JW.org has issued a press release warning that it is due to be banned in Russia if Watchtower is unsuccessful in appealing a Russian court’s decision against the website.
According to the report, the decision dates back to August 7, 2013 when the Tsentralniy District Court (100 miles north of Moscow) ruled that the website should be banned throughout the Russian Federation.
An appeal against this decision is scheduled for today, January 22, 2014. If Watchtower fails, promoting their website will become a criminal act in the country.
JW.org is already banned in mainland China.
***UPDATE – since this article was published, JWsurvey has learned that the ban was overturned on appeal. Click here for more details (Russian news article).***
The news comes only days after a Russian newspaper reported that a court in the country had declared several Watchtower brochures “extremist.”
According to the report, “the prosecutor’s office said that analyses by linguistic experts had concluded that the brochures contained propaganda that promoted the superiority of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and denigrated other faiths as false.”
Those like myself who believe Watchtower publications are strewn with propaganda will welcome such findings. However, the labelling of the organization as “extremist” would be far more credible coming from a country whose government is not itself considered extremist by many people due to its perceived corruption and lack of democratic transparency.
Sadly, it seems it takes an extremist to spot an extremist.
A dubious press release
The JW.org press release, apparently designed to draw attention to the website’s impending censorship and stir up opinion against it, enlists the support of a Russian academic in hailing JW.org as a “gift.”
“Commenting on the website, Yekaterina Elbakyan, Doctor of Philosophy and expert in religious studies who serves as a professor at the Academy of Labor and Social Relations in Moscow, says that jw.org is ‘a gift for anybody who is engaged in religious research. It provides comprehensive and understandable material. Significant spiritual and moral issues are presented in a simple way. When you use the website, you feel like you are being openly welcomed into the home of Jehovah’s Witnesses.'”
And so, it would seem, a neutral academic and expert on religion has given JW.org her glowing endorsement. But wait, who is Yekaterina Elbakyan? And what other organizations has she been willing to endorse in the recent past?
After a brief search on Google, we find the same “academic” lavishing similar praise on the Church of Scientology, as quoted in the book Ordinary Anti-Cultism by Sergey Ivanenko (Ivanenko being another Russian “scholar” with an inexplicable urge to support cults in Russia for motives best known to himself).
And so, in trying to position itself as a legitimate religion worthy of respect, it seems Watchtower is all too willing to run under the same protective umbrella as the Church of Scientology with its blatant quackery and charlatanry.
Whether Dr Elbakyan is motivated by truth or her bank balance in defending cults like Watchtower and Scientology seemingly on demand is a question best answered by her (or her accountant), but she is clearly not an authority to be trusted when appraising the merits of a religion if she is so unscrupulous in throwing around her endorsements.
A “trusted information source?”
As expected, the JW.org press release also features endorsements from Watchtower representatives, who can hardly be considered unbiased.
Speaking at the end of the article, Watchtower’s PR kingpin J.R. Brown has this to say…
“The jw.org website is valued both as a research tool and as a trusted information source for families all over the world. It is so valued that an average of 900,000 people visit the site every day to access positive information available in some 600 languages. Censoring this material is clearly unwarranted.”
Nobody would question whether families of Jehovah’s Witnesses trust the information on JW.org, but whether they are right to do so is another matter entirely.
This website has already exposed a number of misleading statements in the FAQs section of JW.org that paint a picture of the organization that is unrecognizable from reality. As just one example, JW.org’s answer to the question “Do You Feel That You Are The Only People Who Will Be Saved?” begins with the word “No!”
In making his statement, Brown continues his unenviable task of spinning Watchtower to the world’s media as a benign and even beneficial religion when it is anything but.
To see another demonstration of Brown’s impressive ability to spin the organization in a way that is media-friendly, you may find the following video enlightening.
Scrutiny, not censorship
I can’t deny having some sense of relief that a website that lies so blatantly about its practices and manipulates children might suddenly become unavailable to the good people of Russia. Heaven knows many Russians have enough on their plates without being hoodwinked into joining a harmful self-centered cult that ruins so many families, my own included.
But this relief is tinged with a sense of foreboding. I am a believer in the free internet, and any talk of censorship no matter how justified does not sit well with me.
It would be much better if governments could zero in on material that incites hatred and trespasses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights rather than introducing blanket bans on entire websites or the activities of religious organizations. To censor in this way only stirs the persecution complex among cults, and stokes belief among cult followers that Satan’s system is against them and the end of the world must be imminent.
If a certain article or FAQ page is found to contain false or misleading information, of which there are ample examples on JW.org, why not impose penalties or pursue legal avenues aimed at getting the specific material removed or corrected? Censoring an entire website on the assumption that ALL material is false seems draconian and heavy-handed, and threatens free speech for all.
That said, it would be nice if Western governments could pay such close attention to what Watchtower is saying and doing. The likes of Russia and China have their own not-so-noble motives for clamping down on the organization and snuffing out any perceived threat to locally entrenched religious or political authority.
The day when fair and proportionate action is taken against Watchtower by a democratic nation motivated by genuine concern for the welfare of its citizens and the upholding of human rights will be a day worth celebrating, but it is not upon us yet.