An appellate court upheld an earlier court ruling that declared the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in the Russian language to be an “extremist” publication. The decision is now in force, confirming that this Bible has been banned and will soon be added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials. It is now a criminal offense for anyone to distribute the New World Translation to others. Even possessing a personal copy may put one at risk of incurring a heavy fine—or worse.

Court Ignores Lack of Evidence From “Expert” Testimony

On December 20, 2017, the Leningrad Regional Court left the decision of the Vyborg City Court unchanged despite the failure of the prosecutor or court-appointed “experts” to identify the basis for declaring the New World Translation “extremist.” The court rulings are founded on a single “expert” study that criticized this modern Russian translation of the Bible.

The regional court’s three-judge panel acknowledged that there were contradictions in the study on the New World Translation and summoned for questioning the “experts” who produced the study. When the presiding judge, Larisa Gorbatova, asked Ms. Kryukova, the study’s leading member, whether the New World Translation is a Bible, she replied that it is not, “in the traditional sense of Orthodox Christianity.” When one of the defense attorneys asked for even one quotation in which the rendering of a verse showed signs of extremism, Ms. Kryukova could not provide an answer. Later, Judge Gorbatova asked Ms. Kryukova what constitutes extremism in this translation, but she declined to answer, stating that it was “a legal question.”

When one of the defense attorneys asked for the criteria used to determine whether the New World Translation is a Bible, Ms. Kryukova said that it must be marked “by the blessing of the patriarch” or match word for word with a translation that bears that blessing. Ms. Kryukova was then asked why the study concluded that the New World Translation was “not an adequate translation.” When neither she nor the other “experts” could articulate objective criteria, the court ended the questioning of the “experts.”

The attorneys for the Witnesses then asked the court to accept evidence that exposed the bias of the “experts”—including the study’s large-scale inclusion of material from Wikipedia and from an Orthodox seminary student. The judges granted that request but rejected all petitions to have genuine experts examine the New World Translation and to return the case to trial.

What Is the Aim of This Attack on the Bible?

During the concluding arguments, an attorney for the Witnesses asked the court: “What legitimate aim is pursued by the prosecutor’s office? What is it trying to achieve? That hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking citizens who read this Bible burn it? Or if they do not want to burn it, that they be subject to criminal prosecution?”

Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are apprehensive because of the authorities’ disproportionate response in enforcing previous decisions that declared the Witnesses’ literature “extremist.” While Russia’s extremism legislation prohibits the distribution of materials or their mass storage for such a purpose, Russian law-enforcement authorities have gone far beyond the boundaries of that law. They have searched the homes of the Witnesses and initiated administrative proceedings for the mere possession of a few publications for personal use. Additionally, in a desperate effort to fabricate evidence, the authorities planted just a few copies of the banned literature in the Witnesses’ houses of worship. Then they used their “discovery” of the literature as a basis to liquidate the Witnesses’ legal entities and even to bring criminal charges against the Witnesses.

Will the Witnesses be subjected to more aggressive searches of their homes? Will they be brought up on administrative or criminal charges merely for possessing their own copy of the New World Translation? It remains to be seen how the Russian authorities will use this decision as yet another weapon to repress the Witnesses’ religious freedom.