Wednesday, March 27, 2019

‘I’m Not a Jehovah’s Witness: I Simply Don’t Want to Live in North Korea’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – A group of demonstrators came out on St. Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospekt carrying signs declaring “I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness: I simply don’t want to live in North Korea” to protest the continuing repression of followers of that faith and expressing fears that the situation the Witnesses now face in Russia is like the one they faced in Nazi Germany.

            In addition, they told passers by that the Russian government’s actions, including torture, against the Jehovah’s Witnesses recall Stalin’s mass deportation of them to Siberia in 1951, a crime against humanity that few include in the usual list of the Soviet dictator’s many abuses of human rights (

            In reporting this story, Tatyana Voltskaya of Radio Svoboda and others make reference to Vladimir Putin’s December 2018 statement that such actions against the Jehovah’s Witnesses were a mistake and needed to be looked into, exactly what the Kremlin leader hoped for, even though as Voltskaya at least points out, he has done nothing to rein in his officials. 

            Instead, he has passed the issue off to the Russian Supreme Court which is supposed to come up with a ruling by July 1. Meanwhile, however, the repressions continue and, in some ways, appear to be growing worse, with entirely credible reports that police are engaged in brutal torture of the Witnesses.  

            Some commentators have suggested that this shows that Putin isn’t in charge, but that is clearly absurd. It recalls the arguments of those who gave Gorbachev credit for anything they liked and blamed his opponents for anything they didn’t. Putin could stop this instantly if he gave the order. He hasn’t, a reflection of his priorities if not indeed his preferences.

            Vladimir Ryakhovsky, a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, tells the Znak news agency that he accepts everything the Jehovah’s Witnesses are saying about official abuses because lying is one of the greatest sins as far as they are concerned ((

            He expresses the hope that the Supreme Court will do something to change the direction of official policy which since Putin came to power has been in every case in the direction of restricting the rights of believers especially among groups that Moscow does not consider Russia’s “traditional” faiths. If not, the European Court will certainly rule in their favor.

            Ryakhovsky reminds that the Witnesses “were the only religious confession which did not support the Third Reich” in Germany at any time. “They were the first the Nazis persecuted in the 1930s. And there were analogous persecutions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union under Stalin.”  Now, tragically, these things are being repeated.

There is a real danger that if the repression against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is not stopped, he says, it will spread to other faiths, “in the first instance against those who are not among the traditional religions or are somehow connected with Western countries, such as the Mormons, Baptists, Pentecostals and Adventists.”

            But everyone should be worried, “even non-believers,” Ryakhovsky says. “You must be upset that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are being persecuted. Because today, they are coming for them, and tomorrow they will come for you under some pretext. But possibly, there won’t be anyone left to defend you, as one German pastor said about the repressions in the Third Reich.”

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