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September 10, 2004

Deaf Jehovah's Witnesses Harassed by Human Rights Commission

From: MOSNEWS, Russia - Sep 10, 2004


The European Court of Human Rights heard the case of a Jehovah's Witnesses community in Russia that was raided by police on orders from the regional human rights commissioner during a religious gathering.

The case comes in the wake of a ruling by a Moscow court to ban the religious group in the Russian capital.

In the case heard at Strasbourg, Jehovah's Witnesses accused the Russian Federation of obstructing justice when the religious community in the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk filed repeated court claims complaining that 150 deaf worshippers were harassed and mocked during a police raid in April of 2000 aimed at breaking up the gathering.

The religious group had been renting a local school building for months.

Representative Paul Gillies told MosNews that Russian courts repeatedly sided with the chairman of the Human Rights Commission in the Chelyabinsk region, Yekaterina Gorina, ruling that there was no instance of "interference" with the religious meeting.

"The courts kept saying that we stopped our own meeting," he told MosNews.

Repeated rejections of the case in Russian courts prompted Jehovah's Witnesses to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

In the hearing held in Strasbourg Thursday the side representing the Russian Government asked the panel of judges to declare the case inadmissible.

According to Russian law, religious teaching is allowed in Russian schools with the agreement of parents. The Russian government used the law to argue that the school gathering was a violation, even though no students were involved in the gathering, Gillies said.

A ruling is expected within the next few months.

Gorina could not be reached for comment, and phone calls to the Human Rights Commission went unanswered.

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