Moscow Jehovah's Witnesses back in court

New attempt to prohibit Jehovah's Witnesses

Mir religii/November 1, 2001

In the Golovin intermunicipal court of the capital the judicial hearing of the suit of the procuracy of the Northern Administrative District for the liquidation of the Moscow congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses has been resumed. The hearing is being held before a new judicial panel chaired by Judge Dubinskaia. The Jehovah's Witnesses are being represented, as before, by the attorneys Galina Krylova, Artur Leontiev, and John Burns, Blagovest-info reports.

The case for the liquidation of the Moscow Jehovah's Witnesses congregation on the basis of point 2 of article 14 of the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" was initiated in 1998 by the procuracy of the northern district on the initiative of the public Committee for the Protection of Youth from Totalitarian Sects.

Jehovah's Witnesses are accused of inciting religious conflict, conducting activities intended to break up families, encouraging suicide, violating the rights and freedoms of citizens, and attracting minor citizens to parti cipation in the congregation's activity. In the course of judicial investigation, which has gone on more than two years, 45 witnesses have been examined, and a complex psycho-linguistic and religion studies expert analysis of the literature and documents of Jehovah's Witnesses has been conducted.

On 23 February of this year the court rejected the petition by the procurator's office of the northern district for liquidation of the legal entity and prohibition of the activity of the Jehovah's Witnesses, requiring the plaintiff to pay the costs for the complex psycho-linguistic and religion studies expert analysis.

However, on 30 May the Moscow city court issued a ruling to return the case to the Golovin court for a new review with a new judges' panel. The prosecutor's office summoned for participation in the new trial the director of the Informational-Consultative Center of the Holy Martyr Ireneaus of Lyons, Alexander Dvorkin, as an expert witness.

During the hearings on 30 October, attorneys for the Witnesses filed a petition for postponing the trial since at the present time protests regarding the ruling of the Moscow city court of 30 May have been sent to the Supreme Court of Russia and the European Court for Human Rights. In the attorneys' opinion, the present review in Golovin court "may turn out to be meaningless and unintentionally abrogate the limited powers of the Russian procuracy and court."

Attorney John Burns, in particular, declared that "from the point of view of international law, which, according to the constitution, is a integral part of the Russian legal system, it is impermissible to consider identical accusations first in criminal and then in civil procedures."

This is just what has happened, he says, in the Golovin court, since such accusations of the prosecutor as the inciting of interreligious conflict are, in essence, of a criminal nature. "All these accusations have already been refuted during the preliminary investigations that have been conducted four times by investigators of the prosecutor's office between 1996 and 1998," the attorney stressed. "Reviewing the disproven accusations a second time in the civil case is impermissible."

All eight petitions submitted during the hearings by Jehovah's Witnesses'attorneys were denied.

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