RUSSIA: Are Jehovah's Witnesses Terrorist Targets?

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service, 17 August 2001

The head of the municipality of Nezlobinskaya in the Georgievsky district of Stavropol province has issued a written instruction banning a Jehovah's Witness congress which was due to be held on 18-19 and 25-26 August 'due to the threat of terrorist acts'. The congress was to take place in the Jehovah's Witnesses own building, so they consider the instruction to be illegal and intend to appeal against it in court.

According to Vyacheslav Mayatsky of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Administrative Centre in St Petersburg, speaking to Keston on 15 August, the congregation in Nezlobinskaya has 500 members out of a total population of 20,000. It owns a building in which religious events are held all the time.

The congress had been planned for the weekends of 18-19 and 25-26 August and about 2000 participants were expected from surrounding villages. As requested, the Jehovah's Witnesses informed the local authorities about the planned event, but suddenly and unexpectedly received the order from the head of the municipality Anatoli Lisov banning the congress 'due to the increased crime situation and the threat of terrorist acts'.

According to Artur Leontiev, the legal expert at the Jehovah's Witnesses Administrative Centre in St Petersburg, the local authorities have no right to prevent religious events held in a religious organisation's own premises licensed for such purposes. Asked by Keston what, in his view, lay behind the ban, Mayatsky said that the local authorities had been influenced by nationalist organisations such as 'Russian National Unity' and 'Renaissance' and also by the Cossacks. Mayatsky told Keston that Lisov had himself told him that the crime rate in the district was lower than in other places and that there had never been any acts of terrorism.

Keston was unable to contact the local authority in Nezlobinskaya because of poor telephone communications. When Mayatsky met the police chief of Georgievsky district, Lieutenant-Colonel Mikhail Klimov, on 15 August, Klimov told him that he considered himself bound by the order and intended to do everything possible to prevent the congress taking place. Despite this, the Jehovah's Witnesses were not cancelling their plans, Mayatsky told Keston, and were planning to appeal against the local authority's actions in court.

In 2000 the holding of a Jehovah's Witness congress in the nearby town of Georgievsk was also prevented by the local authority. Mayatsky said that on that occasion the organisation had signed a contract with the local stadium, but the day before the start of the congress the head of the local authority had issued an instruction banning the congress and ordered law enforcement agencies to enforce the ban. According to Mayatsky the stadium had been surrounded by Cossacks and members of the nationalist organisation 'Russian National Unity'. Orthodox clergy were also present and the Jehovah's Witnesses were prevented from entering the stadium. The police did not intervene. (END)