A Finnish non-governmental organization (NGO) has issued a report to the country’s Ministry of Justice calling for an investigation into the judicial practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses – specifically the practice of shunning as a punishment meted out by judicial committees.
According to its official website, one of the stated aims of the UUT (the Support group for the Victims of Religions) is to ensure that “religious communities would obey the law and respect human rights acts declared by the United Nations.”
They also insist that members of religions “should also have the right to leave the community without threats or fears of retaliation.”
On Saturday the group released a report criticizing the internal tribunals used by Witnesses, and the way those deemed punishable by disfellowshipping are “harassed, bullied, publicly reviled and isolated from loved ones.”
The report cites firsthand accounts from 18 former members as evidence of the harsh penalties that can be imposed. Shunning is identified as a practice that is “exceptionally cruel and a violation of human rights,” which can lead to severe health problems and even attempted suicide.
When asked about her immediate reaction to the report, Justice Minister Anna-Maija Henriksson expressed her concern about the idea of two judicial systems operating side-by-side in Finland.
“Of course it cannot be in Finland that we have another system outside the regular judiciary,” she said.
“It’s extremely important, also in religious communities to respect fundamental individual rights and freedoms. And that also includes thinking about our own behavior and practices from the perspective of respecting others.”
Henriksson admitted to reporters at “yle” that courts are the final authority on whether or not the organs of a religious group are operating legally or illegally, but she indicated that she would be looking into the UUT report in greater detail and may discuss the matter with the minister responsible for church matters.
Finland currently has around 18,700 Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Finnish Branch also manages organizational affairs for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – all countries whose own branches have recently been closed down.
Here at JWsurvey we applaud the UUT for its bravery in addressing this important issue, and we call upon similar organizations in other countries to follow its lead.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly stipulates that everyone should be free to leave his or her former beliefs if they so choose. The practice of shunning those who disassociate themselves from the organization as implemented by Watchtower in 1981, and the breaking up of families through coercion that this entails, is a flagrant and obscene violation of these basic inalienable rights.
- NGO calls on Ministry to probe closed religious groups; Jehovah’s Witnesses under scrutiny
- Justice Minister: No room for two judicial systems in Finland
- Helsinki Times article “Räsänen: people must not be punished for leaving a religious community”
- “The end of the world” – story of a disfellowshipped person in the Helsinki Times
- Official UUT website