Russian Supreme Court decision holds out hope
MOSCOW—On August 18, 2009, the Supreme Court of Russia issued a decision protecting freedom of religion. It upheld an earlier ruling by the Samara Regional Court that dismissed an application by the Tolyatti City Prosecutor to liquidate the Local Religious Organization (LRO) of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On May 29, 2009, the Samara Regional Court rejected the Tolyatti City Prosecutor’s request, stating: “the Court is convinced of the groundlessness of the charges . . . and the absence of evidence.” The Prosecutor’s Office then filed an appeal. However, when questioned by the Supreme Court Judges, the Prosecutor General’s representative acknowledged that he had no legal argument to support his request for reversal of the lower-court decision.
The Supreme Court’s robust dismissal of the prosecutor’s appeal was welcomed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are hopeful that this decision paves the way for them to enjoy religious freedom in Russia without harassment by government officials and the Russia judiciary.
For now, Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to face a coordinated attack on their peaceful worship. An ongoing five-year investigation of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses continues unabated. Early in 2009, the General Prosecutor’s Office ordered local prosecutors throughout Russia to conduct a wide-ranging investigation of every LRO (Local Religious Organization, or congregation) of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country and to use the law on extremism seemingly with the aim of banning their peaceful worship. As a result, there have been over 500 separate investigations recorded, and 50 warnings and notices were issued leading to eight current ongoing court cases advancing the groundless charges of extremist activity. If the courts uphold these charges, the LROs of Jehovah’s Witnesses could be liquidated and the religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is used worldwide for their instruction and worship, could be banned throughout Russia.
It remains to be seen whether the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Russia judiciary will take note of the Supreme Court’s August 18, 2009, decision and put an end to the unjustified harassment of an internationally known religious minority.
Russia: Yaroslav Sivulskiy, Telephone: +7 911 087 80 09
USA: James E. Andrik, Telephone: + 1 845-306-0711
Europe: Marc Hansen, Telephone: + 32 2 782 0015