MURMANSK, July 18 (RIA Novosti) – Prosecutors in the northeast Russian city of Murmansk said on Friday that a planned series of Jehovah’s Witnesses services in a stadium cannot go ahead, as they contravene a law on the use of sports facilities.
The statement said that according to Russian law, sports facilities cannot be used for religious purposes. The group had signed a contract with the Murmansk Central Stadium for services from July 18-20.
In May 2007, the Murmansk branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has around 800 members, clashed with the local administration when authorities refused to allocate land for the construction of a religious center in a densely-populated area of the city.
The Public Prosecutor of the small asbestos-mining town of Asbest in Sverdlovsk Region is pressing for a ban on Jehovah’s Witness literature, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. If Asbest Town Court – or any other Russian court – finds Jehovah’s Witness publications extremist, their addition to the Federal List of Extremist Materials would extend a ban on their distribution to the whole of Russia. Jehovah’s Witnesses continuing to hand out the texts would risk a four-year prison term under Article 282 of the Criminal Code.
The move further suggests a widening of the net in the application of religious extremism charges. Initially they were used against alleged members of the shadowy radical Islamist political movement Hizb-ut-Tahrir (see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=170 for an outline of its views). However, Jehovah’s Witnesses, traditional Mari pagans and Tatar-Turkish schools are the latest targets (see F18News 29 May 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1136).
Asbest Town Court chose not to review a 10 June suit charging local Jehovah’s Witnesses with distribution of extremist religious literature because an assessment conducted by FSB security service specialists did not qualify as evidence, Asbest’s acting Public Prosecutor Aleksei Almayev explained to Forum 18 on 11 July. As part of the continuing criminal investigation, however, Maksim Gorky Urals University is preparing an independent literary analysis due in August, added Almayev. “And when we file suit again, we think the court will be more sympathetic.”
With the analysis still incomplete, Almayev declined to comment on the allegedly extremist nature of the Jehovah’s Witness texts.