AUGUST 4, 2015
On August 5, 2015, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation will hear appeals concerning the Local Religious Organization (LRO) of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Abinsk. Following tactics similar to those used in Taganrog and Samara, officials in the city of Abinsk liquidated the legal entity of Jehovah’s Witnesses earlier this year.
A False Basis for Liquidation
The congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Abinsk has approximately 100 members, some of whom are elderly men and women. The Abinsk LRO was registered in November 1999 and is the legal entity that owns the Kingdom Hall where the Witnesses meet for worship.
In December 2012 and again in October 2013, authorities charged two of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Abinsk with administrative violations for allegedly distributing literature that has been declared extremist. Both Witnesses were associated with the local congregation, but neither one was a member of the Abinsk LRO. The prosecutor ignored this fact and used the unfounded charges against these men as a basis to liquidate the LRO.
Based on this incorrect premise, the Krasnodar Territorial Court ruled on March 4, 2015, “to declare the Local Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses of the City of Abinsk . . . extremist and to liquidate it and exclude it from the Uniform State Register of Legal Entities.” The court further ruled that ownership of the Kingdom Hall in Abinsk be transferred to the State. If the Supreme Court upholds that ruling, the Witnesses in Abinsk will lose their house of worship.
The Same Dubious Tactics
By misapplying the Federal Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity, authorities in Abinsk followed the same tactics used by officials to liquidate the Witnesses’ LROs in the cities of Taganrog and Samara. As in Abinsk, the charges of extremist activity had no basis in fact. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taganrog and Samara are vigorously defending themselves in court against these false accusations. They have filed applications with the European Court of Human Rights contesting these violations of their religious freedom.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Abinsk Persevere
The small community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Abinsk will continue their religious activity, following the pattern of worship practiced by their fellow believers worldwide. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses hope that the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation will recognize the injustice of the lower court’s ruling and allow the Witnesses in Abinsk to continue meeting peacefully in their own place of worship.