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martes, 16 de octubre de 2012

RUSSIA: Pussy Riot, blasphemy, and freedom of religion or belief

http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1754

 

The phenomenon is most clearly seen in cases outlawing Jehovah's Witness literature. The first such ruling – made by Rostov Regional Court on 11 September 2009 and upheld by the Supreme Court on 8 December 2009 – determined 34 Jehovah's Witness tracts and books extremist following complaints by Orthodox villagers. Handed literature by local Jehovah's Witnesses, they found in it "statements offending their faith, placing in doubt symbols of Christianity, which for them is unacceptable" according to the verdict, seen by Forum 18.

 

The courts agreed that such statements were "extremist" since they "undermined respect" for established Christianity. They included, "True Christians do not venerate icons, crosses or statues" and "Many common festivals are linked to false religion. One of them is Christmas." The courts also found extremist a statement by renowned Russian author Leo Tolstoy quoted by the Jehovah's Witnesses: "I've come to the conclusion that the teaching of the church is a perfidious and harmful lie, in practice a collection of the crudest superstitions and sorcery, hiding completely the entire meaning of Christian teaching."

 

Jehovah's Witness literature has similarly been ruled extremist by Gorno-Altaisk City Court (1 October 2009), Kemerovo's Factory District Court (28 October 2010), Krasnodar's First of May District Court (22 April 2011) and Salsk City Court (27 June 2011, upheld by Rostov Regional Court 13 October 2011). Rulings by these courts have resulted in 68 Jehovah's Witness titles being added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials, compiled by the Justice Ministry. Once on the List, distribution is banned throughout Russia and punishable.

 

Jehovah's Witness statements expressing criticism of other beliefs - such as "the Russian Orthodox Church, like the Roman Catholic, kept the people in ignorance about the Bible" – were also among Gorno-Altaisk City Court's grounds for banning the community's literature, cited in 11 August 2010 charges against congregation leader Aleksandr Kalistratov. References to violence committed by people with other beliefs were also declared extremist, such as "(..) an example is the brutal inquisition. Many innocent people suffered torture and even lost their lives only because they did not agree with the teachings and actions of the church."

 

The sentiment of other statements resulting in the Gorno-Altaisk Jehovah's Witness literature ban is close to that of some atheist argument. Such statements in various publications included the caption "Religion is a supermarket" next to an illustration of religious symbols in a supermarket basket, and the claim: "Since many religions owe their appearance not to the desire to serve God, but hunger for political power, popularity and recognition, it isn't surprising that religion is mixed up in such terrible acts as child abuse, fraud, war and terrorism."

 

The right to change and renounce beliefs – including the right to strongly criticise any and all beliefs – is an essential part of freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 notes. Russia's crackdown on "extremism" now also encompasses even non-violent expressions of support for atheism: an exhibit from graphic artist Aleksandr Savko's series "Mickey Mouse's Journeys through Art History" depicting Mickey Mouse in the role of Jesus in the New Testament scene of the Sermon on the Mount was ruled extremist by Kaluga Region's Zhukov District Court on 20 December 2011. It is now No. 1271 on the Federal List of Extremist Materials.

 

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