08/14/2017, 09.20
RUSSIA

'Extremism': the Russian state and the witch hunt against Jehovah's Witnesses

by Vladimir Rozanskij

A woman and her son arrested in Kursk for distributing invitations to the sect. Bible translations not originating from the Hebrew and Greek sources deemed 'extreme'. The same for translations of the non-Arabic translations of Koran. A Protestant pastor who cared for drug addicts arrested . Even the faithful of a bishop considered a holy man, branded as "extremists": they risk the prison.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Last August 11th, some Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested in Kursk, Russia and accused of religious extremism, a terrorist-like crime, for distributing propaganda leaflets about their community. The local prosecutor's office published details of the arrest, confirmed by the judge for preliminary investigations.

The allegation is based on Article 282 of the Russian Penal Code, which concerns "coercion, recruitment or other form of attraction to an extremist organization", which in Russia increasingly applies to any form of religious activity that takes place at the outside the confines of public buildings, as in the times of state atheism. The penalty for this crime ranges from 4 to 8 years in a labor camp.

In the prosecution they explain that the fact was denounced by an ordinary citizen, who at the local market saw a woman with her fifteen-year-old son handing out the leaflets, inviting people to join the group of Jehovah's Witnesses. Under the nationwide ban member of the organization can be immediately arrested in similar situations, as has happened on numerous occasions. The Russian Watchtower Center has over two thousand communities, with about 175,000 people attending.

Since April 20, arrests and convictions have been taking place. and further clarifying the interpretation of Article 282, against Jehovah's Witnesses and any other religious minority. The accusation of extremism does not concern the violation of public policy rules: in short, the "extremist" nature of the publications confiscated from activists and in general the religious literature of confessions under accusation is held up as proof.

The State interprets the Bible and the Koran

The problem is that in 2015, an amendment was inserted into the law against religious extremism : the sacred books of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism, and quotations from them, can not be accused of extremism. Since June last year, bureaucrats from various cities have included an advisory report as the grounds for arresting and confiscating books, prepared by a special "Center for socio-cultural initiatives" of alleged "official experts" in religious matters. This report states that the translation of the Bible approved by Jehovah's Witnesses "foments discord and enmity, and must be considered extremist," which is why their Bible "can not be considered a Bible." The report enters into theological details, considering that in the beliefs confessed by Jehovah Witnesses "the Most Holy Trinity and the Eucharist are denied, and the concept of God is changed". The greatest danger is that many readers might "confuse their translation with the orthodox". Particularly criminally, according to experts, it would be the conception that Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) "divide people into two categories: those belonging to the sect and all others", which, moreover, all other religions and parties also do.

The arguments that question the translations of sacred texts are disarming. According to the report received by Russian authorities, since the Koran in Islam is recognized only in Arabic, all translations are to be considered illegal. The JW bible, in addition to theological theorems, would also have the defect of being translated from English, not from Hebrew and Greek, and there is an "erroneous interpretation of unity and equality of nature between the Father and the Son, which does not agree with the orthodox tradition, and the name of the Holy Spirit is written in lowercase letters."

Beyond the "experts" motives, it should be remembered that the Russian translation of the Bible, despite having an official orthodox version called "synodal", is an open and unresolved issue for centuries. The new laws risk re-propagating the fanaticism of the times of the schism of the "old-believers" when a comma sent people to the stake accused of fanaticism. The "anti-extremist" positions of the judiciary and of Russian politics appear more extreme than those of the same orthodox hierarchy.

Meanwhile, cases of repression of religious minorities are widening in all directions. An evangelical pastor, Evgenij Peresvetov, was arrested with his wife and 9 year old son on the charge of kidnapping . The pastor founded a therapeutic community for drug addicts, called "Reconstruction", and the accusation concerns five people undergoing "forced treatment". The community was closed, and the pastor sent to a labor camp.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, bishop Vladimir of Kamensk, of the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow, has declared the devotees of archimandrite Rafail (Baranko) who died a year ago heretics. Already after the fall of communism in the 1990s, many considered him holy for his witness to the faith in defiance of the authorities. The faithful who come together to pray for him, in Ukraine and in Russia, are also considered "extremists."

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