“It is hard to judge,” he says, “what in fact will happen; but we have the modest hope that it will be possible to release those now in detention who have committed no crimes but simply have read the Bible. This is the first thing the law enforcement organs must do” if Putin’s words are to be taken seriously.
There is as yet no indication of movement in that direction, however.
Putin spoke of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in response to a question from Yekaterina Schulmann, a Moscow political analyst, at the Presidential Council on Human Rights on December 11. (For the text of the meeting, including his remarks on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which was released today, see kremlin.ru/events/president/news/59374.)
The Kremlin leader promised to look into the situation and declared that “we can and even must at a certain moment be much more liberal toward representatives of various religious sects,” using the derogatory term Russians often employ for religious groups other than the four “traditional” faiths the authorities recognize.
Putin, of course, is trying to have it both ways: On the one hand, he can count on his words about a more “liberal” approach to be used by those who suggest he really is a democrat; while on the other, he can allow or in this case almost certainly order or at least approve the repressive actions of his subordinates.
He is all too rarely held to account for what he says and does and the ways in which those are at variance. That needs to change if there is to be any hope that he will in fact change for the better. The next few weeks are critical for the Jehovah’s Witnesses: If they aren’t released and the charges dropped, the world will have yet another reason not to trust Putin.