Photo: Jehovah's Witnesses worship building in Petrozavodsk (2013)

Seizure of Property

The Karelian Prosecutor's Office Takes Away the Worship Building from the Finnish Religion


An interesting legal turn was unexpectedly taken by the case that on March 2, 2018 will be considered in the Petrozavodsk City Court on the claim of the First Deputy Prosecutor of the Republic of Karelia against the "Religious Association of Jehovah's Witnesses" in the Republic of Finland (Jehovan todistajat -uskonnollinen yhdyskunta). The subject of the lawsuit is a religious building with an area of 460 sq. m., located in the center of Petrozavodsk (52 Pervomaisky Ave.), which the prosecutor's office wants to turn into the property of the Russian Federation.

In 1998, the building was purchased for $150,000 by the Kingdom of Norway's Watch Tower, Bible, and Tract Society (Vakttårnets Bibel- og Traktatselskap). 9 years later, in 2007, the Norwegian religious organization decided to donate the building to Russian co-religionists. For this purpose, a donation agreement was concluded, and the Local Religious Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses "Petrozavodsk" became the owner. Finally, in March 2017, ownership of this worship building was transferred to the "Religious Association of Jehovah's Witnesses" in the Republic of Finland. Later, the Petrozavodsk religious organization was liquidated. However, foreign religious organizations continue to exist officially.

The Karelian prosecutor's office asks the court to cancel the donation agreement concluded in March 2017 in order to confiscate the building, which temporarily belonged to the Petrozavodsk community. As a basis for its claim, the prosecutor's office cites 2 innovative grounds: the transaction is illegal because it was concluded between two persons of the same religion of Jehovah's Witnesses (?), and the transaction is illegal because the parties to the transaction wanted to preserve property within the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses (?).

On February 6, 2018, the case took a new turn: after learning about the prosecutor's lawsuit, the Norwegian organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, the same organization that bought this building in 1998 and donated it to the Petrozavodsk community in 2007, appealed to the Petrozavodsk City Court. The Norwegian Jehovah's Witnesses reasonably stated that if the court takes the position that a gift agreement between two religious organizations of the same denomination is illegal and entails the invalidity of the transaction, then the 2007 gift agreement should also be invalidated. And then, on the basis of Article 167 of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation, the property must be returned to the Norwegian Watch Tower, Bible and Tract Society. Norwegians remind that Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms guarantees the protection of property: "Every natural or legal person has the right to respect for his property. No one shall be deprived of his property except in the public interest and under the conditions provided for by law and the general principles of international law." The Court allowed the Kingdom of Norway's Watch Tower, Bible, and Tract Society to participate in the case as a third party making independent claims regarding the subject matter of the dispute.

Thus, three states are involved in this trial. The hearing with the participation of the plaintiff (the Russian prosecutor's office), the Finnish defendant (Jehovan todistajat -uskonnollinen yhdyskunta) and the Norwegian third party (Vakttårnets Bibel- og Traktatselskap) will continue on March 2, 2018 at 10:00.