JANUARY 7, 2019

Remembering a Half-Century Battle for the Freedom to Preach

Remembering a Half-Century Battle for the Freedom to Preach

Eighty years ago, a prison boat unloaded Minos Kokkinakis onto the Greek island of Amorgós in the Aegean Sea, where he would spend the next 13 months in exile. Without a trial, a Greek court had convicted Brother Kokkinakis of violating a new law that forbade proselytism. His arrest was the first of 19,147 arrests of Jehovah’s Witnesses from 1938 to 1992 for breaking the law that had been imposed by Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas. During those decades, hundreds of Greek Witnesses braved physical violence, arrests, and prison terms for preaching the good news.

At about the age of 30, Brother Kokkinakis began a 50-year legal battle for the freedom to share his faith. Arrested more than 60 times, he spent over six years in prisons and on penal islands, where he and other Witness prisoners endured unspeakable conditions. At age 77, he unsuccessfully contested his final arrest, eventually taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court of Greece. Brother Kokkinakis then applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), arguing that Greece had denied him religious freedom. In 1993, 84-year-old Minos Kokkinakis won a resounding legal victory, marking the first time the ECHR convicted a country of violating religious freedom. * The year 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of this historic decision. According to one professor of public international law, Kokkinakis “is probably the most widely cited judgment of the European Court of Human Rights concerning the freedom of religion or belief.”

The Kokkinakis decision established a legal precedent that is still relevant in an era when powerful governments, such as Russia, are trying to deny many of our brothers their right to worship without interference.

Brother Kokkinakis’ faith and persistence in the ministry is an outstanding example for our brothers and sisters who are facing opposition to their preaching work. His integrity led to a powerful witness that still resonates today.—Romans 1:8.

^ par. 3 Minos Kokkinakis died in January 1999.