Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses website reversed by appellate court
HRWF (24.01.2014) – On 22 January 2014 the Tver Regional Court reversed a country wide ban that had been imposed by the trial court on www.jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the world (*)
On 7 August 2013, during an ex parte hearing, the Tsentralniy District Court in Tver, Russia, granted the claim of the local prosecutor and banned www.jw.org, as « extremist. » The court made this ruling, although no representative of Jehovah’s Witnesses was made a party to the proceedings. Only the prosecutor and a representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were present for the trial, which lasted just 25 minutes.
The « reason » given for the ban on www.jw.org was because the website, which contains hundreds of religious publications in 600 languages, contained six publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses previously banned as « extremist » by Russian courts in 2009. The rulings to ban those six publications are pending with the European Court of Human Rights.
The Tsentralniy District Court considered it unnecessary to involve Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (WT-NY) in the proceedings although WT-NY publishes jw.org for Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious worship worldwide. The court reasoned that because WT-NY is a foreign legal entity, the decision to ban www.jw.org in the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation does not violate its rights or interests. Moreover, the court did not involve the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia or individual Witnesses, although its decision has a direct impact on Jehovah’s Witnesses countrywide. On 22 November 2013, the court denied petitions by both the Administrative Center and affected individuals to be included in the case. (See attached rulings)
WT-NY appealed to the Tver Regional Court. In a seven hour appeal heard on 22 January 2014 the Tver Regional Court reversed the ban on www.jw.org. The Regional Court agreed that the legal rights of WT-NY, the producer and owner of the www.jw.org, were adversely affected by the ruling of the District Court. The Regional Court therefore ordered that the application of the prosecutor to ban the website should be heard anew, with the direct participation of legal representatives of WT-NY. The Regional Court directed that it would immediately hear the banning application.
After a brief recess, the Tver Regional Court heard from representatives of WT-NY who explained the beneficial effect of the Bible-education website www.jw.org. The court also heard arguments from the prosecutor, representatives of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and a representative of the Center for Counteracting Extremism, all of whom supported a total ban on www.jw.org.
At the conclusion of the hearing on 22 January 2014, the Tver Regional Court reversed the decision of the Tsentralniy District Court. That appeal court decision is now final, although the prosecutor has 6 months to file an application for supervisory review.
(*) This case and the court decision hereafter is an exclusivity communicated to HRWF by one of its correspondents.