Orthodox Church Hails Court Decision To Ban Jehovah's Witnesses Sect In Moscow

A Moscow district court has banned the activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses sect as one instigating religious strife, breaking families, and discouraging its adherents with life-threatening conditions from accepting medical care.

Litigation against the Jehovah's Witnesses sect has been going on since September 1998. The Golovinsky district court's first ruling on the case in 2001 declined the Prosecutor General's request that the sect be outlawed. The municipal court, however, repealed this ruling and sent the case back for revision. In the spring of 2002, the Golovinsky court ruled that books published by the sect be subjected to expert examination, but this decision, too, was overturned. The court then arranged for the sect's publications to be examined by a team of psycholinguists and subsequently decided to impose a ban on its activities. This latest decision was prompted, among other things, by a mass refusal of sect members to receive blood transfusion, which led to several fatalities. Those who died after declining medical intervention came to be revered as martyrs by their co-religionists.

According to The New York Times, the Jehovah's Witnesses sect has a 133,000-strong congregation in Russia. Orthodox Church officials believe this to be an overstatement, but they acknowledge that the sect is influential enough in many regions across the country.

It wasn't the Russian Orthodox Church that initiated the criminal proceedings against Jehovah's Witnesses, but it does welcome the court decision to ban the sect's activities as anti-social, Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, official spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said in a comment.

Defense lawyers Galina Krylova and Artur Leontyev, who represent the sect's Moscow community in court, announced to the media that they would appeal against the decision to the European Court of Human Rights and other judicial bodies. They claim that the trial is politically motivated.

Boris Merlin, an Orthodox priest, points out that teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses have nothing to do with the Christian Church even in terminology, but that this sect deliberately distorts Christian terms. He describes it as a militant and anti-Christian political party seeking "world supremacy." For the sake of justice it should be noted, however, that even Russia's Orthodox community is not unanimous in its approval of the court's ruling. Some argue that the ban is no solution to the problem and that it will only drive the disease deeper into the system. Thus, for instance, Alexander Medvedev, of St. Daniel's Monastery's youth development center, says it isn't the sect adherents that should be targeted, but the root causes making them adopt the dangerous philosophy.