Russia: The Debate – Supreme Court Hearing Day 6

April 20, 2017 – Sixth day of the Russia Supreme Court case brought by the Justice Ministry to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation. Today’s proceedings is in the format of a debate. The Ministry of Justice presents their reasons for banning Jehovah’s Witnesses and liquidating all of their assets, namely the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg and the 395 LROs scattered throughout the country.


13:15 The courtroom of the Supreme Court gradually filled with spectators. There was a feelings of nervousness and restrained excitement. The parties were preparing their speeches to deliberate in the debate.

13:50 Most of the seats were filled by this time.

14:09 The hearings begin. Omelchenko made a quick petition to attach a statement from the European Union on the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia to the case materials. In it, the European Union said that “the statement of March 15, filed by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation in the Supreme Court, is the last severe measure taken in its fight against Jehovah’s Witnesses and these prosecutions they are subjected to in Russia is a further increase in violations of their rights which contradicts international standards in the field of freedom of religion or belief.”  The court asked how this statement could affect the outcome of the day’s proceedings. Omelchenko said that this is evidence of a violation of Article 18 of the European Convention. Although the European Union is not a body of the Council of Europe, it was made at a meeting of the Council of Europe. The court refuses to attach the document.

14:15 The court started the debate. The Ministry of Justice representative made her case.

14:16 The Ministry of Justice drew attention to the fact that Russia adheres to the principle of the rule of law. The law on freedom of conscience provides a framework. The Ministry of Justice drew attention to the fact that the very name of the Center, the “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia,” indicates that the centralized organization exercises control over the LROs. The Ministry of Justice drew attention to the leading role of the Administrative Center in its interactions with the LROs. The Administrative Center agrees on the issues related to the appointment of the chairmen of the LROs, etc. Organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are a holistic organism. They are characterized by organizational unity. References to the canonical connection by the Ministry of Justice are inconclusive.

14:25 According to the Ministry of Justice representative, the face that the defendant continues to claim that there was planting of extremist materials indicates that the Administrative Center does not repent of its extremist activities.

14:28 The Ministry of Justice representative continued: Although many religions express some sort of relationship with secular authorities, the texts of Jehovah’s Witnesses contain prohibitively insulting ways of expressing the truth of their beliefs. Extremists do not recognize quotes from the bible, but rather their interpretation of what is written in the bible.

14:35 The Ministry of Justice believed that the numerous court decisions made in connection with what materials they recognized as extremist should have given the Administrative Center enough of an opportunity to determine what literature not to import into the country.

14:35 The fact is, according to the Ministry of Justice, over the last 25 years, the Administrative Center had imported materials that were later recognized as extremist.

14:38 The Ministry of Justice believes that because “extremist” (as applied to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature) is placed within quotation marks in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are being cynical of the matter – despite the fact that the courts’ decisions to recognize extremist literature had entered into legal force.

14:40 Summing up, the Ministry of Justice representative, as before, asks to liquidate the Administrative Center, all the LROs and confiscate all of their property – without waiting for the court’s decision to put it into legal force.

14:42 Omelchenko, on behalf of the defendant, the Administrative Center, began his speech in the debate.

14:45  Omelchenko analyzed the non-legal nature of the Ministry of Justice’s generalization that the various organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are supposed to be a single organization “with structural units”.

14:50 Omelchenko cited the norms of legislation on countering extremism. The law does not provide for such extremist actions as “an act in the form of inaction”, “an act committed inadvertently, by imprudence”. The Supreme Court of Russia has repeatedly pointed out that extremism can only be active actions aimed at violent change of the foundations of the constitutional system.

15:02 According to Omelchenko, the plaintiff’s representative gave their own interpretation of what extremism is in the debate. However, the defendant recalled that the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation give legal interpretation. And these courts ruled that “inciting hatred and propaganda of social, racial, national, religious superiority, whose existence should be determined taking into account all the significant circumstances of each particular case, namely the form and content of activities or information, their addressees and the target audience , Socio-political context, the existence of a real threat, including calls for unlawful attacks on constitutionally protected values, or justification of their commission.”

“Restriction through the anti-extremist legislation of freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of speech and the right to disseminate information should not take place in relation to any activity or information on the sole ground that they do not fit into generally accepted notions or are not consistent with established traditional views and opinions, come into conflict with moral or religious preferences. Anything else would mean a deviation from the constitutional requirement of necessity, proportionality and justice by restricting the rights and freedoms of man and citizen.”

15:13 Omelchenko: The actions of the Ministry of Justice do not pursue a legitimate aim, they bear all signs of political repression. “I ask that the plaintiff’s complaints not be met but be refused completely.”

Full text of Anton Omelchenko’s speech (PDF, 184 KB)

15:16 Lawyer Chenkov spoke in the debate. He began with his personal impression of the last few days.  He found himself in one of Moscow’s parks and saw that dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to this park. They did not have any posters and they did not come out to protest the lawsuit that began in the Supreme Court on April 5, 2017. They went out to clean up the garbage that had accumulated over the winter. So who are these people? Extremists or good Christians?

15:20 The Ministry of Justice has demanded to take all the buildings of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, built by believers at their own expense. This happened only once in Russia, namely, a hundred years ago, in 1918. At that time, the Council of the People’s Commissars decreed that all property be taken away, including the religious buildings of the Russian Orthodox Church.

15:27 Zhenkov: The Ministry of Justice suggested that Jehovah’s Witnesses, through despair, said that the cases against them were falsified. However, believers do not despair, notes Chenkov. They believe the words of the Bible that there is nothing secret that would not become obvious. And everyone will bear responsibility before God for their deeds. Just the other day, on April 17, 2017, the President of the Russian Federation approved an amendment to Article 303 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, now provides for criminal liability for falsifying evidence in administrative cases However, the problem of falsifications should concern not only the President, but all of the executive bodies, such as the Ministry of Justice (Justice in Latin means justice).

15:35 In this case there are dozens of certificates: gratitude, not only for the improvement of the country, but for an active life position, for helping those affected by natural disasters, for helping Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) from the territory of Ukraine, for helping orphanages, for improving the leisure center for children with disabilities, for participation in the marathon “Help the child”, etc. “Is it so that the organization is both useful and dangerous?” Chenkov is perplexed.

15:40 Chenkov analyzed the testimony of witnesses, both from the plaintiff’s side and from the defendant’s side.

15:45 The lawyer drew attention to expert opinions on the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Why do I stop at literature again? Because literature, recognized as extremist, is the only complaint against Jehovah’s Witnesses in carrying out extremist activities.”

15:46 Chenkov: “In this room, there was a man who was born in prison. Because his mother was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment when she was 5 months pregnant as an enemy of the state just because she was a Jehovah’s Witness. She gave birth in prison, and he spent two years in a prison orphanage. His father could not take him, because he was exiled to Siberia. In 1991, the state recognized the mother as a victim of political repression, apologized to her, and provided her with a pension. And here in court this person, who was born in prison, approached me and asked: “Does the Ministry of Justice wish to repeat this terrible story?”. And I did not know what to say. I still do not know what moves the representatives of the Ministry of Justice and those who direct this process.

15:50 Chenkov: “What will happen if the court satisfies the request of the Ministry of Justice? Respected court, if this is the will of the state, then the country successfully acquires 170 thousand prisoners of conscience and a corresponding reputation. If the state’s will is to comply with the law, then the court’s decision can be only one thing – to refuse the Ministry of Justice’s complaint against the Administrative Center. ”

Full text of the speech by Viktor Chenkov (PDF, 171 KB)

15:52 Toporov spoke in the debate. “Blaming Jehovah’s Witnesses for extremism is like blaming an infant of extremism. Only an infant is not able to commit extremist activity because of his age, nor are Jehovah’s Witnesses due to their religious worldview. For them, calls for any kind of violence against people, violent actions, enmity and hatred towards people by any indication are serious sins against God.”

16:02 Speaking about the independence of the LRO, Toporov refers to the Charter of the Administrative Center. LROs are endowed with the absolute right, without taking into account the will of the Administrative Center, to determine the term of their presence in the said structure, to resolve issues of liquidation, transfer to other centralized religious organizations, etc. “The Administrative Center does not have the right to liquidate the LRO, as it is not their founder … What is this structural unit?” – asks Toporov.

16:12 Concluding his speech, Toporov cited the statement of human rights activist L. Alekseeva in its entirety. In the end, he says: “You, the respected court, it is you, here and today, can eliminate injustice and dishonesty towards hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens, restore their good name, strengthen confidence in the law on countering extremism, clearly showing the difference between these extremists and Extremists drawn on paper. We hope that the court will have the courage to do this and make a fair and impartial decision, guided by the law and the gift from God – a human conscience. ”

Full text of the speech by Yuri Toporov (PDF, 190 KB)

16:13 Novakov was next to speak in the debate. He drew attention to the fact that due to the suspension of activities, believers throughout the country were subjected to massive violations of rights: law enforcement officers invaded the services and copied personal data of citizens who had not committed any offense. The police officers carried out illegal detentions by bringing them into custody, personal searches, videotaping of persons. Administrative cases are raised, warnings are made about the possibility of criminal prosecution under Article 282 of the Criminal Code.

16:16 Referring to the increase in violations of rights, Novakov said: “Moreover, if the Court makes a decision on liquidation, this will produce even more tragic consequences throughout the country. Any Jehovah’s Witness may be considered an extremist with all the ensuing consequences: widespread religious violence against Witnesses: from destruction and damage to property and attacks, to causing serious harm to health and killing peaceful religious citizens on the grounds of religious hatred. At an international level, blame for the condoning of violence and prosecution for far-fetched circumstances will be assigned to state authorities in Russia. ”

16:32 Novakov recalled that the Ministry of Justice representative accused Jehovah’s Witnesses of cynicism in her debate. “I’ll tell you what cynicism is,” Novakov said. “When the Ministry of Justice in the first trial of the LRO says that the rights af the Administrative Center are not affected, but then makes those court decisions as the basis for the elimination of the Administrative Center. Or when the Ministry of Justice perceives much more harsh statements against Jehovah’s Witnesses as “ordinary criticism”, while calling “extremism” those statements that are far from extremism. When, contrary to the available data, the Ministry of Justice dismisses reports of falsification, it does not dare to cite cases when falsification is clearly fixed on the video. “That’s what cynicism is!” Novakov concluded.

Full text of Maxim Novakov’s speech (PDF, 125 KB)

16:40 Cherepanove next spoke in the debate. He believed that if the court left Jehovah’s Witnesses to exist legally, Russia will not only not suffer damage, but on the contrary will improve its reputation both inside the country and in the international arena. Decisions against Jehovah’s Witnesses have been appealed to the ECHR and the UN Human Rights Committee.

16:45 “We have had good cooperation with the Justice Ministry for decades,” said Cherepanov. “I think the Justice Ministry should feel in a sense our defender, he registered us!” Addressing to the representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Cherepanov said: “Let’s be friends! Do not become a punitive body. We do not want to sue you, we ask that you help us, and do not look for a reason to close us. ”

16:47 Cherepanov spoke about the problem of denigrating the good name of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the media. Various crimes had been attributed towards them, for example, “weaning apartments.” Proving the falsity of this myth, Cherepanov recallsedthe biblical commandment “Do not covet someone else’s wife”.

16:50 “The strength of a powerful state is precisely to protect the interests of the minority, because the majority will stand for itself.”

Full text of the speech by Sergey Cherepanov (PDF, 105 KB)

16:55 Kalin spoke next: “The Ministry of Justice not only humiliates itself and its functions, but humiliates the entire state in the eyes of the international community. If a respected representative of the Ministry of Justice has personal convictions that Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremists, I’m very sorry. If the representative of the Ministry of Justice was a victim of the circumstances in which he fell into, and is forced to perform just the role of accuser, I am also sorry. But in either case you will have to answer before your own conscience. ”

16:56 Kalin recalled one’s responsibility before God and said: “I take this opportunity to issue a warning to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Justice. Please, come to your senses! Please, come to your senses! ”

Full text of the speech of Vasily Kalin (PDF, 46 KB)

17:00 Both sides exchanged remarks.

17:01 The Ministry of Justice representative recalled that the essence of the complaint is to liquidate a legal entity; the Justice Ministry does not make complaints against individuals. The Justice Ministry reminded the court of the testimony of one of the witnesses of the plaintiff who was expelled from the religious community. The Ministry of Justice considered this a violation of the rights of citizens. In response, Chenkov recalled that at one time the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated the writer L. Tolstoy. In our time, the ROC refused to cancel the decision on excommunication, despite the petitions for this. This is an internal matter of the church. Chenkov asked whether the Ministry of Justice intended to present any demands to the ROC.

17:09 The court retires to the advisory room.

17:18 The courtroom is filled with television journalists.

18:25 The court is still in the advisory room. The courtroom awaits the announcement of the judgment.

18:50 The Supreme Court decided to liquidate the centralized religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, as well as all 395 local religious organizations of this religion.

Believers have already begun to prepare a complaint to the appellate court (a panel consisting of three judges of the Supreme Court), which should be considered within a month.