Another regional court intent on banning educational publications in Russia
GORNO-ALTAYSK, Russia—The Gorno-Altaysk City Court handed down a decision to pronounce as extremist 18 religious publications distributed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the October 1, 2009, ruling, the publications that the court found to be extremist are published in 176 languages and are freely distributed in more than 200 countries, including all member states of the European Union.
The extremist charges were filed by the prosecutor of Gorno-Altaysk, referring to a study carried out by local “experts” who have repeatedly made public negative comments about Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was thus not surprising when these court-appointed “experts,” who had no training in religious studies, found that the publications contain “signs of incitement of religious discord.” The findings, however, appear suspect; for example, they denounced one publication, claiming that it sowed religious discord because it contained an article mentioning that a Protestant clergyman was unable to answer a doctrinal question. Similar reasoning was applied to other publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And in regions around Russia, similar so-called expert studies and local court cases followed a rash of investigations of congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Gorno-Altaysk decision will be appealed.
By contrast, a few days earlier in neighboring Kazakhstan The Watchtower and Awake! were officially recognized as being educational and primarily religious. These internationally distributed magazines are two of the publications included in those that the Gorno-Altaysk court in Russia is seeking to ban.
This court decision, if upheld on appeal, could affect the freedom of religion of nearly 300,000 peaceful Russian citizens who associate with Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose worldwide membership is over seven million.
Russia: Yaroslav Sivulskiy, Telephone: +7 911 087 80 09
Grigory Martynov, Telephone: +7 911 101-76-24
USA: James E. Andrik, Telephone: + 1 845-306-0711
Europe: Marc Hansen, Telephone: + 32 2 782 0015