Russian authorities raid meeting of deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses

Even before Moscow placed a ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses activities in the City, there has been pressure on their religious freedom.

A hearing scheduled for tomorrow (9.00 am), at the European Court of Human Rights, will hear about a meeting of 150 deaf, or partially deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chelyabinsk. Their lawful meeting was broken up by the then Human Rights Commissioner Yekaterina Victorovna Gorina and police, who laughed at and mocked their disability!

The following is an official press release from the Jehovah’s Witnesses office of public information:

STRASBOURG-This week the European Court of Human Rights will hear the case of Kuznetsov and Others v Russian Federation. At issue is the right of Christians, members of a registered faith community, to meet for worship in today’s Russia. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday, September 9, at 9 a.m.

The court will be told that on April 16, 2000, a meeting of 150 deaf or partially deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chelyabinsk was illegally terminated by the then Human Rights Commissioner Yekaterina Victorovna Gorina with the help of police officers. Eyewitnesses described the emotional distress some of the deaf worshipers suffered when the Commissioner’s group laughed at and mocked their disability. At the time, Professor O.O. Mironov, Federal Commissioner for Human Rights, strongly criticized “the extremely heavy-handed behaviour of the City authorities.” Five of the alleged victims will attend the oral hearing in the European Court.

This case has taken on greater significance following the Moscow City (Appeal) Court’s ruling on June 16, 2004, which upheld a lower court decision to ban the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow and to liquidate their legal entity. That case, also under review by the European Court, raises issues of religious freedom similar to those in the case of Kuznetsov and Others v Russian Federation.

In a report published on their official website www.jw-media.org the Jehovah’s Witnesses point out the following:

“As shown in this report, ongoing restrictions in Chelyabinsk continue to hinder Jehovah’s Witnesses from exercising the right to freedom of worship.
This case has also taken on greater significance following the Moscow City (Appeal) Court’s ruling on 16 June 2004, which upheld a lower court decision to ban the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow and to liquidate their legal entity. That case, also under review by the European Court, raises issues of religious freedom similar to those in the case of Kuznetsov and Others v Russian Federation.”

“The principal complaint is that the Russian Government is in agreement with the actions of prejudiced officials in Chelyabinsk who abused their power when they raided and shut down a lawful and peaceful Christian meeting of deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses who are native Russian citizens”

“On 16 April 2000, the then Commissioner for Human Rights for the Chelyabinsk Region, Yekaterina Viktorovna Gorina, accompanied by senior police officers, including the Chief Inspector, and Mr. I.V.Tomskiy (a civilian with no lawful authority to act in an official capacity), entered a rented hall where over 150 deaf or partially deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses were meeting for worship. According to eyewitness reports, the Commissioner ordered one of the policemen to “stop the meeting.” He replied: “How can I? They are deaf mutes!”

The Presiding Minister of the sign language congregation, Konstanin Kuznetsov, testified in a Russian Court that he was ordered to tell the congregation to disperse by using sign language. “I went on to the platform and said that the police have arrived and we have to stop the meeting because they require it.”

Mr. Tomskiy videotaped the premature end to the meeting. The videocassette was lodged in Court with the trial judge yet, despite ten motions, the Court refused to reveal its contents. Artur Leontyev, a consultant lawyer for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, said: “The Russian Government is contesting the facts in the European Court but has chosen to withhold key evidence.”

“Gorina was laughing at us”, declared Nelli Fyodorovna Butina, one of the deaf parties to the European Court application. Other eyewitnesses described the emotional distress some of the deaf worshippers suffered when the Commissioner’s group laughed at and mocked their disability.”

The prejudice shown by some Russian authorities against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is nothing short of appalling and gives a good indication of the problems facing not just this group, but other religious organizations as well.

Moscow seem unable or unwilling to control these events and the government must make their policies on “Human Rights” much clearer than they are at the moment.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday September 9, 2004.
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