Netherlands Investigation into consequences of shunning former Jehovah's Witnesses
Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Den Helder.
Photo Olaf Kraak

NETHERLANDS: Investigation into consequences of shunning former Jehovah’s Witnesses

Insular religious communities who shun former members is not a criminal offence. However, the House of Representatives calls it “medieval” and “psychological abuse”.

Originally published May 17, 2022 in Dutch by Thomas Borst on NRC.

The cabinet is investigating the consequences of shunning former members by closed religious groups. The reason is because the policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses regards those who leave or expelled as apostates with whom contact must be severed.

The Scientific Research and Documentation Center is now going to find out how big this problem is. That is what Minister Franc Weerwind (Legal Protection, D66) wrote to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The ministry will talk to the victims before the summer, Weerwind writes. According to the minister, shunning in the current legislation “as such, is not a punishable phenomenon”. He does say that “certain harmful practices” can take their course through civil or criminal law, but that it is up to the judge to determine that.

Apart from the investigation announced by Weerwind, a foundation of former members want to take the Jehovah’s Witnesses to court in a civil case. They also hope that justice will prosecute the community. Victims claim to have been ‘declared socially dead’ after their departure; all contact with friends, family and acquaintances is severed. The former members hope that the judiciary will prosecute the Jehovah’s Witnesses and force the judge to adjust the regulations.

A similar case played out in Belgium last year. There, Jehovah’s Witnesses were convicted of inciting discrimination. The community appealed, in which the judge will rule at the end of May.


The VVD, PvdA and SP have been arguing for some time for an investigation into criminalization of the shunning policy. A Member of Parliament for the VVD, Ulysse Ellian, speaks of “impermissible practices”. Caroline van der Plas (BoerBurgerBeweging) describes the shunning as ‘medieval situations’. Songül Mutluer (PvdA) calls the shunning regime “discriminatory”, SP’er Michiel van Nispen believes that this is “mental abuse”.

Should the judiciary in the Netherlands proceed with an investigation, then according to professor of law and religion, Paul van Sasse van IJsselt of the University of Groningen, this will be unique. “It would be the first time that a denomination or faith community has risked prosecution based on undesirable practices.”

Van Sasse van IJsselt states that religious organizations are not excluded from criminal or civil liability. He considers a civil case to be the most promising, because prosecution is ‘very complex and sensitive’.

Biblical Standards

In their own words, the Dutch Jehovah’s Witnesses have more than 29,000 members, spread over 353 congregations. The Orthodox community lives according to a strict interpretation of the Bible and tests it against their own legal system.

In response to criticism, board member Michael van Ling states that the community only shuns baptized members if they make a habit of “breaking biblical standards and being unwilling to change. This is based on biblical principles. All Jehovah’s Witnesses agree to live by those standards when they choose to be baptized.”

In 2020, the community came into the limelight for an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse complaints. According to the researchers, three quarters of the victims of incest, assault, rape or sexual harassment were dissatisfied with their handling of complaints. Only 27 percent reported the incident to the police. An investigation is now underway into the possibilities of a statutory obligation to report.

One Response

  1. Clearly these shunning policies being offered by the Jehovah’s Witnesses are barbaric and evil in nature and are only in place as a part of a totalitarian regime whose main focus is on total obedience by it’s membership at all costs. Members are told that they must put their trust in the faithful and discrete slave (governing body) in order to be worthy of salvation. This so-called faithful and discrete slave acts in place of Jesus and the Holy Spirit on Earth through the Watchtower organization.

    They have numerous shunning videos that depict someone in the congregation being disfellowshipped, and they portray how the members are supposed to act in relation to one who has been disfellowshipped which is total shunning and avoidance of that individual, not even looking at them, talking to them, emailing them or sending them any text messages. It even goes as far as to remove the disfellowshipped one from their apartment or home if they’re renting from a Jehovah’s Witness brother or sister, or even loosing their jobs if they work for such individuals.

    Truly this is a totally evil and sinful practice that the Watchtower claims to be from God. However, it is NOT from God at all. It is simply part of their made up doctrine and an attempt to get people to totally obey and worship the governing body. When one is disfellowshipped, they say that the individual has left Jehovah. They claim that Jehovah God only works through their organization and through nobody else.

    However, they have no claims on God any more than any other organization has claims on God because God can’t be put into a little box. Disfellowshipping is nothing more than a barbaric form of totalitarian control which is found in regimes such as North Korea just to name one. Absolute obedience to the governing body is what they teach. Clearly, this religion is a totalitarian regeime seeking full control over the lives of those who are a part of it.

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