RUSSIA: Back to the future for Jehovah’s Witnesses?Feb 26th, 2010 | By admin | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)
RUSSIA: Back to the future for Jehovah’s Witnesses?
By Geraldine Fagan, Forum 18 News Service <http://www.forum18.org>
Just weeks after Russia’s Supreme Court outlawed their literature as extremist, Jehovah’s Witnesses are encountering at least ten times the level of state harassment across the country as before the ban, their press secretary has estimated to Forum 18 News Service. Local congregations are admittedly now more likely to report incidents such as brief police detentions, added Grigory Martynov on 22 February, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses have become so alarmed by the growing similarity of their predicament with that during the Soviet period that their entire 160,000-strong Russian membership will today (26 February) begin distributing 12 million copies of “Is History Repeating Itself?”, a leaflet refuting the religious extremism allegations against them.
Viewed by Forum 18, the leaflet points out that over 9,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses were exiled to Siberia for their faith between 1949 and 1951, and that individual Jehovah’s Witnesses such as Konstantin Skripchuk and five members of the Klimko family spent decades in prisons and labour camps before rehabilitation as “innocent victims of repression” in 1990. It fears that current branding of Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremists “could trigger new persecution” and offers detailed objections to charges that Jehovah’s Witnesses incite religious hatred, destroy families and refuse medical treatment. The leaflet will be distributed in town centres, shopping areas and at train stations across Russia from 26-28 February.
Readers of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi are similarly noting an upsurge in state scrutiny, with raids by the police and FSB security service on dozens of homes in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan and Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk in the past two months. Those detained could face extremism charges carrying a prison term of up to three years (see most recently F18News 23 February 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1412).
In a transcript of a conversation between President Dmitry Medvedev and Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, posted on the president’s weblog on 10 December 2009, Lukin raised the issue of religious freedom violations as well as those of other human rights. While Medvedev responded at some length to the other human rights violations mentioned, he asked only whether the significant increase in complaints about religious freedom violations came from “non-traditional” confessions. He also argued that the overall rise in appeals was “not bad” because it suggested that citizens had faith in their complaints being resolved.
Asked on 25 February whether Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman had received significantly more complaints from Jehovah’s Witnesses in recent months, Mikhail Odintsov declined to comment to Forum 18.
The telephone of Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, secretary of the presidential Council for Co-operation with Religious Organisations, went unanswered on 25 and 26 February.
Protesting against the mounting pressure on his community, Vasily Kalin, prisoner of conscience in 1983 and current head of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, had appealed to Medvedev as guarantor of Russia’s 1993 Constitution to defend their rights and freedoms in November 2009. However, in what the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe is an attempt to distance itself from the issue, the Presidential Administration’s response stated only that this appeal had been referred to the Justice Ministry. The Justice Ministry’s December response unequivocally supported state action against the Jehovah’s Witnesses (see F18News 15 January 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1395).