Russia: Supreme Court Case to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses – Day 1

April 5, 2017 – The Russian Supreme Court began hearing the case brought by the Justice Ministry to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.

According to a source inside the Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses’ community, here is a summary of the events which took place today in the Supreme Court in Moscow. This is a translation of what is found on jw-russia.org

Judge: Yuri Ivanenko.

Defendant: Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

Ministry of Justice Rep: Svetlana Borisova

11:00 The Supreme Court refused to accept a counter claim that the Ministry of Justice’s claim is an act of political repression. The Supreme Court decided that the counterclaim could not be reviewed as it was filed in an inappropriate court.

“The court ruled to reject the counterclaim taking into account the fact that the party violated the jurisdiction rules,” the judge announced.

11:15 Representatives of the Local Religious Organizations (LRO) applied for admission to participate in the court proceedings.

“If believers throughout Russia will be deprived of their rights, let them be heard in court,” said Zhenkov, one of the lawyers for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Court rejected the enlistment of the 395 LROs as respondents.

11:30 The Jehovah’s Witnesses asked the court to allow audio broadcasting of the trial.

The request was refused.

11:35 The Lawyers for the Jehovah’s Witnesses asked the court to adjourn the hearing pending the outcome of an appeal to the Court of Justice over the suspension of their organization’s activities.

The Ministry of Justice objected on the grounds that the authorities had every right to suspend the activities of organizations.

The court refused to postpone the hearing.

11:50 Omelchenko, another lawyer for Jehovah’s Witnesses seeks the abandonment of the claim because the plaintiff did not comply with pre-trial procedure for settling claims with the 395 LROs. Before a claim for liquidation, the authorities, by law, should have made an official warning to each them and given them time to correct. The second reason for the abandonment of the claim is that the courts previously recognized that 2 of the 395 LROs were not “extremist” (Karachay-Cherkessia and Samara).

The court dismissed the petition of abandonment without consideration.

12:10 Representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses request that the hearing be postponed for one week as the statement of claim was only received by the defendant on March 28, 2017. In addition, the Ministry of Justice did not provide all documents specified in the annexes.

The Justice Ministry did not object to the adjournment of the case.

The court refused to postpone the case.

12:20 Zhenkov seeks the suspension of the case due to the fact that a number of Russian courts have submitted applications to consider based on newly discovered evidence. This is a review of cases that entered into force for the liquidation of 8 LROs and the introduction of 88 publications into the list of extremist materials. Those decisions were made without involving the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses because the Ministry of Justice insisted that the decisions of the courts against the LROs did not affect the rights of the Administrative Center. In this cae, the Ministry of Justice changed its position and now all the charges brought against the LROs are being made against the Administrative Center.

The Ministry of Justice objected to the suspension based on the fact that the same lawyers involved in the liquidation of the LROs are the same as those who participated in cases involving the Administrative Center.

12:33 The court retires to the deliberation room.

The suspension of the case was denied.

13:55 Zhenkov requests the involvement of specialists, namely religious scholars and linquists, in the case. He believes that specialists may clarify whether their materials contain extremist or dangerous texts which form the basis for the Ministry of Justice to ban the entire religion in Russia. Asked by the Judge whether the lawyers offer to “audit” the court’s decisions with regard to literature included in the list of extremist materials, the lawyers explain that such an audit would be important for ascertaining the proportionality of the requirements of the Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice objected to the admission of experts.

The court refused the inclusion of specialists to the hearing.

14:06 Zhenkov asks for the involvement of 9 foreign legal entities representing Jehovah’s Witnesses in Europe and America to participate in the case.

The court refused to allow foreign entities to participate in the case.

14:06 Omelchenko petitions the court to involve 8 Russian citizens as interested participants in the case. They had been rehabilitated as victims of political repression and were present in court. The lawyers prove that if the court bans the religion, these individuals will turn from rehabilitated to “extremists”.

The Ministry of Justice said that the court decides on the liquidation of legal entities, not individuals.

In his retort, Zhenkov reminded the court that similar considerations guided the Soviet authorities. Prohibiting the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, will bring repression that is painful for people from which some have been rehabilitated.

The court denies the petition.

14:30 Lawyers apply for the questioning of individual citizens, followers of the religion, who can testify as to measures taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses to prevent extremist activity.

The Ministry of Justice does not object. The court agrees.

14:40 Lawyers request the questioning of individuals who are recognized as victims of political repression.

The ministry of Justice objected.

The court refuses.

14:43 M. Novakov, a representative of Jehovah’s Witnesses petitions the court to question persons who witnessed the alleged falsification of evidence against believers in cases where the Ministry of Justice used “new evidence of an offense” in its lawsuit.

To the judge’s objection that these are decisions that came into force, Novakov explains that in this case a pre-judicial approach can not be used, since we are talking about different subjects of law. The court must directly investigate the evidence. Novakov tells the court about flawed evidence and false testimony in a number of Russian cities.

The Justice of Ministry objects, arguing that this line of questioning is aimed at reviewing decisions that came into force.

The court refused to question persons who witnessed the alleged falsification of evidence.

15:05 Omelchenko petitioned the recovery of publications for the courts which were considered extremist and which formed the basis of the lawsuit to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He stresses that it is necessary to question whether the statements contained within these publications are sufficiently dangerous to limit the rights of “300,000” citizens of Russia. He draws attention to the legal requirement that the restrictions must be justified and proportionate to the constitutionally significant goals. He provides examples of statements within these publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses that are recognized as extremist.

15:28 Court adjourns until April 6, 2017 14:00.