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article imageRussian court finds Jehovah's Witness leader guilty of extremism

By JohnThomas Didymus     Nov 3, 2011 in World
Gorno-altaysk - Thursday, a Russian court in the Altai region of the country, found a leader of the local congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses guilty of the offense of "extremism," and of "inciting hatred and insulting human dignity."
The court sentenced the Jehovah's Witness leader Alexander Kalistratov, to 100 hours of community service.
Ria Novosti, on May 18, reported that Alexander Kalistratov, coordinator of a local group of Jehovah's Witnesses with an estimated 90 members, was accused of distributing "extremist" materials and preaching the superiority of his religion to others. Ria Novosti reports literature seized from the group, according to prosecutors, also contained "slogans of an extremist nature," which "incited religious enmity and hatred." The prosecutors said Kalistratov committed the stated offenses between October and December 2009.
When the court that tried the case in the town of Gorno-Altaysk, acquitted Alexander Kalistratov, 34, on April 14, citing lack of evidence, prosecutors said they would appeal the decision. The prosecutors said:
"We categorically disagree with Kalistratov's acquittal and will lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court of the Republic of Altai to order new hearings of this case."
At the request of prosecutors, the Supreme Court of the Altai Republic cancelled the earlier acquittal judgment.
A second trial began on June 22, when prosecutors reopened the case against Alexander Kalistratov for publishing and distributing 48 religious articles described by prosecutors as being of a "strongly extremist nature," because it tried to discredit other religious faiths. The accusations, according to Ria Novosti, were backed by evidence derived from analysis of the "48 religious articles with the help of expert linguists, philosophy and religious studies."
Prosecutors demanded the court sentence Kalistratov to 140 hours of community service, but the court passed a sentence of 100 hours. Prosecutors, however, said they would not appeal the case.
Ria Novosti reports Human rights groups, such as the Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), have criticized the Russia's law which makes "extremism" an offense, saying it only leads to "prosecution of numerous peaceful groups that do not threaten public order, social peace or national security."
The Jehovah's Witnesses have had brushes with the Russian authorities in the past. In June 2010, a court in Komsomolsk-na-Amur, ordered a website of the Jehovah's Witnesses blocked because it violated the "integrity of the Russian Federation and incited social, racial and religious discord."
Jehovah's Witnesses, who have about 300,000 members in Russia, are banned in some regions of the Federation. The branch of the group in Moscow was banned by a district court in 2004, but the European Court of Human Rights overturned the decision saying it was illegal.
Jehovah's Witnesses is a millenarian Christian group that does not believe in the Trinity. The group has worldwide membership of 7 million. The group is directed by the Governing Body of the Jehovah's Witnesses, a group of "elders" at the group's headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. The Governing Body exercises final authority in matters of doctrines and beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Jehovah's Witnesses have continued believing in the imminent destruction of this "present world system of things," though predictions of date of "Battle of Armageddon" have failed several times in the past.
HRWF says, besides the Jehovah's Witnesses, there at least 265 other religious groups targeted by Russian authorities as "extremist."
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