Russian Supreme Court to hear controversial case examining internationally recognized publications
MOSCOW—The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation will hear the appeal of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the city of Taganrog regarding the decision of the local and appellate courts to liquidate their congregation and to put 34 pieces of their religious publications on a national list of “extremist literature.” The publications at the heart of this controversy are distributed in over 500 languages worldwide. Lower courts in Russia have already ruled that the literature is extremist under Russian law. The Supreme Court will hear the appeal on December 8, 2009.
Taganrog is in the Rostov Region, near the Ukraine border with Russia. Two months ago, on September 11, 2009, the Rostov Regional Court issued its decision to liquidate the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taganrog and declare 34 publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremist. Although the decision is under appeal and thus is not yet enforceable, various government agencies are already conducting raids and searches of religious buildings and private homes. Literature has been seized, religious services have been interrupted, and shipments of literature from abroad have been held at the border. Unwarranted detainments and questionings of believers have increased in frequency.
The Supreme Court’s decision, if adverse, could set a precedent not only for Jehovah’s Witnesses, but for believers of all confessions. It would be the first time internationally recognized Christian literature was censored in Russia. On the other hand, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the local congregation it would continue its recent pattern of ruling in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as it has done twice recently, and in favor of religious pluralism.
Regarding this upcoming session of the Russian Supreme Court, Vasiliy Kalin, the chairman of the governing committee of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, stated: “This decision of the Supreme Court may put an end to the unfounded accusations against the activity and literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We hope that the Court will defend the constitutional right of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and indeed all believers in Russia, to freedom of religion.”
The hearing will take place on December 8, 2009, at 10:00 at 15 Povarskaya St., Moscow, in courtroom 5038.
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