Maryana Torocheshnikova: Did you know that at least one hundred thousand people live in Russia, who can be captured right now, charged with extremism and thrown into prison? Then there will be searches, investigations, courts, sentences that are almost impossible to cancel, and all this will happen within the framework of the law. And all these people, more than one hundred thousand people: men, women, pensioners, small children, are peaceful people, even pacifists, but they have one problem – they are followers of the religious movement Jehovah's Witnesses, and this organization in Russia is recognized as extremist and banned . What is wrong with Jehovah's Witnesses, why the authorities ganged up on them and chose the subject for repression – we will try to figure this out today.
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In 2017, the Supreme Court of Russia declared extremist and banned the activities of the religious organization Jehovah's Witnesses. After that, a wave of criminal proceedings was launched across the country against followers of this religion. At least 50 regions of Russia cover cases against Jehovah's Witnesses, 135 criminal cases have been opened, in which 295 suspects and accused are taking place.
44 Jehovah's Witnesses remain in pre-trial detention; 21 people were convicted. In Orel, Dennis Christensen was sentenced to six colonies, Sergey Skrynnikov in the same place – to a fine of 350 thousand rubles. In Tomsk, Sergey Klimov received six years in prison. In Penza, Vladimir Alushkin was assigned the same sentence, his wife Tatyana Alushkina – two years probation. The same punishment was received by their co-religionists Galia Olkhova, Denis Timoshin, Andrei Maglev, Vladimir Kulyasov. In the village of Volnonadezhdinsky, Primorsky Territory, Grigory Bubnov received a suspended sentence of six years in prison. In Saratov, Konstantin Bazhenov and Aleksey Budenchuk, Felix Makhammadiev – to three years, Roman Gridasov, Gennady German and Aleksey Miretsky – to two years in prison for three and a half years in prison. In Khabarovsk, Valery Moskalenko was fined half a million rubles. In Perm, Alexander Solovyov was ordered to pay 300 thousand rubles in fine, and Alexei Metzger – 350 thousand rubles. The court imposed the same fines on Roman Markin and Viktor Trofimov from the city of Polyarny, Murmansk Region.
What is their extremism? We are trying to figure this out with the team of the program "Man has the right" today. Anastasia Tishchenko studied why Jehovah's Witnesses were specifically judged; Natalya Dzhanpoladova I met with a representative of the European Association of Religious Organization Jehovah's Witnesses, and I talked with the director of the Sova Information and Analytical Center Alexander Verkhovsky. This Center has been studying for many years, among other things, how Russia fights extremism.
I know very little about this religious organization. Previously, preachers went — young men (I have never seen women — Jehovah's Witnesses) and distributed some brochures to everyone.
Anastasia Tishchenko: Most likely, they handed out the Watchtower and Awake magazines, which are now recognized as extremist. And since childhood, I also have an idea of Jehovah's Witnesses as such a horror story: the doorbell rings from the Housing Office or Jehovah's Witnesses – do not open. And at the same time, the word "sectarians" was always said. And when you start to understand, you understand: they are also Christians, Jehovah is God. As their representative explained to me, they consider Jehovah to be one god and deny the Trinity.
Maryana Torocheshnikova: So you talked to Yaroslav Sivulsky: what is their fundamental difference from all the others? I only know that they prohibit blood transfusion.
Anastasia Tishchenko: Previously, organ transplants were still banned, but then it was canceled.
Natalia Dzhanpoladova: As I understand it, they still do not celebrate various secular public holidays, referring to the fact that this is not written in the Bible.
Yaroslav Sivulsky: Jehovah's Witnesses believe in Jesus Christ, in God Jehovah, believe that on earth very soon there will be a new world, a happier and more joyful life. We do not believe that God is the Trinity. Jehovah is a god, Jesus is his son, and the holy spirit is not a person, but a force. We do not believe in the afterlife and many other creeds that are not based on the Bible. Jehovah's Witnesses were initially called “Bible Students,” that is, they very carefully studied Bible teachings, dismissed those that were not confirmed in the Bible itself, and focused only on what the Bible actually teaches. This is the main feature of Jehovah's Witnesses – they live according to the Bible, try to apply its laws in their lives. Well, and another famous feature of Jehovah's Witnesses: they follow the example of Jesus Christ, preach their views, their understanding of the Bible to other people.
Maryana Torocheshnikova: That is, apparently, initially it was such a circle of Bible readers? Then why are they called a sect? "Sect" is some very vile word, with a sweet smell, and if someone is called sectarians, immediately something very bad like "Aum Shinrike" appears …
Alexander Verkhovsky: The religious community overwhelmingly insists that it is impossible to give a normal definition of the word. He has a certain historical background, this applies to various small branches in Christianity, but it is rather difficult to transfer it to some extra-Christian phenomena. At this point, a large scientific discussion begins, which is in no way possible to fit into the legal framework. This word hangs in the air, but it continues to be used rhetorically, and it has an undeniable negative connotation, that is, condemnation will always be heard: sectarians are bad.
Proceeding from the orthodox Christian tradition, all who separated from orthodoxy are sectarians. And when it is said inside the church language, it is normal. But when it comes into a secular conversation, it becomes unclear what the claim is from a secular point of view. And our authorities think rather secularly, therefore, in general, they more or less do not care what citizens believe in, if only these citizens are loyal. The leadership of Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, and so on, in certain cases, can criticize the authorities, but in general they are loyal. At least this is not a conflict situation. And with Jehovah's Witnesses, she was initially in conflict, they did not want to cooperate.
Natalia Dzhanpoladova: As Yaroslav Sivulsky told me, such an attitude to Jehovah's Witnesses is only in Russia and in some Muslim countries. And in Sweden they were even given the status of an organization that is beneficial to society.
Anastasia Tishchenko: I was once in France with a French girl, and we saw Jehovah's Witnesses with their magazines. I asked her: “Are these Jehovah's Witnesses?” – and she replied: "Yes, these are sectarians." And I thought that not only in Russia there is such a stereotype.
Natalia Dzhanpoladova: Perhaps this is precisely because they go home, preach, and make people listen to them.
Maryana Torocheshnikova: But that still doesn't make Jehovah's Witnesses extremists. Indeed, extremism and extremist activity, as defined in the decision of the Supreme Court of Russia in the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, is a violent change in the foundations of the constitutional system and violation of the integrity of the Russian Federation, as well as public justification of terrorism and other terrorist activities, inciting social, racial, national, religious hatred, propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of a person on the basis of social, racial, national, religious affiliation, in obstruction of the exercise of suffrage, coupled with violence or the threat of its use. In general, extremists are violence, terrorism, these are people with grenades who are really subversive. How were Jehovah's Witnesses recorded as extremists?
Natalia Dzhanpoladova: Technically, I understood this pattern. In 2009 or 2010, in one of the brochures of Jehovah's Witnesses, it’s possible that just in one of the issues of their Watchtower magazine some expertise or just some people saw texts that, from their point of view, express superiority one religion over another. And then the decision made in relation to one journal or text was extrapolated first to other texts, and then simply to the entire organization, which ultimately led to its liquidation.
Alexander Verkhovsky: Legally, the same story happened to them that had happened before, say, with Muslims, followers of Said Nursi. For very dubious reasons, some religious texts are forbidden as extremist, then a group of people who still use these texts are accused of extremist activity for using them, and it is forbidden. In the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, this went through two stages: first, several local organizations were banned for using or supposedly using these forbidden brochures, and then all together for having these forbidden regional organizations inside the central organization. In essence, the accusation boils down to (as was the case in the banning of materials) that they claim that their faith is better than the rest — accordingly, they will be saved, and the rest will not be saved.
Maryana Torocheshnikova: And what exactly is in these texts?
Anastasia Tishchenko: I wrote out a few examples. The forbidden issue of The Watchtower of February 2009: “Although Joseph was young, he already knew that he needed to be friends with those who serve Jehovah. We want you to do the right thing.” And the conclusion of experts: “Speaking,” you need to be friends with those, “the text implies that you do not need to be friends with others at the same time. This is the hidden propaganda of hatred based on religious affiliation.
Another example. The Watchtower, issue of March 1, 2002, banned in Russia: "Priests of the Greek Orthodox Church and their supporters tried to come to the construction site and interfere with work, but Jehovah heard our prayer and gave us protection." Expert’s conclusion: “There is a negative image of church servants trying to prevent the construction of a new branch of the Jehovah's Witnesses Society in Greece. In this episode, the church minister is presented as an insidious and dishonest person. There are no examples of the righteous behavior of church ministers, any isolation or exclusion.” Apparently, if it had been written there that, in general, there are quite good people in the Orthodox Church, then the charges would be dropped.
Maryana Torocheshnikova: I still find it very difficult to understand where extremism is.
Yaroslav Sivulsky: During a hearing in the Supreme Court, our lawyers repeatedly asked representatives of the Ministry of Justice: what is the extremism of Jehovah’s Witnesses expressed in? Are there any facts that someone urged not to respect other faiths or people of other faiths? There are no such facts. All the accusations were based solely on the fact that many publications of Jehovah's Witnesses are on the list of extremist materials, and it follows that the denomination of Jehovah's Witnesses should be recognized as extremist. And the decision of the Supreme Court is based on this.
What really sounded in reality? It has been said that Jehovah's Witnesses consider themselves to be a true religion. But it is the nature of any denomination, any religion – to consider oneself true. If you do not consider yourself part of a true religion, why do you worship God, to carry out some kind of related activities, if your religion is not true?
Maryana Torocheshnikova: In the text of this decision, I liked one phrase: "The state, protecting the rights, freedoms, legitimate interests of man and citizen, public order …, revealing the facts of activities recognized as extremist, is not obliged to expect a negative cumulative effect when the number of violations with signs of extremism , will acquire a different quality, and their consequence will be not the threat of any violations and violation of any rights, but directly the harm, destruction … "That is, the logic is this: today he dances jazz, and tomorrow give birth well sell. But in fact, this way you can generally recognize anyone as an extremist!
Alexander Verkhovsky: The very concept of extremism is very broad, and it includes a lot of various actions, starting with terrorist attacks or attempted coup d'etat, and even up to such strange, vague things. This is usually explained so that our goal is to prevent more serious consequences by prosecuting those who are now halfway to these crimes. This is explained by the example of, say, Islamic terrorists: first they write some words, and then they go and blow something up. Accordingly, those people, or some groups who write similar words, but certainly do not explode (here Jehovah's Witnesses are pacifists, as you know), nevertheless, fall into the same frame. This is very strange, but that’s how it works. And when they undergo searches, the security forces go through with full force: special forces, knocked-out doors and all that, because this is the protocol of the fight against extremists.
Maryana Torocheshnikova: So, the authorities banned the organization, recognized it as extremist, confiscated everything that could be confiscated …
Natalia Dzhanpoladova: All property was confiscated, the organization was banned. At that time, in 2017, about 170 thousand followers of Jehovah's Witnesses lived in Russia, and all of them, in fact, were outlawed. Any meeting of more than three people where they read the Bible, pray, communicate with each other, is immediately considered a crime, and all these people automatically become extremists. And how many cases there were riot police and other special services breaking into such meetings-services of Jehovah's Witnesses and putting everyone on the floor! And there are a lot of elderly people: grandparents.
Correspondent: Harmless believers or dangerous extremists? Law enforcement authorities are confident in the second option. Capturing groups are sent to detain Jehovah's Witnesses.
Anna Makhneva: I heard a noise in the street. Upon leaving, I saw two masked people in the courtyard. I took the keys to the gate, opened the door, and several more people stood on the threshold.
Daria Makhneva: I was scared (crying).
Correspondent: On June 26, 2019, armed people broke into the house of the Makhnev family from Kaluga. Roman was accused of participating in the activities of an extremist organization and of keeping banned literature.
Anna Makhneva: I heard Dasha screaming: "This was not in my room! Explain to me what it does here!"
Daria Makhneva: Just that day in the afternoon, I vacuumed under the bed, and there was nothing lying there.
Anna Makhneva: And she heard her husband’s voice: "This is a toss."
Correspondent: Throws of prohibited literature and torture – Jehovah's Witnesses have complained about this more than once. The followers of this teaching are easy to judge for extremism, because their faith is enough to blame. The reason for the criminal case against a pensioner from the Primorsky Territory, for example, was reading the Bible and meeting with co-religionists.
Lawyer Alexei Izbrecht: The text of the indictment indicates that there are no victims and no damage was caused. Even the prosecution witness claims that neither Bubnov nor other Jehovah's Witnesses committed any illegal, extremist actions in the village of Razdolny. On the contrary, he responds positively from them.
Correspondent: The prosecutor's office asked to sentence Grigory Bubnov to seven years in prison. The court took into account that the pensioner lives with a seriously ill mother, whom there is no one to care for, and appointed him five years probation. In addition to Bubnov, law enforcement authorities suspected at least 20 more elderly Jehovah's Witnesses in extremism, the oldest of whom was 87-year-old Olga Verevkina.
Olga Verevkina: That in such a way the militants burst into the camouflage of old, weak people, it amazes me!
Maryana Torocheshnikova: I don’t understand, who did they bother so? In Russia, in general, there are a lot of religious movements and associations that may seem strange or uncomfortable to someone. It was possible to register even the Church of the pasta monster! Why is Jehovah's Witnesses so pressed?
Natalia Dzhanpoladova: I also did not find an answer to this question. Moreover, at the end of 2018, there was a speech by Vladimir Putin when he called the criminal case against Jehovah's Witnesses “complete nonsense.”
Alexander Verkhovsky: I was at the same time, and it didn’t sound like this was nonsense and I don’t have to do that. It was said this way: "I don’t understand what is going on here." When he says so, this does not mean that it must be undone. This means that he decided to figure it out or instruct someone to figure it out. I’m even ready to admit that in December the year before last he really didn’t hear about any Jehovah's Witnesses, they didn’t report to him at all. Теперь вот "разобрались", и мы видим, что в прошлом году, после этого высказывания уголовных дел завели в два раза больше, чем до него.
Ярослав Сивульский: У нас была сложная история во времена Советского Союза, когда нас запрещали и преследовали по идеологическим соображениям, потому что в атеистическом государстве верить в бога вообще было преступлением. Из-за этого тысячи семей были сосланы в Сибирь, как тогда было написано в указе Сталина, на вечное поселение. Когда пришел к власти Горбачев, и потом Ельцин, государство все это отменило. Те, кто был репрессирован, в то время получили статус жертв политических репрессий, и многие до сих пор имеют такое удостоверение. И вот, несмотря на извинения, несмотря на такую историю, в 2017 году государство инициирует новые репрессии против тех же, уже однажды пострадавших верующих – Свидетелей Иеговы. Вот как это объяснить?
Марьяна Торочешникова: Ну, да, ветер поменялся. Существует несколько версий на этот счет, в частности, обсуждается материальная заинтересованность: у них было что отбирать. Вторая версия – это влияние РПЦ: они не хотят никого видеть здесь, на своей территории. И третья версия – абсолютно конспирологическая, но в нее я верю.
Александр Верховский: Какие-то люди, может быть, связанные с церковью, а может быть, просто такие самодеятельные мыслители из ФСБ, представили дело так, что Свидетели Иеговы являются сетью, покрывают всю страну, и совершенно непонятно со светской точки зрения, что они там вообще такое делают, кроме того, у них центр в Нью-Йорке… В общем, это можно представить как некий заговор.
Анастасия Тищенко: Но они же не приближены ни к каким госструктурам, большинство из них – обычные граждане, пенсионеры, дети, какие же из них шпионы?
Марьяна Торочешникова: Да я-то это понимаю, но, мне кажется, именно эту версию доносят до людей, от которых зависит принятие решений.
Наталья Джанполадова: Я, наверное, соглашусь, даже по принципу метода исключения, потому что две другие версии не объясняют полностью те масштабы, ту жестокость, с которой преследуют Свидетелей Иеговы. При этом версия со шпионами очень укладывается в очередную волну шпиономании, которая идет как раз последние два-три года.
Анастасия Тищенко: Не верю. По-моему, просто РПЦ старается подмять под себя или уничтожить любые структуры, которые набирают силу и при этом близки к христианским взглядам.
Марьяна Торочешникова: Либо (и это тоже немножко конспирологическая теория) в этом центре принятия решений есть какой-то человек, который придерживается жестко ортодоксальных взглядов и поэтому выступает против Свидетелей. А понятно вообще, что теперь будет с ними всеми? Сейчас в России живут больше ста тысяч: их всех пересажают?
Наталья Джанполадова: Теоретически, наверное, могут. А что с ними будет дальше – не очень понятно, потому что Свидетели Иеговы, обжаловали в Европейском суде по правам человека и сам факт запрета этой организации, и признание ее экстремистской, и сейчас идет коммуникация между ЕСПЧ и Россией. И самое интересное: председатель Верховного суда Вячеслав Лебедев не так давно сказал, что если ЕСПЧ примет какое-то решение, то ВС не исключает пересмотра дела Свидетелей Иеговы.
Марьяна Торочешникова: Но это вовсе не значит, что он примет другое решение.
Анастасия Тищенко: Многие просто уезжают из России. Я даже читала: тем, кто остался, кажется, что за ними следят, и за некоторыми правда следят и любят приходить утром, поэтому люди стараются просто пораньше уйти из дома и как можно дольше не возвращаться. Они действительно боятся.
Марьяна Торочешникова: Только в январе 2020 года уже вынесено по меньшей мере шесть обвинительных приговоров в отношении последователей Свидетелей Иеговы.