» 03/11/2010, 00.00
More than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses arrested in Russia for taking part in a public protest
Some 150,000 volunteers hand out about 12 million leaflets slamming the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, guilty of rejecting to military service and unfriendliness towards other religious groups. For their part, the Witnesses say that history is repeating itself with a return to Soviet-style persecution.
Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Between late February and early March, Russian police arrested at least 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses for handing out leaflets that describe how their religious freedom is curtailed. They are especially critical of the way their communities are being persecuted, labelled extremist and criminal for refusing the military draft.
On 26 February, the group’s national body launched a campaign to raise awareness about the violence Jehovah's Witnesses encounter in many republics of the Russian Federation. It brought together almost 150,000 volunteers in the streets of Moscow, Rostov, Sverdlovsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, Krasnodar, and Volgograd. Protesters handed out leaflets in railway as well as subway stations and at bus stops. Titled ‘Is history repeating itself? A question for Russians’, the four-page flyer quoted extensively from President Dmitry Medvedev’s speeches in which the Russian leader condemns political repression based on religion. Distributed to the tune of 12 million copies, the leaflet noted that the post-Soviet rehabilitation of Jehovah’s Witnesses had “turned to dust.”
Fifteen years ago, many veteran Jehovah's Witnesses received a special "certificate of rehabilitation." Now the same people, certificates in their pocket, are being charged as "extremists," forced to go underground.
According to Lev Levinson, director of the Institute for Human Rights, the current persecution is the by-product of a perverse interpretation of anti-extremism laws.
As a religious group, Jehovah’s Witnesses are accused of being a “sect”, of being unfriendly towards other Churches, of rejecting military service, this despite the fact that Russia’s constitution allows for an alternative civilian service.
In their defence, Jehovah’s Witnesses say that they are being forced to organise their campaign because various courts in Russia have banned their publications and outlawed their activities (see “Court in Rostov bans Jehovah’s Witnesses for being religious extremists,” in AsiaNews, 17 September 2009, and “Altai court condemns Jehovah’s Witnesses for “extremism,” in AsiaNews, 5 October 2009)
Before that, they had turned to President Medvedev asking for justice (see “Jehovah’s Witnesses write to Medvedev, tell him they are persecuted like in Soviet times,” in AsiaNews, 13 November 2009), but now must try to move public opinion.
Following the latest incident, Jehovah’s Witnesses were interrogated after their arrest, their leaflets seized. Most of them were eventually released after a few hours.
Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses deemed “illegal”
Baptists are systematically persecuted, even when all they do is meet for prayer. Jehovah’s Witnesses fear their faith might be banned “like in Soviet times.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses write to Medvedev, tell him they are persecuted like in Soviet times
The religious community complains about “arbitrary” trials, persecution and a campaign of “demonisation’ by the courts and the press. They ask Russian president to “guarantee their constitutional rights” and protect them “from bureaucratic arbitrariness.”
Cossacks attack, throw stones at Jehovah's Witnesses
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".
Jehovah’s Witness gets two years in prison for possession of “extremist literature”
His crime was possessing Witnesses’ publications, deemed dangerous to public order even when strictly religious in nature. Russia wants to ban the religious group, despite European Court of Human Rights’ ruling that it should be recognised.
After four years in prison, Uzbek Jehovah's Witness gets another 30 months
Abdubannob Ahmedov was set for release on 23 July but was convicted on unspecified charges of violating prison rules. A Baptist woman could also get three years in prison for "illegally reaching religion." Uzbek authorities continue their crackdown on religion.
Pope tells young people to remember the past, to have courage in the present and hope for the future
The Message for the 32nd World Youth Day was issued today centred on “The ‘great things’ that the Almighty accomplished’.” In her meeting with Elizabeth, Mary becomes a model. The pontiff calls on young people to avoid being couch potatoes, safe and cosy, urges them to rediscover the relationship with seniors. The Church experience is not a flash mob. The future should be experienced in a constructive way, and “the institutions of marriage, consecrated life and priestly mission” should not be devalued.
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