Literature shipments detained in Russia—random incidents or new trend?
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—A shipment of religious literature intended for the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia was detained at Russia’s border with Finland in Vyborg, Leningrad region. The normally seamless import procedure was stalled when the customs official referred to a new order he had received stipulating that this load must be handled by a special department.
The literature detention began October 5, 2009. After a three-day wait, special service agents arrived and, without introduction, supervised a highly unusual detailed inspection of each item in every box making up the 31-pallet shipment of literature. The agents—representatives Goncharenko, Nikolayev, and Grudakov—obtained entry to the customs premises using employee identification from the Department for Handling Especially Dangerous Forms of Contraband of the Northwest Customs Operative Division. There was no information provided as to what the agents were looking for, how long this process would take, or when the shipment would be released. Finally, on October 19 a vaguely written explanation came to Jehovah’s Witnesses from Customs stating: “The literature may contain material intended to incite religious discord.” In order for the literature to be released, officials demand “documents confirming that there are no restrictions on importation of the declared goods into customs territory.”
A few days earlier, a freight vehicle belonging to the German transportation company Globalsped was detained at the Russian border near Bryansk on its way through Russia to Kyrgyzstan. Along with other goods intended for various unrelated recipients, the vehicle was carrying religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Kyrgyz language. After being held by Russian Customs for a total of 14 days with no explanation given for the detainment, the shipment was finally released on Tuesday, October 13. The driver said that he was told that the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses is under ban in Russia.
Such unprecedented actions seem to be in response to the Rostov District Court ruling that pronounced certain publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremist.” However, because the Rostov District Court decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and is not yet in effect, the detention of the literature was unfounded and unlawful.
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