Friday, June 4, 2010

Christian Faith Seeks Justice at European Court

For Immediate Release
June 1, 2010

Domestic options exhausted in Russia; Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to the European Court of Human Rights

STRASBOURG—Where a vibrant community of Christians once worshipped, now stands a vacant building, sealed by Russian authorities whose application of the law to counteract extremist activity violates the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to worship freely.

On December 8, 2009, the Russian Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of the Local Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the western city of Taganrog, near the Ukraine border, effectively liquidating the activity of that congregation. That ruling also pronounced 34 religious publications as “extremist,” including several copies of the internationally circulated magazines The Watchtower and Awake! Since the December 8 court decision, a wave of religious intolerance has been unleashed against Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout Russia. As of April 2010, there have been at least 265 recorded incidents of raids on private homes and places of employment, as well as people being arrested, detained and searched and their personal effects being seized. At least six criminal investigations have been initiated. Significantly, on April 26, 2010, the Federal Service for Oversight of Communications, Information Technologies and Mass Communications revoked the license to distribute The Watchtower and Awake! magazines in Russia. This revocation is yet another example of the Russian government’s violation of the legal rights of over 158,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.

Having exhausted all domestic remedies, the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia will hold a press conference on Wednesday, June 2, to announce that an application appealing the December 8, 2009, decision has been filed with the ECHR on June 1, 2010. In January 2007, that court ruled unanimously in behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kuznetsov and Others v. Russian Federation, stating that the police and a Commissioner for Human Rights obstructed justice and denied freedom of religion when they raided and shut down a lawful Christian meeting of 150 deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Chair of the International Helsinki Group in Moscow, commented on the decision of the Supreme Court: “I am confident that this court decision will be reversed by the European Court. However, I regret to admit that in the eyes of European community Russia will look like a barbarous country, medieval and intolerant of religious minorities.”
“We still hope for a fair trial in the Russian courts,” said Vasily Kalin, Chairman of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. He added that “this is precisely why in the middle of May we filed a supervisory appeal to the Presidium of the Supreme Court. However, we found it also necessary to turn to the ECHR. We see how Jehovah’s Witnesses are being pressured throughout the country and it is becoming increasingly unsafe to declare one’s faith and to gather together for Biblical discussions. At any moment Jehovah’s Witnesses could be subject to unfounded detentions and interrogations.”