A Legal Victory for Jehovah’s People!
IN 1991 the government of the Soviet Union registered Jehovah’s Witnesses as an official religion in that country. When the Soviet Union ended, the new Russian government also put Jehovah’s Witnesses on the list of official religions in Russia. The new government admitted that the old government had persecuted the brothers. In 1993, Moscow’s Department of Justice registered the Witnesses legally as the Moscow Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also in 1993, the Russian government made a new constitution, that is, a document that promises certain rights for the people. This constitution says that everyone is free to practice his own religion. Our brothers and sisters had waited many years for these changes to happen.
After this, the brothers and sisters in Russia increased their preaching work, and many people learned the truth. (2 Timothy 4:2) From 1990 to 1995, the number of Witnesses in Moscow increased from about 300 to over 5,000! Because of this, the enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses became worried. About this time, they started to attack, or oppose, Jehovah’s people in the legal courts.
CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS BEGIN
The first attack began in June 1995. A group of people in Moscow who support the Russian Orthodox Church officially accused our brothers of participating in criminal activities. In June 1996, the investigators said that they did not find any evidence against Jehovah’s Witnesses. But the Moscow group accused our brothers of the same things four more times. And each time, the investigators searched for evidence but could not find anything against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Finally, on April 13, 1998, the legal case was closed.
The prosecutor’s representative said that there was no evidence that Jehovah’s Witnesses did anything against the criminal law. But then she gave her advice and said that another way to stop the Witnesses was to bring a civil suit against them. A civil suit is an official complaint made by the people, not by the police. So the prosecutor of the Northern Administrative Circuit of Moscow made a civil suit against the brothers. On September 29, 1998, the legal case started in Golovinsky District Court in Moscow.
THE BIBLE IN COURT
In this case the prosecutor was Tatyana Kondratyeva. She used a national law signed in 1997 to attack the Witnesses. This law says that only Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism are traditional religions. One newspaper said that the Russian Orthodox Church worked hard to make the government write this law because the Church wanted the government to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Associated Press, June 25, 1999) This law allows courts to ban, or prohibit, religions that cause people to hate others. The prosecutor said that the government should ban Jehovah’s Witnesses because they make people hate others and because they destroy families.
A lawyer who defended our brothers asked: “Who are the individuals in the Moscow Congregation who disobey the law and make people hate others?” The prosecutor could not name anyone. But she said that the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses makes them hate people of other religions because it teaches that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the true religion.
Another lawyer, one of our brothers, gave a copy of the Bible to the judge and the prosecutor. Then he read Ephesians 4:5, which says: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” The judge, the prosecutor, and the lawyer all had a Bible in their hands, and they talked about some scriptures including John 17:18 and James 1:27. The judge asked: “Do these scriptures make people hate those of other religions?” The prosecutor said that it did not matter what she thought because she was not an expert on the Bible. Then the lawyer showed publications of the Russian Orthodox Church that said things against Jehovah’s Witnesses and asked: “Are the things they say in these publications against the law?” The prosecutor again said that it was not important what she thought because she was not an expert on religion.
ACCUSATIONS WITH NO EVIDENCE
When the prosecutor accused the Witnesses of destroying families, she said that one evidence of this is that they do not celebrate holidays. She also said that the Witnesses do not let their children have normal rest or do things that make them happy. She later admitted that Russian law does not tell Russians to celebrate holidays. She also said that she had never talked to any children of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that she had never attended a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The prosecutor invited a professor of psychiatry to give his opinion in court. The professor said that reading our literature causes mental problems. He admitted that he just copied many of the things that he wrote about this legal case from the document that the Moscow Patriarchate, or leaders of the Orthodox Church in Moscow, wrote. He also said that he had never treated a patient who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Another doctor said in court that he had studied more than 100 Witnesses in Moscow. He said that these Witnesses were mentally healthy and that after becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses, they had more respect for other religions than they had before.
WE HAD A VICTORY, BUT IT WAS NOT FINAL
On March 12, 1999, the judge chose five educated people to study the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she suspended the legal case for some time. But before this happened, the Ministry of Justice for the country of Russia also ordered a group of educated people to study our literature. On April 15, 1999, this group said that they found nothing bad in our publications. So on April 29, 1999, the Ministry of Justice decided that Jehovah’s Witnesses could continue to be a legal religion in Russia. But in Moscow the judge still decided that the five people she chose should study our literature. This was a strange situation. The Ministry of Justice for the whole country of Russia said that Jehovah’s Witnesses obeyed the law and could be a legal religion. At the same time, the Department of Justice of Moscow was investigating the Witnesses because others accused them of breaking the law!
Two years later the legal case in Moscow started again. On February 23, 2001, Judge Yelena Prokhorycheva decided that there was no reason to ban the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. Finally, the court decided that all the accusations against our brothers were false! But the prosecutor did not agree with the decision and this time asked the Moscow City Court to study the case. Three months later, on May 30, 2001, that court canceled the decision of Judge Prokhorycheva. The court ordered the start of another legal case with the same prosecutor but with a different judge.
WE LOST, BUT IT WAS NOT FINAL
On October 30, 2001, the legal case started again. The judge was Vera Dubinskaya. Prosecutor Kondratyeva once again accused Jehovah’s Witnesses of making people hate others. But then she said that the government should ban Jehovah’s Witnesses for their own protection! When they heard this, all of the 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow immediately signed a petition, or document, to tell the judge that they did not need the “protection” offered by the prosecutor. It is interesting that it was exactly on the same date ten years before, on October 30, 1991, that the government officially admitted that the Soviet government had persecuted Jehovah’s Witnesses because of their religion.
The prosecutor said that she did not need to give evidence that the Witnesses were doing something wrong. She said that the case was not about what Jehovah’s Witnesses do, but it was about their literature and what they believe in. She said that she was going to invite someone from the Russian Orthodox Church to be a witness in court. This showed that leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church were the ones who wanted to ban the Witnesses. On May 22, 2003, the judge ordered that a group of experts on religion study the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses again.
On February 17, 2004, the court met to hear the results of the study. In their study, the experts found that our publications teach people how to have a happy family and a happy marriage. They did not find anything that shows that we teach people to hate others. Other experts agreed. The judge asked a professor of religious history: “Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses preach?” The professor said that Christians must preach. He said that the Bible tells them to preach and that Christ commanded his disciples to go and preach in all lands. Even with all the evidence, on March 26, 2004, the judge banned the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. On June 16, 2004, the Moscow City Court supported that decision. This action meant that the congregations in Moscow no longer had a legal organization to represent them. The enemies hoped to cause problems for our brothers and stop their preaching work.
What did the brothers do? Our brothers in Moscow did not allow their enemies to stop them. They continued to preach the good news. (1 Peter 4:12, 16) They were sure that Jehovah was going to help them. And they were ready to defend their right to worship Jehovah.
On August 25, 2004, our brothers sent a petition to Vladimir Putin, who at that time was president of Russia. In this document, they told him how they felt after the courts of Moscow banned their work. The petition had 76 volumes, and 315,000 people signed it. At the same time, the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church said: “We are very much against the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Some people in Russia believed the false accusations against Jehovah’s Witnesses and began to attack them. They punched and kicked the Witnesses while they were preaching in Moscow. One angry man wanted a sister to leave the building where she was preaching. He chased her and kicked her in the back. The sister fell and hit her head and needed to get treatment in a hospital. But the police did not arrest the man who attacked her. The police arrested many Witnesses, treated them as criminals, and held them in jail overnight. Because they were afraid of losing their jobs, people who took care of the buildings that our brothers used for their meetings did not want to rent them to the Witnesses anymore. Many congregations did not have a place to meet. For example, 40 congregations had to use just four Kingdom Halls that were located in one building. One of these congregations had to meet for their Public Meeting at half past seven in the morning. A traveling overseer said that the publishers had to get up at five o’clock to attend the meeting, but they were happy to do it, and they did it for more than a year.
A COURT CASE THAT WAS “FOR A WITNESS”
The Witnesses wanted to show that the decision to ban their preaching work in Moscow was against the law. So in December 2004 our lawyers asked for the help of the European Court of Human Rights. Six years later, on June 10, 2010, after studying all the accusations, the Court decided that the Witnesses were not guilty of any of them! The Court said that the accusations were completely false. It also decided that the government of Russia had to end the ban and do everything possible to correct what it did to the Witnesses. After this decision, the government of Russia wanted the case to be heard again. So it asked an even higher authority in the Court, that is, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, to consider the case. But on November 22, 2010, five judges from the Grand Chamber decided that it did not need to listen to this case. That meant that the decision of June 10, 2010, is final and that it must be obeyed.—See the box “The Court’s Judgment,” on page 32.
The Court decided that the European Convention on Human Rights protects the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This decision applies not only to Russia. It also applies to the other 47 nations that are members of the Council of Europe. Many judges, lawmakers, and people around the world who study human rights will also be interested in the decision. Why? Because when the judges of the Court made their decision, they used as examples eight other decisions that the Court had made earlier in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They also used nine decisions that the highest courts of Argentina, Canada, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States made in favor of the Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses all around the world can now use the decision of the Court to defend their worship.
Jesus told his disciples that people will take them “before governors and kings” for his sake, “for a witness to them and the nations.” (Matthew 10:18) All these legal cases in Russia during the last 15 years gave the people in Moscow and in other places the opportunity to hear about Jehovah like never before. Everything that happened in these cases resulted in “a witness” and helped in “the advancement of the good news.” (Philippians 1:12) Nothing and no one can stop us from preaching the good news of the Kingdom. We pray that Jehovah continues to help our courageous brothers and sisters in Russia, whom we love very much.*—See footnote.
This is a summary of the full article that appears in The Watchtower, July 15, 2011, pages 4-9, in standard English.
[Blurb on page 31]
On June 10, 2010, the European Court of Human Rights decided that the accusations against the Witnesses were false
[Box on page 32]
THE COURT’S JUDGMENT
Here are parts of the decisions that the judges of the European Court of Human Rights made.
One accusation was that Jehovah’s Witnesses destroy families. The judges decided that this was false. They said:
“It is the resistance and unwillingness of non-religious family members to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practise his or her religion that is the source of conflict.”—Paragraph 111.
The judges of the European Court also found no evidence to support the accusation that Jehovah’s Witnesses use “mind control.” They said:
“The Court finds it remarkable that the [Russian] courts did not cite the name of a single individual whose right to freedom of conscience had allegedly been violated by means of those techniques.”—Paragraph 129.
Another accusation was that by not accepting blood transfusions, Jehovah’s Witnesses damage the health of believers. The judges of the European Court did not accept the accusation. They said:
“The freedom to accept or refuse specific medical treatment, or to select an alternative form of treatment, is vital to the principles of self-determination and personal autonomy. A competent adult patient is free to decide, for instance, whether or not to undergo surgery or treatment or, by the same token, to have a blood transfusion.”—Paragraph 136.