12 myths about Jehovah’s Witnesses

In April 2017 news feed “exploded” with the sensation: the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is banned! We remind that the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on the suit of the Ministry of Justice recognized the “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia” as an extremist organization.

Our resource does not take responsibility to interpret or criticize the Russian definition of “extremism”, since such issues should be resolved in legislation. However, it is worth mentioning that the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has repeatedly recommended to revise the definition, so that it only applies to serious cases of hatred and violence.

Since the main task of factcheck.kz is to develop media literacy, we decided to deal with the issue in the context of the existing views on this religious organization and its adherents, relying on experts’ opinions and statistics from open sources.

Claim: Jehovah’s Witnesses is a totalitarian sect

Verdict: False

Doctor of Law, Professor of the Caspian Public University, Roman Podoprigora commented on the issue: “Speaking of the legal side of the issue, Jehovah’s Witnesses is not a totalitarian sect. In general, a totalitarian sect is not a legal term, at least in Kazakhstan. It is used by religious scholars, sociologists, politicians, officials, sectologists, etc. European countries tried to introduce into legislation such term (although, it was more likely the term “sects”, rather than “totalitarian sects”). Later they realized that it is quite difficult to develop characteristics to recognize an organization as a sect.

The certificate of registration proves that the organization is recognized by the state as a legal entity and has the right to operate in Kazakhstan (unregistered religious associations do not have this right). Given that physical and mental violence, separation from the family, deception, negative attitude to the existing state system and state symbols, control over the personality, etc., are attributed to the characteristics of totalitarian sects, the organizations with these kinds of activities should not have been registered or re-registered because:

  • the documents submitted for registration should indicate the attitude to marriage and family, health of participants (members), the attitude towards the implementation of constitutional rights and duties of its participants (members) – Article 16.3 of the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan of October 11, 2011 “On religious activities and religious associations”. Accordingly, everything declared by initiators of the establishment of a religious association is to be verified by state bodies for compliance with the requirements of the law.
  • theological expertise is conducted for each of the candidates for registration. Accordingly, if experts consider that an organization has problems of the above- mentioned character, the results of the examination and state registration will be negative”.
Гонения на Свидетелей Иеговы
Certificate of state registration of the “Christian Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses” Regional Religious Association

Editor’s note: The first community of Jehovah’s Witnesses was officially registered in Kazakhstan in 1992. In 2012-2013, according to the requirement of the new Law “On Religious Activities and Religious Associations”, religious associations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were reregistered in all regions of Kazakhstan by the regional departments of justice, as well as by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Claim: Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned in Europe and USA

Verdict: False

The Jehovah’s Witnesses communities legally operate in most countries of the world. At the legislative level, they are banned only in the following countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Laos, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar , Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

Страны, в которых Свидетели Иеговы запрещены
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org

Red color indicates the countries where the Jehovah’s Witnesses activity is banned or restricted:

Number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in G7 countries: Data from NationMaster.com for 2002

Количество Свидетелей Иеговы в странах большой семерки
NationMaster.com 2002 жылғы деректері

Kazakhstan in this list: Data NationMaster.com

На каком месте Казахстан по числу свидетелей Иеговы?
NationMaster.com 2002 жылғы деректері

Claim: Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to serve in the Army

Verdict: Truth

As we were told in the press service of the “Christian Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses” (Kazakhstan), Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to serve in the Army in accordance with their religious beliefs and, because they practically are not allowed to hold weapons. At the same time, all active members of this religious organization have the status of clergy members, because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not divide themselves into clergymen and flock, do not conduct religious rituals and consider each adept to be an active worshiper.

In accordance with article 36 of the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On military service and the status of servicemen“, clergymen of registered religious associations are exempt from conscription in peacetime.

Thus, by providing relevant information to the military commissariats, members of this religious organization are exempted from conscription, receiving a military registration card. According to the press service of the organization, “in countries, where there is a compulsory military service and alternative non-combat service, young Jehovah’s Witnesses do not defer from it”.

Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions, including emergency blood transfusions for their children

Verdict: Truth

But the law does not prohibit it completely. Roman Podoprigora commented on the issue: “In the Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated September 18, 2009, “On health of people and the health care system“, there are articles 93 and 94 regulating the issues of refusal of medical assistance or its deliver without consent of citizens. Article 93. Refusal of Medical


Para. 1. A patient or his legal representative has the right to refuse medical assistance, except for the cases provided by Article 94 of the Code

Para. 4. If a legal representative of a minor or an incompetent person refuses from the medical assistance necessary to save lives of these persons, the medical organization has the right to apply to the custody and guardianship agency authority and (or) to the court to protect their interests.

Article 94. Medical assistance deliver without the consent of citizens
Deliver of medical assistance without the consent of citizens is allowed in respect of persons:
1) in a shocked, comatose condition, which prevents from expressing one’s will;
2) suffering from diseases that pose a danger to others;
3) suffering from severe mental disorders (diseases);
4) suffering from mental disorders (diseases) and having committed a socially dangerous

The consent for provision of medical assistance in respect of minors and citizens recognized as legally incompetent by the court is provided by their legal representatives. In the absence of legal representatives, the decision to provide medical assistance takes a medical consultation, and if it is not possible to convene a medical consultation, medical officer makes the decision to provide medical assistance with subsequent notification to the officials of the medical organization and legal representatives.

There is also paragraph 4 of Article 91: “When receiving medical care, a patient has the right to get detailed information about his state of health, including information on possible risks and benefits of proposed and alternative therapies, information on possible consequences of refusal of treatment, information on diagnosis, prognosis and plan of treatment in a form accessible to a patient, as well as an explanation of the reasons for his release or transfer to another medical organization”.

It turns out that any adult has the right to refuse medical assistance, except in cases when the consent for medical assistance is not required by law. The situation with children is different: medical assistance may be provided without parental consent, in accordance with certain provisions (art. 93, para. 2, art. 94, para. 2)”.

Claim: Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays and other holidays

Verdict: Truth.

As we were told in the press service of the “Christian Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses”, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays, New Year, Christmas and other holidays of heathen customs.

Claim: Jehovah’s Witnesses hinder the development of national culture, language and heritage

Verdict: Half-truth

Usually all Witnesses’ religious literature is translated into the languages of those countries where the organization exists. Kazakhstan is not an exception (according to the representatives of the organization). But since the Witnesses avoid any manifestations of paganism in their convictions, one may conclude that they do not develop a “heritage”.

Claim: Jehovah’s Witnesses impose their religious convictions

Verdict: False

Roman Podoprigora commented on the issue: «If religious convictions are imposed by curtailing personal freedom, violence, threats or other similar unlawful acts, then these are criminal acts. n other situations, in accordance with Article 20 of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan of August 30, 1995, freedom of speech and creativity are guaranteed. Everyone has the right to freely receive and distribute information by any lawful means. In addition, in accordance with paragraph 6 of Article 3 of the Law of the Republic of the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan of October 11, 2011, “On Religious Activities and Religious Associations”, everyone has the right to adhere to religious or other beliefs, distribute them, participate in activities of religious associations and missionary activities in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan. ”

Claim: Jehovah’s Witnesses do not drink alcohol

Verdict: False

As we were told in the press service of the organization and in accordance with the information on Jehovah’s Witnesses website, religious canons permit adherents drink alcohol in moderate quantities.

Jehovah’s Witnesses restrict their children in attending entertainment activities

Verdict: Half-truth.

According to the representatives of the organization, it “does not impose on its members a ban on specific entertainments, movies, books or songs”. But “heads of families have a certain power, so they may prohibit some kinds of entertainments to their family members (1 Corinthians 11: 3, Ephesians 6: 1-4)”.

Claim: Jehovah’s Witnesses do not vote on elections, hence do not have civil position and do not recognize state authorities and laws

Verdict: Manipulation

According to the representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, canonically, parishioners should maintain political neutrality, therefore they do not vote in elections. But the very fact of refusing to vote does not mean that they refuse to have a civil position and do not recognize laws and state.

This is the official reply of the representatives of the religious association to factcheck.kz: We do not exert pressure on the state authorities, we do not vote for political parties or individuals, we do not run for state elected offices and we do not take any actions with the aim of changing the government. We believe this position has sufficient biblical basis. However, the position of political neutrality does not mean that we allegedly “deny power”. Politics is not equal to the state. Some of Jehovah’s Witnesses may be on public service, not related to politics. We are law- abiding people, we pay taxes and support the efforts of the authorities in caring for the well- being of their citizens. We do not participate in coups d’etat, but follow the Biblical command to pray “for kings and all those who occupy a high position,” especially when they make decisions affecting freedom of worship (1 Timothy 2: 1, 2). Also, the press service of the religious association provided us with letters of gratitude for socially useful activities conducted by the parishioners.

Свидетели Иеговы и общественно-полезный труд
A letter of thanks on behalf of akim of Kaskelen

A similar letter signed by the deputy akim of Taraz

Claim: Jehovah’s Witnesses is a financial pyramid

Verdict: False

According to representatives of the press service of the religious community, “the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is noncommercial. It means that both organizationally and legally (editor’s note: the copy of the charter is available in digital form in the editorial office of factcheck.kz), our activities exclude any profit. A little expenditures of the centers and communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses are covered by voluntary donations. At our meetings, worship is never conducted for monetary profit, and members of the organization do not have to give tithes. One of the reasons why our expenses are not so great is that we do not have a paid clergy. The majority of the services and utilities in the service venues are conducted by the believers themselves”.

Claim: Jehovah’s Witnesses using trust of the parishioners, force them to transfer their property to the benefit of the organization

Without a verdict

Extract from the official response of the press service of the organization: “Neither in the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor at the worship meetings parishioners are motivated or even forced “to sell houses and donate money”. Of course, religious associations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, being the officially registered legal entities, can participate in civil law relations and accept donations, but neither the law nor the charter of the religious association allows anyone to benefit from such actions. Since we, Jehovah’s Witnesses, are full members of society, we respectfully ask journalists to carefully and factually verify the accusations against us”.

Editorial note

As you can see, most of the myths about Jehovah’s Witnesses are simply myths. We rely on the ability of readers to think critically, without prejudice and to perceive information, making appropriate adequate conclusions. All official responses of representatives of the Regional Religious Association of “Christian Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses” are available in the editors office and can be presented on demand in digital version.

Журналист, фактчекер, МА (Journalism for international students, University of Westminster, London), технический писатель, редактор, PR-специалист, руководитель проектов (медиа и PR)