Russia puts Jehovah's Witnesses on trial

A trial is underway in Moscow that is making a lot of people nervous. Some say that what's really on trial is religious freedom in the new Russia.

Last fall the Orthodox Church pressured the government to pass a law that certified it as Russia's main religion. The law also tries to limit the number of other churches.

The Jehovah's Witnesses, with a growing congregation in Russia, are the first to be accused under this law. The church is charged with stirring up religious discord and encouraging suicide, because it doesn't believe in blood transfusions.

In the 1930's and 40's thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to the gulags for their faith. Now this latest attempt at repression threatens them. If they lose, their church will be banned from Moscow.

Canadian lawyer John Burns is a specialist in defending the religious freedom of Jehovah's Witnesses. He made the trip from Toronto to represent them. " Every religion in Russia should be concerned. If Jehovah's Witnesses can be banned here, so can Lutherans, Seventh Day Adventists, even the Roman Catholic Church."

Anti-cult groups in Russia have told the court Jehovah's Witnesses brainwash their members. "They took my daughter," one witness told the CBC's Moscow corespondent Elizabeth Palmer. "They prevented her from working. They are not Christians."

Human Rights groups fear this trial has all the characteristics of a witch hunt. And that if the Jehovah's Witnesses lose this case, other churches may be in for the same treatment.