MOSCOW (AP) - A Moscow court rejected an appeal by Jehovah's Witnesses on Monday, saying a panel of experts would be allowed to study the group's literature and recommend whether or not it should be banned.
The Moscow city prosecutor's office has been trying to outlaw the Moscow branch of the U.S.-based church. It is using a provision in Russia's controversial religion law that gives courts the right to ban religious groups found guilty of inciting hatred or intolerant behavior.
The case, which began in October, was put on hold in March when the judge decided to have a panel study the group's literature.
The Jehovah's Witnesses challenged the decision, but the Moscow city court rejected the appeal Monday, Jehovah's Witnesses spokesman Alexei Nazarychev said.
The Moscow prosecutor's office accuses the church of destroying families, fostering hatred and threatening lives. Defense attorneys say it hasn't produced any specific evidence so far, so the prosecutor has ordered an expert review of the church's literature to find evidence for the claims.
Jehovah's Witnesses say the court's panel - which includes two religious studies experts as well as historians, linguists and a psychologist - lacks the qualifications to decide the matter.
At least two expert panels have already studied the Jehovah's Witnesses' texts, on behalf of the Justice Ministry and the lower house of parliament, the State Duma. The panels have found nothing unlawful.
While the trial is under way, the Jehovah's Witnesses are barred from renting buildings for worship services and renovating the buildings they already own.
If outlawed, the Jehovah's Witnesses would no longer have the right to hold public services, rent property or distribute literature in Moscow.
Judges at the Moscow city court were not available for comment Monday.
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