Meeting for Bible instruction raided in St. Petersburg
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—A religious meeting in a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the St. Petersburg suburb of Strelna had routinely concluded when officials entered the premises and prevented the 68 persons present from leaving the building. They were told they were being detained because their activities were classified as “extremist” and were thus illegal.
On September 30, 2009, at 8:45 p.m., Sergey Vladimirovich Butenko, assistant district prosecutor of the Petrodvorets District Prosecutor’s Office of St. Petersburg, came into the yard of the Kingdom Hall, closed the gate and ordered those leaving to go back into the building. He attributed the disruption to information he possessed alleging that the activity in the hall was extremist in nature, and he referred to articles 6, 21.1, and 22 of the Law on the Prosecutor’s Office as empowering him to take such action. Other officials soon arrived and participated in the raid.
All in attendance had to provide their names, dates of birth, and places of residence and of work. They also had to give written explanations of what they do at the religious meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, why they attend, and how often they meet together. Some were also asked to specify how they receive their Bible literature.
When the officials wanted to know on what grounds the group is allowed to meet, the detained Witnesses said it was on the basis of the Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. Documentation was provided to the officials establishing the right to use that specific building as a meeting place.
Many of the members were released by 11:30 p.m.; others were held until 1:30 a.m. No warrant had been issued for the raid, and no written explanation for the detention was provided.
The bold actions of the prosecutor’s office follow less than three weeks after a disturbing decision of the Rostov Regional Court. On September 11, 2009, that court ruled to grant the prosecutor’s claim to liquidate the Taganrog congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and pronounce a list of their literature “extremist.” An appeal has been filed and is pending with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.
Russia: Yaroslav Sivulskiy, Telephone: +7 911 087 80 09
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