NOVEMBER 18, 2016
This is Part 2 of a three-part series based on exclusive interviews with noted scholars of religion, politics, and sociology, as well as experts in Soviet and post-Soviet studies.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—Russian authorities are attempting to ban the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, labeling it as “extremist.”
Ironically, if the court rules in favor of the prosecution, any ban placed on the New World Translation would “violate the amendment to Article 3 of the Federal Law on Extremism signed by Mr. Putin in the fall of 2015,” according to Dr. Ekaterina Elbakyan, professor of sociology and management of social processes at the Moscow Academy of Labor and Social Relations. The amendment to Article 3 clearly states: “The Bible, the Quran, the Tanakh, and the Kangyur, their contents, and quotations from them cannot be recognized as extremist materials.”
“Who would have imagined that adopting a law giving immunity to certain holy texts would provoke the banning of other holy texts?” states Dr. Roman Lunkin, head of the Center for Religion and Society at the Institute of Europe, Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. “The first to suffer have been the Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with their translation of the Bible.”
Additionally, “as an ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] member state, Russia’s attempt to ban such a Bible would be contravening freedom of religion conventions,” notes Dr. Jeffrey Haynes, professor of politics and director of the Centre for the Study of Religion, Conflict and Cooperation at London Metropolitan University.
The case against the New World Translation is being held at the Vyborg City Court, 138 kilometers (85 mi.) northwest of St. Petersburg. On April 26, 2016, the second day of preliminary hearings, the judge granted the prosecution’s request to suspend the case, pending a court-appointed analysis of the New World Translation. The Witnesses were not given a chance to present their defense, and the court assigned the analysis to be done by the Center for Sociocultural Expert Studies, whose negative conclusions about the New World Translation served as the basis for the prosecutor’s original claim. Assigning the center to analyze the New World Translation again violates the precedent set by Russia’s Supreme Court to disqualify an expert if he has previously expressed his opinion about a subject being considered in court.
While the court-appointed analysis is pending, scholars have expressed their regard for the Witnesses’ translation. One such scholar, Dr. Gerhard Besier, director of the Sigmund Neumann Institute for the Research on Freedom and Democracy, comments: “The New World Translation has received high praise worldwide from Bible scholars representing diverse religious communities.”
Likewise, the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis stated in the February 2016 edition of their monthly news release Misuse of Anti-Extremism: “We don’t find any signs of extremism in the New World Translation.” Since then, in almost every monthly news release, SOVA Center has repeated its definitive position against Russia’s actions, such as was published in June 2016: “We would like to reiterate that we view persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and bans against their literature and communities as religious discrimination.”