Staunton, August 23 – Repression against religious groups the Kremlin doesn’t like doesn’t always take the form of arrests or confinement to prison. Instead, as the situation in Krasnodar Kray shows, it can involve firing people from their jobs, preventing them from getting others, and ostracizing their children.
That is the message of theKrasnodar Kray newspaper Golos Kubani entitled “’It is impossible to prohibit anyone from believing in God,’ but in Russia today, the powers that be are trying” and featuring a picture of a demonstrator’s sign declaring that “Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned under Hitler and Stalin; now, the same thing is the case under Putin. Good company” (golos-kubani.ru/nevozmozhno-zapretit-cheloveku-verit-v-boga-no-v-rossii-postarayutsya/?_utl_t=fb).
The article centers around an interview with Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses who points out that since the 1917 Russian court decision declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations extremist, “there are no organizations [of that group] in Krasnodar kray or in Russia in general.”
“There are,” of course, “individual believers who make use of their constitutional right to profess faith in the God Jehovah and his Son Jesus Christ and observe Biblical commandments.” Before Moscow took its decisions, there were approximately 15,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the kray, Sivulsky says.
“After the decision of the Russian Supreme Court in 2017 in Krasnodar kray as in the country as a whole began searches and denunciations. Attacks appeared in the media. Certain believers found it difficult to find work because of their religious views, others were fired for this reason. Some had their telephone calls monitored, and children in schools were humiliated.”
All this has been happening even though no criminal charges have been brought against any Jehovah’s Witness there as of yet, Sivulsky says, unlike the situation in other parts of Russia where that is already the case. Consequently, he continues, believers even in Krasnodar are now “prepared for everything.”
Prosecutors and judges in the region are moving to seize all the property of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and both are quite prepared to use trumped up charges and denunciations by government-controlled “experts” to get their way. In one horrific case, FSB “experts” found “’signs of extremism’” in a recipe for borsch a Jehovah’s Witness publication offered.
Sivulsky says that Russian government pressure on the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia began not with the 2017 court decision but already in 2009 when several publications by the Witnesses were declared “’extremist’” on the basis of “made-up charges.” And the repression has continued both in the legal system and more broadly in society as a whole.
“It is impossible to prohibit anyone from believing in God according to his conscience,” Sivulsky says. “The history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses under the most harsh regimes for example in Hitler’s Germany shows that oppression cannot force people to give up their faith, not threats, not fines, not jails, not even the death penalty.”
“Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses are no exception. They continue to assemble for prayers and Bible reading, they continue to study to love God and their neighbor, just as they have done earlier, but of course adapting to the new circumstances. It is important also to remember that only legal persons established by the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been declared ‘extremist.’”
“Their religion and convictions have not been declared outside the law by any judge in Russia,” Sivulsky stresses. Like other believers, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia have rights however much some officials violate them, and they “plan in the future to use these legal rights and when necessary to defend them in court.”
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