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We were brainwashed, ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses tell Russian court

Russia’s Supreme Court has heard the testimony of four former members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who said they were subjected to ‘total control’ by the organisation and brainwashed against receiving higher education or starting a family.

According to TASS, witness Natalia Koretskaya from St. Petersburg told the court she was a member of the organisation between 1995 and 2009, and had realised over this period that the organisation’s members “were living under full and total control of the [Jehovah’s Witnesses] Administrative Centre”.

“The heads of the Jehovah’s Witnesses formally watch canonical compliance with the norms but in real fact the talk is about total control of an individual’s personal life – his intimate life, education and work,” Koretskaya said.

In response to the court’s request to give the facts of such control, Koretskaya said she had been expelled from the religious organisation and its members had been banned to communicate with her after she had started close but officially unregistered relationship with a man.

“Therefore, a person turns out to be expelled into the outer world, in which he has already forgotten how to live over the years of his stay in the organisation,” Koretskaya said.

The justice ministry’s second witness, Pavel Zverev, told the court he became a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the age of 16 and had not received higher education on persuasion of the organisation’s heads.

“It is accepted in the organisation that receiving higher education is useless if this is not in the organisation’s interests,” said Zverev who worked as a volunteer cook for two years in the organisation’s administrative centre.

“As a result of such persuasion, I remained without education and I’m suffering from that in my life.”

The other two witnesses also said they had suffered from the religious organisation’s excessive control of their private life and from the ban to communicate with other members after quitting the organisation.

Nina Petrova from Volgograd said on persuasion of her spiritual mentors, she did not marry and did not start a family.

“They convinced me that a family was not needed as the doomsday was close at hand. And when I realised that this was a delusion, it was late,” Petrova said, adding that she had stayed in the organisation for 28 years.

For their part, representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said the witnesses had been prepared in advance for their testimony in the court.

“We see that the witnesses are giving testimony based on written materials, repeating the arguments of the so-called sectological literature,” a lawyer for the defendants said.

“Some of them are mentioned in public sources as activists of the movements that are struggling with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

At its next hearing on April 19, the court is expected to study the written materials of the case and may hear the parties’ oral statements.

In its lawsuit to outlaw the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the justice ministry pointed to various violations in the organisation’s activities revealed during a surprise inspection, including breaches of the law on counteracting extremist activities.

The ministry has asked the court to declare the organisation and its 395 local branches as extremists, ban their activity and seize property.

For its part, the organisation’s press service told TASS that they were alarmed by the decision, since it could affect 175,000 active believers.

Ivan Bilenko, Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman, said the organisation was prepared to press for its rights in any courts.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses is an international religious organisation that supports offbeat views on the essence of the Christian faith and provides special interpretations of many commonly accepted notions.

In Russia, it had 21 local organisations but three of them were eliminated for extremism.

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