RUSSIA: Will 'Experts' in Jehovah's Witness Case Be Neutral?

Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service, 10 April 2002

The Jehovah's Witnesses have condemned the 4 April decision by the Golovinsky intermunicipal court to commission two further "expert reports" in the case brought by the procuracy of the Northern Administrative District of the capital to liquidate their Moscow branch and ban its activity. "We believe there is sufficient evidence in the case already for the court to reach a correct verdict," their lawyer Galina Krylova told Keston News Service on 4 April. She believes the "expert reports" will not constitute an investigation, but consist of pre-prepared questions leading to predetermined responses. However, Tatyana Kondratieva, representing the procuracy, and Yelena Fillipchuk, representing the Moscow city justice department, which is participating in the case as a third party, both told Keston on 4 April that they backed the court's decision. The long-running case will be adjourned again until the experts' reports are completed, which could be another six months.

The Jehovah's Witnesses intend to challenge the court decision to launch the two new investigations of their literature - philological/psycholinguistic and socio-psychological - at the Moscow city court "in the near future", the lawyer Artur Leontiev told Keston on 5 April.

The liquidation suit is based on Jehovah's Witness literature which, the procuracy argues, "inflames religious discord, destroys families and predisposes to suicide". This is the second time it has been considered by the Golovinsky court - the decision of the first legal hearing, presided over by Judge Yelena Prokhorycheva, was set aside by the Moscow city court (see KNS 1 November 2001). During the first hearing the court also commissioned an expert report, as a result of which four of the five experts supported the procuracy's position, while one took the side of the defendant, though this did not prevent the court from rejecting the procuracy's case.

The court hearing began on 30 October 2001, but on 9 November was unexpectedly halted, and the hearing did not recommence until 12 February, with another assessor. Since that time more than 30 witnesses and specialists have given evidence, though this was not enough for the court to reach a decision. The experts will now have to assess not only Jehovah's Witness publications, but documents relating to the present civil case (which alone amounts to six volumes), and those relating to a criminal case brought by the Committee to Save Youth from the Jehovah's Witnesses, also investigated by the procuracy (three volumes).

The expert analysis is supposed to discover the underlying intention of the texts and methods of propaganda employed in Jehovah's Witness literature; whether the graphic resources employed are of a degrading nature, arousing negative attitudes towards other religious associations; and whether the literature contains information inciting actions against other religious organisations or individuals. These questions are taken almost verbatim from a list given to the court by the procuracy. Moreover, the court appended a question of its own: "How do local citizens respond to the spiritual practices and methods of proselytism employed by Jehovah's Witnesses?" The court decision proposes that a poll of local citizens should be conducted, which should not indicate religious affiliation.

Leontiev rejects all these aims. "These designations have no legal meaning," he insists. "There is no incitement here to inflame religious discord or other accusations provided for in law. It is case of misplaced concepts."

The procuracy and the Jehovah's Witnesses have argued over who should be chosen as "experts", with both sides producing their own lists. The Jehovah's Witnesses insisted on the participation of religious experts, but the court rejected this as the procuracy objected to their involvement. "These are honest, stainless people, to whom the court cannot help but listen," Fillipchuk declared to Keston of the procuracy's choice of experts.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have protested against the procuracy's candidates, Vsevolod Troitsky, Viktor Slovodchikov and Vera Koltsova (an employee of the Institute of Psychology at the Academy of Sciences). They point out that Troitsky concluded - in a study commissioned by Vladimir Zhbankov, deputy head of the Moscow justice department - that Jehovah's Witness activity "is aimed at disconnecting Russians' feelings of civil attachment, is of a destructive nature, and objectively works towards the destruction of the national and state security of Russia, and should be officially banned." The Jehovah's Witnesses report that both Slovodchikov and Koltsova have spoken publicly of their closeness to Orthodox Christianity.

Kondratieva rejected complaints against Koltsova, who will compile the "socio-psychological" expert report. "Koltsova has never come into conflict with the activity of the Jehovah's Witnesses and we know nothing about her religious affiliation," she told Keston.

The philological/psycholinguistic report has been assigned to the department of psycholinguistics at the Institute of Psychology (the same institute at which Koltsova works) with, in addition, L. Ivanov, an employee at the Vinogradov Russian Language Institute, one of the specialists proposed by the defendant. According to Leontiev, Ivanov has previously carried out a study of Jehovah's Witness literature at their request, and the lawyer made use of his conclusions in his objections to the public prosecutor's accusations.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have already lodged a case at the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg (No. 302/02) against the "endless" Golovinsky case.

Because of the legal case, Moscow justice department officials are refusing to re-register the Jehovah's Witness community and will not transfer a plot of land into its ownership, while the rental of buildings in which to hold meetings has become more difficult. (END)