Friday, September 3, 2010

Russian Police Block Entrance to Convention

JW-media article link:

Police block entrance to religious convention site in Russia...Familiar “bomb scare” tactic forces attendees to return home

STAVROPOL, Russia—“We’ve been waiting for this all year. Many of us took vacation and saved up money in order to come… and now there are garbage trucks blocking the entrance!”—Yuriy Savitskiy, 44.

On July 23, 2010, worshippers arriving to attend a three-day convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Cossack village of Nezlobniy could not even enter the convention site. The head of the village police division, Yuriy Mukhin, had blocked the main entrance with his police car. As a result, peaceful religious services could not begin and the attendees, numbering nearly 2,000, were denied access to water, restrooms, or seating areas. Although similar religious meetings were previously held successfully in the same building, local authorities claimed that their actions were due to the prevalence of criminal activity in the southern regions from where many of the attendees had traveled.

Seeing that one of the Witnesses had a video camera, an officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB) who identified himself as Sergey Viktorovich, knocked it out of his hands and broke it. The Witness was also detained for questioning.

After being forced to stand at the gate for five hours, a few of the Witnesses managed to enter the convention site. Then Svetlana Zhurakovskaya, Deputy Head of the Village Administration, loudly declared an order to break up the religious meeting. Soon after that, the electricity to the building was cut off, but the Witnesses had their own generator already outside and were thus able to continue with their convention program.

Early the following morning, all entrances to the convention site were blocked by foul-smelling garbage trucks and the building was cordoned off by police officers. The Witnesses were again forced to wait on the street. Then a suspicious package with protruding wires was “discovered” in the same location where a car belonging to Police Chief for Public Safety Vladimir Lipov had been parked the previous day. The police ordered everyone to evacuate the area and the convention had to be canceled. The attendees were left with little choice but to return to their homes.

Similarly, during 2009 in towns across Russia that hosted conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, events were called off due to unannounced “fire inspections” during which the police would often “find” a “suspicious” package placed in the immediate vicinity of the convention location. The time needed to “neutralize” the package would drag on for hours and effectively result in the conventions being canceled and the attendees being sent home.

Video footage of police disruption in 2003
Stavropol Convention Disrupted and Canceled
On the morning of August 29, 2003, the annual three-day convention of Jehovah’ Witnesses opened in Stavropol, Russia. Hundreds of families present for the peaceful convention were stunned to see police officers enter the stadium, force their way onto the stage, push the speaker aside, and order all in attendance to leave the premises. Entrances to the stadium were locked and arriving delegates were ordered to go home.

Meeting Together Despite Opposition
(a previous entry I posted, showing a map of the area where Stavropol is located, with yearbook experiences about other disruptions at conventions that year, including sign language conventions for our deaf brothers and sisters)