Russia’s Supreme Court has banned the criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses for joint worship, potentially putting an end to the law enforcement practice of jailing believers for prayer sessions. The ruling could also affect the 152 convictions that have not yet entered into force or are being appealed, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia organization said in a statement on its website Tuesday.
Does this mean that persecution in that land has turned a corner? If so, it will be be as Mark Sanderson spoke, in both English and Russian, to the Russian brothers back in 2017—that a time of testing was about to commence, but it would be a Revelation 2:10 time, during which “the Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison so that you may be fully put to the test, and you will have tribulation for ten days.” Ten days is not forever. It seems like it at the time, but it is not.
An end, or even a lull, in an intense time of persecution is a very good thing. The earthly organization is still banned, of course, as is even the preferred Bible. But if the words of the Supreme Court count for anything, authorities won’t be able to beat up on people anymore simply because they are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
And how have the brothers comported themselves? “There are almost no instances of renunciation of the faith among them,” says Credo Press, Nov 8, 2021, as translated here: When all is done (it is not yet) will this be another instance in which, upon passing trial, the brothers go on to gain more members than going in? People take note when plainly innocent persons remain true to their conviction despite trial. There’s not too much in this world that is stable, that can be depended upon in good times and bad, and here plainly is one.
How bad has it become? Says the same CredoPress source of a sentence only days before this Court opinion: “Eight years! In Russia a criminal may receive even less time for murder or rape. Innocent conversations about the Bible are equated with horrible crimes.” It is only the most unhinged crazies that would punish a Bible conversation more severely than murder. People take note when ones stand fast despite it.
Remember three years ago when Putin said he really didn’t understand why Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted? It became the title of a book. Not only had he been puzzled when asked of it, but he said, “This must be looked into. This must be done.” The brothers were cautiously optimistic, but only cautiously. Don’t Know Why stated: “After all, if you were a Russian cop, would you beat up on one of them after what the President just said?” followed by a later edit reading: “It turns out they would.”
Most things from government move at a snail’s pace. “Two years later, at a meeting of the Human Rights Council, human rights defender Alexander Verkhovsky again pointed out to the Head of State the absurdity of prosecuting believers whose organizations had been banned; as a result, the President issued new instructions to the Supreme Court to prepare explanations regarding the generalization of court practice in cases related to violations of legislation on religious associations.”
That President Putin should be puzzled over the Witnesses in the first place suggests that he read a few of that flood of letters sent him. The Governing Body listed three goals when inviting all members in the world to write:
1. drawing international attention to the situation.
2. giving evidence of one's love for their brothers in Russsia
3. support fellow Christians who face persecution.
Had the persecution not taken place that would have been icing on the cake, but meddling with what the government would do was not one of the stated goals. Everyone who did write, though—well, it sure beats sitting on one’s hands and doing nothing. Maybe they’ve contributed to this tiny squeak that over time annoys the president enough that he picks up his WD-40 to fix it.
Always prior to a conviction, defense lawyers would ask the prosecutor to identify an injured party—you would think that would be a necessary ingredient of any crime. Always the prosecutor would decline to identify anyone. That’s because there is no one. Now there must be, says the Supreme Court opinion. You have to identify someone who has been harmed. At last, the contradiction has become too blatant to ignore.
The Credo article already cited really presses its luck.: “The state should recognize its mistake and …should issue an apology to believers, as was done by Russian President Boris Yeltsin,” for years of repression under the old USSR. Those years were bad, but Bro Sivulsky says in some respects the present ones have been worse. Rarely were people beaten under the old regime. Today it is common.
Does Credo [it is a human rights publication] think it will be like when Paul and Barnabas were arrested with much violence and then the next day the authorities wanted to release them quietly? “Paul said to them: ‘They flogged us publicly, uncondemned, though we are Romans, and threw us into prison. Are they now throwing us out secretly? No, indeed! Let them come themselves and escort us out.’” (Acts 16:37)
I don’t think so, Paul said, They’ll release us with as much fanfare as they arrested us.
Edit: Relief appears to be taking hold: On November 22, 2021, the Pervorechenskiy District Court of Vladivostok in the Primorye Territory found Brother Dmitriy Barmakin not guilty and acquitted him of all criminal charges. This is the first time a Russian court has issued a not-guilty verdict for one of Jehovah’s Witnesses charged under Article 282.2(1) of Russia’s Criminal Code (regarding organizing the activities of an extremist organization). The court will remove the restrictions on his activities. The verdict will enter into force on December 3, 2021, if the prosecutor's office does not file an appeal.