30 October 2012, 09:00

Open letter to Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation

Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation

Yu. Ya. Chaika

Open appeal

Dear Yuri Yakovlevich!

A criminal case against 17 Russian Jehovah's Witnesses charged according to clause 228.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Organizing an extremist group’s activities”) is under investigation in the town of Taganrog, Rostov region. The believers are prosecuted for the reason that after liquidation of their Taganrog community by Rostov regional court as allegedly extremist in 2009 they did not renounce their faith.

Criminal proceedings are carried out by Investigative Unit of Chief Directorate of the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Russia in Southern Federal Okrug.

The citizens are incriminated just the same religious lifestyle that is practiced by millions of their brothers in faith the World over, among them 170 thousand in our country. All the followers of this religion in our country are prosecuted in the person of these 17 believers.

Searches were carried out on the case, religious printed matter, including the Bible, were confiscated and orders of making these persons criminally liable were passed.

It is in fact criminal prosecution for faith.

Jehovah's Witnesses’ confidence in the truth of their confession only is estimated by the prosecution as “fomentation of religious hatred, propaganda of their exceptionality and superiority of their religion by means of derogation of other confessions”. Committed service to their faith is declared recruitment of new participants of an “organized extremist criminal group”. The investigation sees a component of a crime in these people’s “distancing themselves from their families”, visiting meeting together with their children and even their “choice of a part-time work in order to give more time to preacher’s activities and service”, and up to estimation of considering their faith the main purpose of life as a crime.

Relations guided by church discipline are interpreted by the investigation in terms of organized crime. The believers called “organizers of a criminal extremist group” were allegedly “seeking out” location, “recruiting” new participants, “casting roles among the participants of the group”.

As appears from the order of starting criminal proceeding against Jehovah's Witnesses, the group’s “stability”, “long term of existence”, “rigid hierarchical structure” and “conspiracy” are indications to an organized criminal group. The latter, in the investigator’s opinion, is confirmed by the fact that “all the participants of “Eastern” inter-regional association (не знаю, как еще можно расшифровать «МРО») of Jehovah's Witnesses in reply to the question whether they were going on with this association’s activities stated that they were not members of “Taganrog” community of Jehovah's Witnesses but just Jehovah's Witnesses by confession”. That means they were speaking the truth for the community liquidated by the court does not really exist any longer. And though, according to the law, no juridical person or state registration is mandatory for religious practice, the All-Russian centralized religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses which includes 400 registered local communities has this registration by definition. Centralized organizations have a right to carry out their activities in the whole territory of the Russian Federation (clause 8 of Federal law “On freedom of conscience and religious organizations”).

The judgment of Rostov city court of acknowledgment of Taganrog community an extremist organization and 34 publications of Jehovah's Witnesses extremist materials is unlawful and evidently discriminating. This was confirmed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe who on October, 2, 2012 appealed to Russian authorities “henceforth no to apply the Law “On counteraction to extremist activities” to any religious organizations, in particular, “Jehovah's Witnesses” (point 25.31 of Resolution No 1896 (2012).

However, the present “Case of the seventeen” in Taganrog is based just on this judgment of Rostov regional court dated September, 11, 2009, sanctioned by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on December, 8, the same year. Unlawfulness of including Jehovah's Witnesses’ texts into the Federal list of extremist materials is quite obvious. Declaration of superiority or their faith by Jehovah's Witnesses, their criticism of other confessions, negative estimations of Orthodox and other priests were declared extremism. Statements of their exceptional validity characteristic also of Christianity, Judaism and Islam were interpreted by Public Prosecutor’s office and the court as fomentation of religious hatred and hostility, propaganda of religious superiority and offence of the believers’ feelings.

Jehovah's Witnesses were victims of maleficent state outrage in Nazi Germany and the USSR, either. The Soviet state banished thousands of families to Siberia and Kazakhstan, a lot of believers were arrested and imprisoned for membership in an “anti-Soviet monstrous sect”. After adoption of the law of the Russian Federation in force now “On rehabilitation of victims of political repression” Jehovah's Witnesses” were rehabilitated, too. The law acknowledged their juridical and out-of-court prosecution arbitrary rule of the totalitarian state.

Today members of the community the elder generation of which have certificates of rehabilitated persons are undergoing prosecution again, just the outdated word “anti-Soviet” applied to their organization was substituted by the label of “extremist”. Religious persecution against them after all Jehovah's Witnesses went through in XX century are disgraceful and blasphemous.

In all the democratic states Jehovah's Witnesses live freely in accordance with their faith and sermonize it in spite of the myths of their danger. These inventions were disproved, in particular, by the European Court of Human Rights who repeatedly protected Jehovah's Witnesses from discriminatory interference of some states: Greece, Armenia and Russia. In its resolution on the case “Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow and others vs. the Russian Federation” dated June, 10, 2010, the European Court of Human Rights acknowledged the claims concerning this organization groundless and reminded that “the state’s duty of neutrality and impartiality prohibits estimation of lawfulness of their faith and ways of its manifestation or profession”.

The basis of liquidation of the community by Rostov regional court are similar to the ones used in the Moscow case concerning which the European Court had passed an unambiguous solution, i.e. in the interests of the believers. Therefore, the judgment of Rostov court has to be cancelled. The “Case of the seventeen” following after it almost literally repeating the charges refuted by the European Court should have been dismissed.

We ask you to protect the constitutional right of freedom of confession and equality of religious associations before the law and take measures to recover the rights of the citizens of the Russian Federation who are undergoing prosecution for religious convictions in the town of Taganrog.

In accordance with clause 391.1 of the Code of civil procedure of the Russian Federation, we ask you to enter a supervisory motion concerning the judgment of Rostov district court dated September, 11, 2009, and cassational judicial determination of the Supreme Court of December, 8, 2009, and if the criminal case against the 17 Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog is referred to court commission public prosecutors subordinate to you with dismissal of a charge on the case and consequent termination of proceeding.

L.M. Alexeyeva, Chairperson of Moscow Helsinki Group

S.A. Gannushkina, Chairperson of Committee “Citizen’s Assistance”

V.M. Gefter, Director of the Institute of Human Rights, member of the Council for development of civil society and human rights with the President of the Russian Federation

S.V. Krivenko, member of the Board of International “Memorial” center, member of the Council for development of civil society and human rights

L.S. Levinson, expert of the Institute of Human Rights, expert of the Council for development of civil society and human rights with the President of the Russian Federation

October, 22, 2012

Source: Web-site of Moscow Helsinki Group

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