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Jehovah’s Witnesses former members tell court they were subjected to ‘total control’

April 12, 19:53 UTC+3 MOSCOW

In its lawsuit to outlaw the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Justice Ministry pointed to various violations in the organization’s activities revealed during a surprise inspection

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© Gennady Khamelianin/TASS

MOSCOW, April 12. /TASS/. Russia’s Supreme Court has heard the testimony of four former members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who said they had been subjected to ‘total control’ in that religious organization, with no possibility to receive higher education or start a family, TASS reports from the courtroom.

Specifically, witness Natalia Koretskaya from St. Petersburg told the court she had been a member of that organization from 1995 to 2009 and had realized over this period that the organization’s members "were living under full and total control of the [Jehovah’s Witnesses] Administrative Center."

"The heads of the Jehovah’s Witnesses formally watch canonical compliance with the norms but in real fact the talk is about total control of an individual’s personal life - his intimate life, education and work," witness Koretskaya said.

In response to the court’s request to give the facts of such control, Koretskaya said she had been expelled from the religious organization and its members had been banned to communicate with her after she had started close but officially unregistered relationship with a man.

"Therefore, a person turns out to be expelled into the outer world, in which he has already forgotten how to live over the years of his stay in the organization," Koretskaya said.

The Justice Ministry’s second witness, Pavel Zverev, told the court he had become a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the age of 16 and had not received higher education on persuasion of the organization’s heads.

"It is accepted in the organization that receiving higher education is useless if this is not in the organization’s interests. As a result of such persuasion, I remained without education and I’m suffering from that in my life," said Zverev who had worked as a volunteer for two years in the organization’s Administrative Center in the capacity of a cook.

The other two witnesses also said they had suffered from the religious organization’s excessive control of their private life and from the ban to communicate with its other members after quitting it, as well as from depression and alcoholism.

Thus, witness Nina Petrova from Volgograd said that on persuasion of her spiritual mentors she did not marry and did not start a family. "They convinced me that a family was not needed as the doomsday was close at hand. And when I realized that this was a delusion, it was late," Petrova said, adding that she had stayed in the organization for 28 years.

For their part, representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said the witnesses had been prepared in advance for their testimony in the court.

"We see that the witnesses are giving testimony based on written materials, repeating the arguments of the so-called sectological literature. Some of them are mentioned in public sources as activists of the movements that are struggling with the Jehovah’s Witnesses," a lawyer for the defendants said.

At its next hearing on April 19, the court is expected to study the written materials of the case and may hear the parties’ oral statements.

Essence of the lawsuit

In its lawsuit to outlaw the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Justice Ministry pointed to various violations in the organization’s activities revealed during a surprise inspection, including breaches of the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activities. The ministry has asked to recognize the organization and its 395 local branches as extremists, ban their activity and seize property.

For its part, the organization’s press service told TASS that they were alarmed by the decision, since it could affect 175,000 active believers. The Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman Ivan Bilenko said the organization was prepared to press for its rights in any courts.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses is an international religious organization that supports offbeat views on the essence of the Christian faith and provides special interpretations of many commonly accepted notions. In Russia, it had 21 local organizations but three of them were eliminated for extremism.

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