Russia bans Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘extremist’

Mark Sanderson, member of the governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses, attends a court session in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, April 20, 2017. (AP)
Updated 21 April 2017
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Russia bans Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘extremist’

MOSCOW: Russia’s Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday banning Jehovah’s Witnesses and seizing their property after the justice ministry called on it to dissolve the Christian group as an “extremist organization.”
Supreme Court judge Yury Ivanenko said Russia had decided to close down “the administrative center of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the local organizations in its fold and turn their property over to Russia.”
The decision comes after the ministry said it had found signs of “extremist activity” within the religious movement and requested that it be banned.
“They represent a threat to the rights of the people, to public order and public safety,” Russian news agencies quoted justice ministry representative Svetlana Borisova as saying.
The religious movement, which has 395 centers across Russia, has vowed to appeal the decision.
“I’m shocked,” Yaroslav Sivulsky, who represents the group’s administrative center, told reporters.
“I didn’t expect that this could be possible in modern Russia, where the constitution guarantees freedom of religious practice.”
Sivulsky added that the group would take its case to the European Court of Human Rights if its appeal was rejected.
He said he feared that members of the group could face prosecution if they continued to gather and study the Bible.
“We fear that people will end up in jail,” he said.
There are some 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, according to the group.
The powerful Russian Orthodox Church has spoken out against the group, with one church official branding it a “destructive sect” last month.
Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses — a Christian evangelical movement that was born in the United States in the 19th century — consider modern churches to have deviated from the Bible’s true teachings. They reject modern evolutionary theory and refuse blood transfusions.
There are more than eight million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, with some countries classifying the group as a sect.
Its members are known for preaching on doorsteps, where they offer religious literature and attempt to convert people.
Russia’s Jehovah Witnesses have had several run-ins with law enforcement in recent years.
In January, the leader of a congregation in the town of Dzerzhinsk in the central Nizhny Novgorod region was fined for distributing materials that authorities deemed extremist, local media reported.
In 2004 Russia dissolved the Moscow branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that the move had violated the right to freedom of religion and association.
The Moscow branch at the time had been accused of breaking up families, inciting its members to suicide and endangering their lives and health by not allowing its members to have blood transfusions.


Bill Cosby convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

Updated 26 April 2018
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Bill Cosby convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

NORRISTOWN-PENNSILVANIA: Bill Cosby was convicted Thursday of drugging and molesting a woman in the first big celebrity trial of the #MeToo era,
completing the spectacular late-life downfall of a comedian who broke racial barriers in Hollywood on his way to TV superstardom as America’s Dad.
Cosby, 80, could end up spending his final years in prison after a jury concluded he sexually violated Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. He claimed the encounter was consensual.
Cosby stared straight ahead as the verdict was read, but moments later lashed out loudly at District Attorney Kevin Steele and called him an “a--hole” after the prosecutor asked that Cosby be immediately jailed because he might flee. Cosby denied he has an airplane and shouted, “I’m sick of him!“
The judge decided Cosby can remain free on bail while he awaits sentencing.
Shrieks erupted in the courtroom when the verdict was announced, and some of his accusers whimpered and cried. Constand remained stoic, then hugged her lawyer and members of the prosecution team.
“Justice has been done!” celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represented some of Cosby’s accusers, said on the courthouse steps. “We are so happy that finally we can say women are believed.”
The verdict came after a two-week retrial in which prosecutors put five other women on the stand who testified that Cosby, married for 54 years, drugged and violated them, too. One of those women asked him through her tears, “You remember, don’t you, Mr. Cosby?“
The panel of seven men and five women reached a verdict after deliberating 14 hours over two days, vindicating prosecutors’ decision to retry Cosby after his first trial ended with a hung jury less than a year ago.
Cosby could get up to 10 years in prison on each of the three counts of aggravated indecent assault. He is likely to get less than that under state sentencing guidelines, but given his age, even a modest term could mean he will die behind bars.
Constand, 45, a former Temple women’s basketball administrator, told jurors that Cosby knocked her out with three blue pills he called “your friends” and then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay immobilized, unable to resist or say no.
It was the only criminal case to arise from a barrage of allegations from more than 60 women who said the former TV star drugged and molested them over a span of five decades.
“The time for the defendant to escape justice is over,” prosecutor Stewart Ryan said in his closing argument. “It’s finally time for the defendant to dine on the banquet of his own consequences.”
Another prosecutor, Kristen Feden, said Cosby was “nothing like the image that he played on TV” as sweater-wearing, wisdom-dispensing father of five Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”