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"Moscow court cancels Jehovah's Witnesses' legal win"

(Reuters, May 31, 2001)

MOSCOW - A Russian court has overturned a legal victory for the Jehovah's Witnesses that had prevented the liquidation of the group's Moscow communities, Russian news agencies reported Wednesday.
The decision cancels out the Jehovah's Witnesses' triumph in February after a two-year courtroom battle, which focused on a 1997 law which forces faiths without a long history in Russia to undergo a convoluted registration process.
A Moscow court threw out a case brought by the city's northern district to shut down the group on the grounds it regularly broke up families, infringed individuals' rights and converted minors without parents' permission.
But Wednesday's court verdict wiped out that decision, upholding a range of such allegations against the group.
"It's a political case, directed against the rights of religious groups," RIA news agency quoted lawyers for the Jehovah's Witnesses as saying.
The group, which says it has at least 120,000 active members in Russia, stands accused of breaking Russia's 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association, which the United States and the Vatican have vehemently criticized.
It approved Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity as Russia's traditional faiths, and threw other groups into limbo.
Former President Clinton stressed the importance of religious and other freedoms during a June 2000 summit with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Russia's Orthodox church has rejected talk of religious oppression, saying the law is justified in stopping dangerous sects flooding the spiritual vacuum created by 70 years of communist rule.

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