07/23/2015, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Cossacks attack, throw stones at Jehovah's Witnesses

by Nina Achmatova
Jehovah's Witnesses were meeting in congress on 10-12 July in Krymsk, Krasnodar region. On the second day, Cossacks attacked the gathering as police stood idly by. For participants, the action violated “our right to religious freedom".

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Some Cossacks stormed a Jehovah's Witnesses gathering in the city of Krymsk, in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar. They disrupted the meeting and threw stones at participants, this according to online news website newsru, which cited the Sova Centre, a Russian information and analysis think tank on racism and xenophobia.

The congress was scheduled for 10-12 July at Krymsk stadium. Participants came from the city of Krymsk itself as well as Anapa, Gelendzhik and Novorossiysk.

According to eyewitness accounts, police officers with the Cossacks arrived on the morning of 11 July to ensure public order. Suddenly, the lights were turned off, but the public remained calm until generators were brought in and activities resumed.

Less than an hour later however, the Cossacks began throwing stones at the faithful, putting at risk the safety of those present, as the Jehovah's Witnesses reported in a statement.

"In the end, the meeting was suspended and the faithful went home before the congress could finish. On the third day, finally, it was not possible to celebrate the service, as planned," read the statement.

Jehovah's Witnesses accuse the Cossacks of violating their right to religious freedom and slammed the police for doing nothing to prevent the attack.

The local Prosecutor's Office tried to justify the action against the congress by claiming that the more than 1,500 participants had started an unauthorised procession.

"The Prosecutor is trying to justify the unjustifiable," some Witnesses said, noting that they did not hold a procession since the event was held in a closed environment with songs, prayers and preaching the Bible.

For the Witnesses, "Under the existing law, unlike activities in a public place, there is no need to notify officially the authorities if they are conducted indoors. By organising the congress in the stadium, believers followed the law to the letter.”

For years, Jehovah's Witnesses have faced a number of legal issues in Russia. In March 2015, a court in Krasnodar region described the local community as extremist and ordered the seizure of its local assets. In December 2014, the Supreme Court ruled their website and that of three other religious groups as “extremist”.

Jehovah's Witnesses are among the religious minorities in the former Soviet Union that have had to endure discrimination the most.

Although only some 200,000 across in the Russian Federation, they have been accused of sectarianism, "religious extremism", "incitement to social isolation" and actions that undermine societal harmony.

Russian authorities object to some practices associated with the group, most notably their objection to compulsory military service, refusal to bear arms, opposition to blood transfusions and the demand on members to be totally dedicated to community life.

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