10 p.m., police action headed by Lieutenant Jorge Manuel Natividade Jacob broke up the meeting and placed forty-nine under arrest.
Although no official charges were made against them, two of the ministers, Arriaga Cardoso and José Fernandes Lourenço, were taken off to Fort Caxias prison. There they remained until October 29, four months and nineteen days, being denied reading matter, including the Bible, during over two months of that time. Mr. Cardoso and Mr. Lourenço were even kept in solitary confinement for eleven days, apparently in an attempt to break them down.
During their imprisonment, the Government drew up a 416-page brief. This contained, principally, the questions asked the two prisoners as well as the other forty-seven accused, and the answers they gave. A part of the detailed accusation by the Government’s prosecutor stated:
“I pronounce all of the accused as material authors of a crime against the security of the State, of instigation to collective disobedience, foreseen and punishable under Article 174 of the Penal Code. . . . They constitute a political movement, coming from various countries with aims of disobedience, agitation and subversion of the popular masses and especially the youths of popular age.”
However, no evidence was contained in the 416-page brief to prove that the forty-nine were guilty of these crimes. Absolutely no testimony of witnesses was produced to support the charges! The accusations were mere assertions, made without any evidence. The fact is: Forty-nine Christians were found studying the Bible together; they were not discussing politics, and no evidence was offered to support the claim that they constitute “a political movement.” Nor was any effort made in the brief to prove that these persons ever publicly preached about anything, let alone that they had been telling people to disobey the Portuguese government, or were agitating and subverting the popular masses. No honest person could help but be struck by the brief’s total lack of evidence. Nevertheless, the case was set for trial.
What would happen in court? Would the prosecution present evidence there proving the accused guilty of the crimes with which they were charged? Would the defendants be allowed full freedom to present evidence of their innocence to the court? Would the judges listen with unprejudiced minds in order to arrive at a just decision?
TRIAL OPENS AND IS POSTPONED
Finally, on June 14 of this year, the trial opened at Lisbon’s courthouse at Largo da Boa Hora, and Jehovah’s witnesses from all parts of Portugal flocked into town, not to picket the court but to give moral support to their Christian brothers and sisters who were on trial. Police officials had never seen such crowds there before. Being unprepared for so many people, they were, at first, bewildered. One officer exclaimed excitedly: “What are we going to do with all these people? The main entranceway must be kept clear!” Overhearing the comment, one of Jehovah’s witnesses passed the word and within minutes the entranceway was cleared. The officer was simply amazed by the swift cooperation and orderliness. Never before had there been a Lisbon crowd easier to handle, making seem very inappropriate the charge against the accused of “disobedience to the laws and regulations which govern public order.”
The following day Lisbon’s newspaper, O Seculo, reported: “Whoever arrived yesterday at Largo da Boa Hora would have seen a surprising spectacle . . . The windows around the second and third floors as well as the corridors, of which there are many, were full of people. In the patio people were packed tight. . . . Order was not altered. . . . It was calculated there were more than 2,000 persons present inside and outside the building. It was the first time that so many people have been seen there. They were, in the majority, sympathizers with the accused and their religion.”
Court proceedings, however, were very limited that opening day, since one of the accused was ill and could not be present. Therefore, the public prosecutor made a motion to postpone the trial, and this was granted. So the beginning of the trial was moved to June 23.
TRIAL’S FIRST SESSION
At 2:30 Thursday afternoon, June 23, the trial commenced, and it continued in session until 7:30 that evening. On hand was an even greater crowd than before, estimated by some at about 5,000. Most of these stayed outside in the street for the full five hours, eagerly awaiting reports of the proceedings inside.
The three judges assigned to hear the case were presiding judge António de Almeida Moura and assistant judges Saudade e Silva and Bernardino de Sousa. The prosecutor for the Government was Dr. Lopes de Melo, and the defense lawyer representing the accused was Dr. Vasco Almeida e Silva.
The first defendant called to testify was Arriaga Cardoso. He was one of the two that had been held for over four months in prison without any charges being filed against him.
At the outset, the presiding judge tried to give the impression that religious freedom was enjoyed in Portugal. “You are not accused of illicit association,” he told Cardoso. “You are not being judged for worshiping Jehovah. You can worship Jehovah as you can worship Mohammed or Buddha. The religion of each one is respected, that is, when such does not exceed strict religious bounds. The Portuguese Constitution guarantees freedom of worship.”
However, the judge then tried to show, apparently, that Constitutional guarantees of freedom of worship do not apply to such religions as Jehovah’s witnesses. Lisbon’s Diário Popular reported his remarks to Cardoso: “There is not liberty for anyone who invents a religion and does what he wants in the name of God or whatever it might be. He has to be subordinate to men who rule the things on earth. . . . The principle of which you are accused is disobedience, of a general kind to the laws of the Nation.”
At this point Cardoso, a 54-year-old native Portuguese citizen, started to pick up a copy of the Bible. He had in mind to show that, in compliance with the Scriptural command to be in subjection to earthly “superior authorities,” Jehovah’s witnesses are obedient to laws of all governments. (Rom. 13:1) They do not disobey the laws of any government, when these are not in conflict with God’s laws. (Acts 5:29) Nor are Jehovah’s witnesses political agitators, because, in obedience to Jesus Christ who said that his followers would be “no part of the world,” they never engage in political activity of any kind. (John 17:16) But the presiding judge quickly interrupted, as the Diário Popular reported:
“‘Don’t use the Bible! For you the Bible is what counts, for the court it is the law that counts. The Bible does not govern civil activity. Do not invoke it, each one interprets it his own way and according to his interests. The Bible is not the constitution of the State. The court does not have to accept the Bible as the Political Constitution of the Portuguese Republic when it is interpreted by some American man.’”
The defendant was not an American; he is a Portuguese citizen. And contrary to what the judge intimated, he was desirous of presenting, not the views of an American, but his own Bible-based beliefs. Yet the judge prevented his testimony. He did not want to hear from the Bible!
PRIORITY OF GOD’S LAW
Nevertheless, the Bible cannot be set aside when obedience to human law is at issue. This is because Bible laws are the very foundation from which just laws of human governments have been derived, and obedience to them is even more binding upon persons than is obedience to human laws. This has been the opinion of famous jurists right down through the centuries to our day.
One of these jurists, William Blackstone, expressed it very well when he said: The law of God “is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.” (Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Chase, New York, Baker, Voorhis and Company, 1938, pp. 5, 6) So it is not amiss to appeal to God’s Lawbook, the Holy Bible. Jehovah’s witnesses cannot leave it out of their lives.
The presiding judge asserted: “We have to adjust divine law to earthly laws. We have to interpret matters with logic. At times divine laws are aberrant.” But Jehovah’s witnesses do not agree that God’s laws are at times “aberrant,” that is, astray from the truth, erroneous. They believe God and His Word to be true, and with all their hearts and vital force try to live in harmony with the Bible. Is this wrong? Is it immoral or unchristian to put God’s law before man’s when the two conflict?
The early Christian apostles did not believe so. When they were on trial before a Jewish tribunal, Peter and the other apostles answered the charge that they stop their preaching activities by saying: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” Yes, God had given the apostles instructions to preach, and they were going to continue to obey God regardless of what men said or did! So the Bible record goes on to explain: “And every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news.”—Acts 5:27-29, 42.
Today Jehovah’s witnesses are not the only ones that answer in this manner. In a recent Portuguese book entitled “Our Divine History” by A. Amaral, which is published by the National Secretariat of Catechesis and bears the imprimatur of the Roman Catholic Church, the question is propounded on page 230: “When should we not obey the Authorities?” And the answer is given: “We should not obey the Authorities when they order us to do something that is against the will of God. (Acts 5, 29; Mat. 10, 37 Ac 5:29; Mt 10:37)” So, if Jehovah’s witnesses are charged with criminal disobedience because of publicizing this Bible view of matters, then all the Catholics in Portugal should be brought to trial on the same charge. Nothing Jehovah’s witnesses have published is more pointed than this official Bible-based Catholic view. So, since Jehovah’s witnesses in Portugal are the victims of official persecution on this basis now, what does the future hold for their Catholic neighbors?
That the Portuguese people, in general, agree that obedience to God should have priority is indicated by their popular motto: “God, Country, and the Family.” God is rightly placed first. When the State ignores this, and when God’s righteous laws are flouted and cast aside, as was done in Nazi Germany, horrible crimes against God and humanity result.
PREJUDICE OF JUDGES
From the very beginning of the trial it became evident that the judges were not interested in hearing the testimony presented by the accused. They were not concerned about obtaining evidence upon which to base a just decision, for they regularly interrupted and cut off witnesses to prevent them from giving testimony. It was clear their minds were already made up! They had apparently reached their decision before the trial even got under way. Such administration of justice is a shame to Portugal!
Prejudice against Jehovah’s witnesses was apparent throughout the entire three days of sessions. Even proper court decorum was ignored by the judges. In the words of one Portuguese lawyer, the trial was “a mockery, a disgrace and a monstrous demonstration of the low state to which Portuguese jurisprudence has fallen.” Another Lisbon attorney called the entire case “a sham.”
The judges abandoned their honorable function as magistrates of a high court and assumed the role of interrogators, accusers and ridiculers of the defendants and their beliefs. Often the very judge who propounded a question to a defendant would, if the answer displeased him, cut the defendant off before any more could be said. On several occasions the defense lawyer was forced to intervene and strongly protest the undignified manner in which the judges were speaking. He reminded them that it was not their place to make accusations, but, on the basis of the evidence presented, to judge whether the defendants were guilty of the charges.
When defendant Afonso Costa Mendes, age 54, was on the witness stand toward the end of the first day, Judge Bernardino de Sousa spewed forth a volley of uncontrolled declarations that were pitiful to hear. In an effort to show that the preaching activities of Jehovah’s witnesses created hostility, he said that a man told him: “I would have liked to give a kick in the stomach to that Witness who called at my door.” The judge asserted that their religion caused violence, and that it divided families and set them violently against one another. The lawyer for the defense tried to protest these accusations, but was cut off by the calling up of the next defendant by the judge.
However, the questioning of this defendant proved that the prejudiced judge was wrong. The defense lawyer asked:
“Are you married?”
“Is your husband one of Jehovah’s witnesses?”
“What kind of relations exist in the home between you and your husband?”
“Since becoming one of Jehovah’s witnesses I have tried to be a good Christian wife and this has helped make our marriage a happy one.”
The lawyer then turned to the judge and pointed out that this answered the unsupported charge he had just made against Jehovah’s witnesses.
The next defendant called to the witness stand was asked by the judge if he had ever been in court before.
“Yes,” the defendant answered.
“On what charges?” the judge asked.
Immediately the judge seized on this. “See what kind of religion Jehovah’s witnesses have!” he exclaimed.
The lawyer for the defense then asked the accused if he had been one of Jehovah’s witnesses at the time that he had violated the girl.
“Oh, no!” he replied. “If I had been, I never would have done such a thing. At that time I was a practicing Catholic.”
On the second day of the trial the judges made every effort to smear the defendants, and asserted that their beliefs were from America. Witnesses for the defense, however, showed otherwise, presenting evidence that what they believed was based on the Portuguese Bible. However, when testimony from the Scriptures was presented, the judges changed the subject, interrupted and finally one of them yelled out in court: “Are we going to transform this place into a Kingdom Hall? We are only interested in discussing law here!”
During this same court session, when witness for the defense Armando Monteiro was effectively explaining the Christian position of neutrality followed by Jehovah’s witnesses in Portugal, the judge was very displeased. He said that none of this interested the court and would not allow Monteiro to continue with his testimony. The lawyer for the defense objected to this high-handed, arbitrary treatment of the witness. An argument followed. The result of this session was that no more witnesses for the defense were permitted in the trial; only what are called “declarantes.” The testimony of these could be legally stopped at any time, and the defense lawyer could question them only through the judge. The judges thereby endeavored to muzzle the defense.
Despite the testimony presented throughout the trial to show that the accused were unquestionably law-abiding Portuguese citizens, the judges maintained a hardened, prejudiced attitude. On the second day, when the defense lawyer brought to the judge’s attention that his statement was contradictory to one he had made earlier, the judge told him, in a belittling manner: ‘You are old and should take care to hear things better.’ When the request was made that some type of record be kept of the court proceedings, this was denied. It was apparent that officials did not want what went on in court publicized! Why?
It is because any honest person examining the evidence could not help but be overwhelmed by the gross miscarriage of justice. No unprejudiced mind could possibly imagine how the judges reached the decision they did on the basis of the evidence presented. Little wonder no record of the court proceedings was permitted to be kept!
MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE
The public prosecutor did not produce one witness during the entire three days of the trial! Furthermore, he made no attempt to cross-examine any defendant or witness for the defense! No rebuttal at all was made! Actually, he presented no argument of any kind whatsoever! During the entire trial not one single fact or piece of evidence was submitted to prove Jehovah’s witnesses guilty of the crimes with which they were accused! In fact, the public prosecutor said hardly a word.
The illegality of the process and the injustice of the prison sentences is clearly evident in view of what is stated in Article 359 of Portugal’s Penal Process Code, number 3, concerning preparation of complaints against the accused:
“[The complaint should have:] ‘The discriminating and precise account of the facts that constitute the indicated infraction, if possible, the place and time that they were practiced, the reason they were committed, the degree of participation that the accused had in them, and the circumstances that preceded, accompanied or followed the infraction and that could aggravate or attenuate their participation.’”
However, the only facts proved in the 416-page brief and in the trial, with reference to the accused, are that they were gathered together in a Bible study at a certain hour and place. No proof was presented that the accused had preached to others, let alone what they had preached. It was not even established what was said at this meeting! Clearly, the requirement of Portuguese law for a “precise account of the facts that constitute the indicated infraction” and “the place and time that they were practiced” was never met! It is no wonder that Portuguese lawyers called the trial “a mockery,” “a sham” and a “miscarriage of justice.”
Testimony by the defendants, and by witnesses and “declarantes” in their behalf, took up practically the entire three days—June 23, June 30 and July 7. On the final day, the lawyer for the accused, in his summary of the case for the defense, showed that the defendants had done nothing criminal. Rather, they were Christians, doing the same work Jesus and his early followers did. He forcefully drew to the court’s attention that absolutely no proof had been submitted that they “constitute a political movement,” encourage “agitation and subversion of the masses” or preach disobedience to the laws and regulations which govern public order. Now it was the turn of the prosecutor to speak. He rose; but, surprisingly, all he said was: “I ask for justice.”
But, clearly, justice was not done. The trial was indeed a mockery! Two days later all forty-nine were sentenced to prison. The verdict is now on appeal to Portugal’s Supreme Court of Justice.
TEACHINGS NOT SUBVERSIVE
Recently, with Portugal’s increased military action in Africa, the conscientious refusal of certain young men to bear arms and kill their fellow humans has been seized upon to paint Jehovah’s witnesses as an agitating, subversive, law-defying people. During the trial, however, these charges could not be substantiated. Only one of the forty-nine on trial had personally refused military service. Indeed, thirty-five of them were women! Neither had any of them encouraged others to refuse to bear arms.
Evidence was presented by the defense to prove that Jehovah’s witnesses do not advise or encourage anyone to break a law or regulation of any government! In fact, their publications explain that it is wrong for a person to instruct another to refuse military service, salute the flag or perform any other duty that a government may require. On the trial’s second day, the witness for the defense, Jose Maria Lanca, was able to show this by reading to the court from the official publication of Jehovah’s witnesses, The Watchtower, of December 15, 1957. On page 756 that publication says:
“In Jehovah God’s wisdom his inspired Holy Scriptures refrain from giving direct advice. His Scriptures merely state the theocratic principles that should govern Christians and then leave it to the dedicated Christians . . . to maintain integrity toward God. Apart from explaining what the true Scriptural Christian principles in God’s Word are, no individual Christian or body of Christians has the divine commission or the responsibility to instruct another Christian directly what to do in this matter. Each one must decide for himself what to do.”
“Let God Be True,” the most widely distributed Bible textbook of Jehovah’s witnesses, also states explicitly on page 245: “If a citizen wants to salute a flag or to enter the armed forces of any nation, it is his right to do so, and Jehovah’s witnesses regard it as wrong for them to oppose the efforts of such person or to condemn him. They do not attempt to convert the world to a refusal to salute flags or to decline to bear arms.”
So, then, if any of the forty-nine accused had been doing what they were charged with, that is, preaching disobedience to government laws and regulations relative to bearing arms or saluting the flag, they would also have been violating the teachings of the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses. Therefore, it is no wonder that evidence could not be produced in court to prove the accused guilty of the crimes with which they were charged!
The Portuguese government can be assured that it will never find Jehovah’s witnesses participating in subversive activities, for Jehovah’s witnesses follow a Christian course of complete neutrality toward worldly governments. This was clearly shown to the court, despite one attempt after another by the judges to interfere with the testimony of the witnesses. Since no court record was kept, and since the reasons for their neutral position were not permitted to be published in Portugal, it is only fair that you hear a brief résumé of the facts in the case that were suppressed.
DEFENSE FOR POSITION OF NEUTRALITY
As the defendants in the case have repeatedly explained to others, Jesus and his disciples gave principles by which individual Christians were to direct their conduct in connection with worldly governments. For instance, Jesus did not take sides in the political disputes between Rome and certain nationalistic Jews, but replied to those who questioned him on the matter of paying taxes: “Shew me a penny. Whose image and inscription hath it?” “They answering said to him, Caesar’s. And he said to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s: and to God the things that are God’s.”—Luke 20:24, 25, Catholic Douay Version.
Obviously tax money is due worldly governments (represented by Caesar), and Jehovah’s witnesses uncomplainingly pay their taxes, but what about God’s things? What things are due him? The defendants believe that when one considers the matter honestly he must agree that no human or any earthly government gave a Christian his life. It is God-given! So they ask: Is it not reasonable, then, that a Christian might properly decide that his worship and life should be reserved for and paid back to God? If a Christian sacrificed his life in the military conflicts of some political government, what life would he have left to pay back to God?
It was shown to the court that among Jehovah’s witnesses in all countries the decision as to whether to bear arms is a personal one. It is not a stand taken due to direct instruction of the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses. Individuals of other religious organizations have taken a similar position, outstanding of which is that of the Roman Catholic Franz Jägerstätter. During the second world war this young man refused to fight in Hitler’s armed forces, and accepted execution by beheading for his resolute decision. Some Catholics consider him a saint because of his strong religious convictions.
So, what about the Catholics in Portugal who are conscientiously opposed to war and killing? There have always been some who have interpreted such Catholic Bible teachings as: “Thou shalt not kill,” and, “Love thy neighbour as thyself,” to mean that it is wrong to kill. (Ex. 20:13; Matt. 22:39) Are whole Catholic congregations in Portugal, therefore, going to be raided by the police and subjected to imprisonment because a few Catholic men with strong religious convictions conscientiously object to war? Are women with minor children and old men going to be brought to trial, sentenced and thrown into prison because someone in their congregation refuses military service? This is what is happening to Jehovah’s witnesses! Other religious people may soon be next to suffer. Do you approve of this?
AMBASSADORS OF GOD’S KINGDOM
Jehovah’s witnesses endeavor with all their heart to copy the example of Jesus Christ and his first-century followers. It was shown in court that these Christians are identified in the Bible as ambassadors of God’s heavenly government. “We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ,” the apostle Paul explained. Later, when in a Roman prison, Paul spoke of himself as an “ambassador in chains.”—2 Cor. 5:20; Eph. 6:20.
An ambassador is under obligation to remain separate from the political activities of the country in which he serves. An effort was made to explain to the court that it is similar with a Christian ambassador. As a true Christian he cannot properly become involved in the political affairs or warfare of another government. Nor could he engage in any work of national importance as a substitute for military service.
The testimony of Jesus Christ is the basis for this conclusion. In explaining the principle of separateness from the world to his disciples, he said to them: “These things I command you, that you love one another. If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” Jesus’ disciples, clearly, were to keep separate from the world. Jehovah’s witnesses in Portugal simply endeavor to imitate their example.—John 15:17-19; Jas. 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17, Catholic Douay Version.
But will Portugal allow modern-day Christians to follow unmolested in the footsteps of Jesus and his early disciples? Or will she identify herself as a present-day fighter against God by continuing her persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses? Portuguese officials would do well to heed the wise advice of the first-century Law teacher Gamaliel, who said: “Do not meddle with these men, but let them alone; (because, if this scheme or this work is from men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them;) otherwise, you may perhaps be found fighters actually against God.”—Acts 5:38, 39.
EXHIBITING CHRISTLIKE LOVE
The principle of Christlike love was also drawn to the attention of the court as a reason for the neutral position of the ones on trial. Jesus Christ instructed his followers: “Love one another, as I have loved you . . . By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:34, 35, Catholic Douay Version) The love Jesus exhibits is not limited only to certain nationalities—to Germans, to French, to Portuguese, to Japanese or to Americans. He loves all righteously disposed persons, regardless of their nationality or place of birth.
Since this is true, the defendants ask: If Christ were on earth today, what army would he join? Would he fight against and kill persons of a different race or nationality? Regardless of what the Portuguese court thinks, those witnesses of Jehovah do not believe that Jesus would take up a rifle and shoot someone of a different race or nationality, or run a bayonet into his abdomen. They can in no way harmonize such activity with Jesus’ own command to his followers to love one another. Therefore, they ask, How could a true Christian participate in an arrangement that would require him to take to the battlefield to kill his Christian brothers in another land?
Whereas they are obedient to the laws of the land, when commands of the nation conflict directly with the righteous principles of God’s Word, they take the apostolic stand: “We ought to obey God, rather than men.” As we have seen, this is the same position that the Roman Catholic Church in Portugal advocates as the Christian one. Since Jehovah’s witnesses are now being persecuted for following it, is there any assurance that others will not also soon be persecuted for teaching the same thing?—Acts 5:29, Catholic Douay Version.
EARLY CHRISTIANS’ VIEW
Is the above position set out in Catholic teaching and practiced by Jehovah’s witnesses without precedent? How did early Christians view entanglement in political affairs? Did they serve in the armies of worldly nations? What do the reliable facts of history show?
An examination of accurate histories regarding early Christianity reveals that early Christians maintained strict neutrality relative to the political affairs of the nations. Note the comments of just a few of such textbooks:
“Zealous Christians did not serve in the armed forces or accept political offices.”—World History, The Story of Man’s Achievements (River Forest, Ill.; 1962), Habberton, Roth and Spears, p. 117.
“The Christians were strangers and pilgrims in the world around them; their citizenship was in heaven; the kingdom to which they looked was not of this world. The consequent want of interest in public affairs came thus from the outset to be a noticeable feature in Christianity.”—Christianity and the Roman Government (London; 1925), E. G. Hardy, Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, p. 39.
British historian C. J. Cadoux summarized the uncompromising position of the early Christians very well in his book, The Early Christian Attitude on War, on pages 245 and 246:
“The early Christians took Jesus at his word, and understood his inculcations of gentleness and non-resistance in their literal sense. They closely identified their religion with peace; they strongly condemned war for the bloodshed which it involved; they appropriated to themselves the Old Testament prophecy which foretold the transformation of the weapons of war into the implements of agriculture [Isa. 2:4] . . . With one or two possible exceptions no soldier joined the Church and remained a soldier until the time of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.). Even then, refusal to serve was known to be the normal policy of the Christians—as the reproaches of Celsus (177-180 A.D.) testify. . . . The application of Jesus’ teaching to the question of military service was in a way unmistakable.”
It is true that the Christian position of separateness from worldly affairs was not appreciated by pagan rulers, for these men had no understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ, but their position should not be difficult for the officials of a professedly Christian nation to understand.
Clearly, the stand taken by Jehovah’s witnesses in Portugal is not without precedent. Jesus laid down the principles for his disciples to follow, and early Christians were faithful to them, as the facts of history testify. Jehovah’s witnesses in Portugal merely desire to follow their example. All they want is to practice true Christianity. They appeal to the Portuguese authorities to allow them to do so without molestation. The Portuguese authorities will suffer no harm, but only good, by permitting such freedom of worship in their country.
WHAT COURSE OTHERS HAVE TAKEN
Jehovah’s witnesses are active in some 197 lands of the earth, and number well over one million publishers of the kingdom of God. So nations around the world are familiar with their position of neutrality. Many of these countries have, in one way or another, provided for their exemption from military service, because they recognize that they are fine people and an asset to the community. For example, the matter of how to deal with Jehovah’s witnesses was recently an issue before the Swedish Parliament. What was the decision?
After several hours of debate the bill containing the important provision regarding Jehovah’s witnesses was passed. Sweden’s paper, Freden, in its June 10, 1966, issue commented about it editorially, saying: “Thus Jehovah’s witnesses will in the future, after an individual investigation, be relieved of compulsory service by the simple method of not being called up at all. Sweden’s Riksdag is to be congratulated for this decision which solves a problem that has hitherto been looked upon as unsolvable. Sweden can in this respect serve as an example to other countries.”
What course will Portugal follow? This is for the government officials of Portugal to decide. The world will watch with interest, but, above all, it is to God himself that they must answer for how they deal with his servants.
A HARMLESS, PEACEABLE PEOPLE
It will only be to Portugal’s credit and her benefit to deal justly with Jehovah’s witnesses. For these Christian servants of God have a fine reputation world wide as an honest, hardworking, peaceable people. It is well known that they do not participate in riots, demonstrations or other disorders. Nor do they get drunk, practice fornication or adultery, engage in stealing, or perform other such immoral or criminal acts. As the defendant who previously had raped a girl explained in court: ‘If I had been one of Jehovah’s witnesses I would never have done such a thing!’ Their strict adherence to Bible principles has made them a fine, upright people; a real contribution to a better community.
Rather than being “antisocial,” as they were accused in court, Jehovah’s witnesses are noted by those who live close to them in Portugal as good neighbors, ready to lend a neighborly hand when others are in need. They are also noted for their sincere efforts to help people to understand the Bible better. Their charitable work has had a fine effect on the lives of many persons, and this is as true in Portugal as it is in many other lands throughout the world.
Of particular interest is the comment in the African newspaper, The Northern News (Ndola), concerning the activity of Jehovah’s witnesses in southern Africa: “From all accounts those areas in which Jehovah’s witnesses are strongest among Africans are now areas more trouble-free than average. Certainly they have been active against agitators, witchcraft, drunkenness and violence of any kind.” Clearly, it is against Portugal’s best interests to persecute such Christian people.
Why, then, is there such persecution in Portugal? Certain representatives of the Catholic Church are principally responsible. They have spread vicious propaganda about Jehovah’s witnesses. For example, back in the summer of 1963 Catholic priest João de Sousa presented a series of TV programs in Lisbon containing all kinds of misrepresentation of Jehovah’s witnesses. Later he published a book with more of the same. Police raids against the Witnesses resulted almost immediately. In commenting on the mass arrest of Jehovah’s witnesses, last November 27 even the Danish radio noted the Church’s responsibility. The news commentator said: “In Portugal as well as in Spain Jehovah’s witnesses have for a long time been persecuted because the Catholic Church does not approve of the activity of the sect.”
By egging on officials and stirring up her peoples, these Catholic clerics have whipped up an inquisitional-type persecution against Jehovah’s witnesses. From one end of the country to the other, and in the Overseas Provinces, homes and meeting places have been broken into, possessions confiscated, and Jehovah’s witnesses arrested and thrown into prisons. There they have been held days, weeks, and even months without charge. In Lisbon, Luanda, Aveiro, Porto, Setúbal, Caldas da Rainha, yes, practically every city of any size within Portugal and her provinces, this has occurred.
And instead of diminishing, this type of persecution by Portuguese authorities is increasing. Why, on the very day that the forty-nine accused were sentenced, July 9, several homes of Jehovah’s witnesses were raided by the police and their Bible literature was confiscated. A few days later, when hundreds of Witnesses were preparing to leave for a Bible assembly in France, passports were denied to about 150 of them. No reason was given for this. Does Portugal intend to take away all freedoms, even freedom of movement, from its citizens?
This is a dangerous situation. For when oppressive authorities begin taking away the freedoms of one group, it is a short step to taking away the freedoms of other persons also. Yes, the false accusations, mass arrests and imprisoning of Jehovah’s witnesses are a warning that, not only religious freedom, but other freedoms cherished by Portuguese citizens may be in jeopardy.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Here is an opportunity to express your feelings about this flagrant miscarriage of justice. At the time of writing, the forty-nine accused are free, as the case is on appeal to a higher court. But they all face prison sentences, as well as fines that are beyond their economic means to afford. Should these penalties be enforced, extreme hardships will be realized. With husbands and fathers in prison, families will be deprived of necessary financial support, and with mothers in prison, minor children will be deprived of the care and supervision these need so much.
Portuguese officials may feel that the treatment of Christians in their country is a matter of private concern. We do not believe it is, and we are confident that millions of honest-hearted persons in Portugal and throughout the world are deeply concerned about what happens to these sincere Christians in Portugal. Such persons detest the persecution of religious minorities, and desire to register their protest. If you are such a person, we urge you to write to Portuguese officials regarding this matter, and to make your feelings known.
Address your protest to the Prime Minister:
Prof. Doutor António de Oliveira Salazar
Rua da Imprensa, 8
Also to the President of the Republic:
Contra-Almirante Américo Deus Rodrigues Tomás
Rua Almirante António Saldanha, lote 402
Also to the Minister of the Interior:
Dr. Alfredo Rodrigues dos Santos Júnior
Rua General Sinel de Cordes, 11-2
Lisbon 1, Portugal
Also to the Minister of Justice:
Prof. Doutor João de Matos Antunes Varela
Avenida António Augusto Aguiar, 27-4 Dt.
Lisbon 1, Portugal
Also to the Minister of Foreign Relations:
Dr. Alberto Marciano Gorjão Franco Nogueira
Largo do Rilvas
Palácio das Necessidades
Also to the Minister of State:
Dr. António Jorge Martins da Mota Veiga
Rua Castilho, 71-4 Dt.
Lisbon 2, Portugal
Also to the Director of the International Police and Defense of the State:
Fernando Eduardo da Silva Pais
Rua António Maria Cardoso, 8
Lisbon 2, Portugal
Also to the Portuguese ambassador and consuls in your country.