HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PAST YEAR
2016 Legal Report
In legal battles and through challenging circumstances, our Christian brothers and sisters give proof of their loyalty to Jehovah God. Their example encourages all of us to stand firm in our faith, confident that “Jehovah will treat his loyal one in a special way.”
ARGENTINA | Right to Educate Children on Religious Matters
Ruth grew up in a Christian household but became inactive at a young age. Later, she began a relationship with a man and in time gave birth to a baby girl. One day, in the city of La Plata, Ruth noticed Jehovah’s Witnesses using a literature display table and recalled her Christian heritage. She was moved to renew her association with the congregation and began to teach the Bible to her young daughter. The girl’s father opposed Ruth’s religious activity and filed an action in family court to prevent Ruth from teaching the Bible to their daughter or taking her to congregation meetings.
Ruth’s attorney argued that both parents have the right to share religious beliefs with their child and that the court could not interfere with that right unless there was proof that the child was harmed by the religious instruction. The court ruled that the parents should respect their daughter’s right to practice a religion freely, although she was only four years old at the time! The court of appeal clarified that the child was too young to make her own decisions on religious education and that both parents have an equal right to educate her on religious matters.
Ruth’s young daughter reads her Bible each night and now attends the meetings with her mother. She is eagerly looking forward to visiting Bethel in Buenos Aires.
AZERBAIJAN | Right to Manifest Religious Belief
The apostle Paul observed that in the true Christian congregation, “if one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26) This was proved true, as Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide felt deeply for the suffering of Sisters Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova in Azerbaijan. In February 2015, authorities charged these two sisters with illegal religious activity. The judge placed them in pretrial detention, and because of a series of postponements, the sisters spent almost a year in prison, where they endured abusive treatment and deprivation.
When their case finally came to trial in January 2016, the judge found the sisters guilty and fined them, but he canceled the fines on account of the pretrial detention and allowed them to return home. When the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed their pleas against the criminal convictions, they appealed to the Supreme Court. In addition, they filed complaints with the UN Human Rights Committee over the ill-treatment and the violation of their right to manifest religious belief.
In the meantime, the sisters are recovering from their ordeal. They have expressed deep appreciation for the many prayers and expressions of concern in their behalf.Sister Jabrayilova wrote to the Governing Body: “Your prayers helped us endure the hardship, and I really felt it. I will never forget the love and care shown by you, by Jehovah, and by my brothers and sisters around the world.”
ERITREA | Imprisoned for Their Faith
As of July 2016, the government of Eritrea has imprisoned 55 of Jehovah’s Witnesses for their faith. Three brothers
A positive development occurred in January 2016 when a court brought to trial the Witnesses arrested at the Memorial in Asmara in April 2014. This was the first time that authorities formally charged Witnesses with a “crime” and gave them an opportunity to make a defense. As expected, most of the brothers and sisters on trial were found guilty of attending an “illegal” meeting, fined, and then released. However, Saron Gebru, one of the accused sisters, refused to accept the fine. For this, she was sentenced to six months in prison. Sister Gebru was able to receive visitors once a week and reported that she was treated well. She and the other 54 Witnesses in prison appreciate the many prayers said in their behalf as we all “keep in mind those in prison, as though [we] were imprisoned with them.”
GERMANY | Freedom of Religion
On December 21, 2015, the state of Bremen, in northwest Germany, finally granted the Religious Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany a higher level of legal status than previously enjoyed. This action concluded a four-year legal effort in German courts. Following a decision by the Higher Administrative Court in Berlin, the majority of the16 states in Germany granted Jehovah’s Witnesses a preferred legal status, called public law status. However, Bremen authorities decided against granting this status to the Witnesses, primarily because of false accusations spread by opposers.
In 2015, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court concluded that Bremen’s refusal to grant public law status violated the constitutional rights of the Witnesses. The decision confirms that the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom protect the religious activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bremen. The congregations there are entitled to tax exemption and other privileges enjoyed by the major religious denominations in Germany.
KYRGYZSTAN | Right to Manifest Religious Belief
In March 2013, authorities in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, fabricated criminal charges against Oksana Koriakina and her mother, Nadezhda Sergienko. The prosecutor accused the Witnesses of defrauding people while they were sharing Bible teachings with their neighbors, and the judge sentenced them to house arrest while the case was pending trial. In October 2014, the trial court found that the evidence was contrived, procedures were violated, and the sisters were not guilty. The appeal court upheld that decision in October 2015.
However, the Osh city prosecutor appealed again, this time to the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan. That Court canceled the sisters’ acquittal and ordered a new trial. At the hearing in April 2016, the lawyers representing the sisters motioned for dismissal because the statute of limitations had expired. The judge had no choice but to terminate the case, bringing the criminal proceedings to an end.
Throughout their ordeal, the sisters maintained a positive outlook. Sister Sergienko said, “People often become bitter if
KYRGYZSTAN | Freedom of Religion
On August 9, 2015, ten police officers burst into a congregation meeting in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan. They demanded that the “illegal” meeting stop immediately and even threatened to shoot the more than 40 in attendance. The police brought ten brothers to the police station, where officers subjected nine of them to abuse and beatings and then released them. Two days later, police arrested Nurlan Usupbaev, one of the brothers who had been brutally beaten, and charged him with illegal religious activity for conducting the meeting.
When the case against Brother Usupbaev came before the Osh City Court, the judge found no evidence of the charges against him and dismissed the case. The prosecutor appealed to the Osh Regional Court, which dismissed the appeal, confirming that Brother Usupbaev could not be guilty of illegal religious activity because Jehovah’s Witnesses are legally registered in Kyrgyzstan.
Not giving up, the prosecutor then appealed to the Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court. To Brother Usupbaev’s relief, the Supreme Court terminated the case in March 2016, leaving in place the positive decisions of the trial and appeal courts and again confirming that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the right to hold religious meetings in Kyrgyzstan. A separate case brought by the victims against the Osh police officers is still pending in the courts.
RUSSIA | Freedom of Religion
Despite strong objections from Russian human rights authorities, the Russian government continues its relentless attack against Jehovah’s Witnesses and their religious activity. At last count, authorities have declared 88 of our publications to be “extremist” and have banned the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, jw.org. In 2015, customs officials denied the importation of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, and a court in Vyborg is considering whether to declare this modern Bible translation to be “extremist.” In March 2016, the Prosecutor General’s Office took bold steps, threatening to close down the central offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Solnechnoye, outside St. Petersburg, for alleged “extremist activity.”
Despite the aggressive state-sponsored campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses, there has been some good news. In October 2015, a prosecutor filed a claim to liquidate the Local Religious Organization (LRO) in Tyumen, located some 1,300 miles (2,000 km) east of Moscow. Despite proof that police had fabricated evidence against the Witnesses, the Tyumen Regional Court found the Tyumen LRO guilty. However, on April 15, 2016, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation reversed the lower court’s decision, ruling that “there were no grounds to liquidate the LRO of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the City of Tyumen.” When the presiding judge read the verdict, the 60 brothers and sisters who had packed the courtroom erupted in a standing ovation.
Jehovah’s people in Russia are determined to continue worshipping him despite any “weapon formed against [them].”
RWANDA | Right to Education Free From Religious Discrimination
In recent years, Witness schoolchildren in Rwanda have faced expulsion because of their refusal to support religious or patriotic activities in schools. Seeking to remedy this problem, on December 14, 2015, the government issued an order intended to eliminate religious discrimination in schools. The order calls upon schools to respect the freedom of worship of students.
On June 9, 2016, the jw.org Newsroom published an article entitled “Rwanda Acts to Counter Religious Discrimination in Schools.” Interestingly, a popular online newspaper in Rwanda reposted the article. The newspaper’s website soon had over 3,000 hits, and many readers posted positive comments about the government’s action. Witnesses in Rwanda are grateful for the order that assures that their children can receive an education free from religious discrimination.
SOUTH KOREA | Freedom of Conscience
—Conscientious Objection to Military Service
For over 60 years, male Witnesses in South Korea between 19 and 35 years of age have faced the issue of military service. The government of South Korea does not recognize the right to conscientious objection and offers no alternative to military service. In some cases, successive generations of Witnesses
The Constitutional Court has twice ruled that the Military Service Law is constitutional, but lower courts and men punished by that law have again put the issue before the Constitutional Court. Consequently, on July 9, 2015, the Court heard arguments on behalf of conscientious objectors. Brother Min-hwan Kim, who spent 18 months in prison because his conscience would not permit him to accept militarytraining, explains: “I have been punished and released from prison. But I hope that many other conscientious objectors will not be punished. If they are allowed to perform alternative service, they will be able to contribute to the community.” The Constitutional Court will soon announce its decision.
TURKMENISTAN | Bahram Hemdemov
Brother Hemdemov, 53 years old, is married and the father of four sons. He is a zealous spiritual man who is a well-respected member of the community. In May 2015, a court sentenced him to four years of hard labor in prison for holding an “illegal” religious meeting in his home. He is detained in a notoriously wretched labor camp in the town of Seydi, where he has suffered repeated interrogations and brutal beatings at the hands of the authorities. However, he has maintained his integrity to Jehovah God, as has his family. Brother Hemdemov’s wife, Gulzira, has been able to visit him periodically to provide encouragement.
As we see Jehovah’s people continue to prove their loyalty under test, we pray in their behalf. Their example also motivates us to strengthen our own bonds of loyalty to God, confident of the promise of Psalm 37:28: “He will not abandon his loyal ones.”