Home Legal SPAIN: Jehovah’s Witnesses sue their ‘dissidents’ after creating a Victims Association

SPAIN: Jehovah’s Witnesses sue their ‘dissidents’ after creating a Victims Association

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The religious organization requests in its demand the “extinction” of the new entity, that was created to uncover cases of sexually abused minors within the organization.

Originally published on vozpópuli on 18 Jun 2021 by Laura Fàbregas.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Spain have filed a lawsuit in the Torrejón de Ardoz court (Madrid) against the Spanish Association of Victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the lawsuit to which Vozpópuli has had access, they consider that the mere existence of the association undermines their honor by calling themselves “victims” of this religious cult.

In their lawsuit, they ask the courts to declare this association, as well as individuals specifically sued, as “illegitimate interference” in the “right to the honor of religious confession.” They also ask for the “elimination” and “extinction” not only of the name of the entity, registered in the National Registry of Associations in February 2020, but also of its social media accounts and its website.

The religious organization [of Jehovah’s Witnesses], headquartered in the Madrid town of Ajalvir, considers that the new association makes an “illegitimate exercise of freedom of expression and information” by making public accusations of alleged cases of abuse and aggression suffered within the religious cult.

“They want to silence us”

The secretary of the Association, Enrique Carmona, explains at the request of Vozpópuli that Jehovah’s Witnesses “want to silence our public message” and that their association aims to seek justice and bring together all those people who have abandoned the cult for alleged malpractice.

The defending lawyer for the Association, Carlos Bardavío, is willing to pull the blanket out and reveal possible cases covered up by the religious organization. He will make request for statements to be made in court from many witnesses and will provide documentary evidence to “prove” that within the organization there have been many suicide attempts, cases of ostracism and anxiety due to some of the practices that have been carried out from some of the organization’s congregations.

“We are going to provide a number of witnesses and documents so that a counterclaim is made to the lawsuit filed against us and this will enable us to request damages from Jehovah’s Witnesses for violation of fundamental rights”, explains the lawyer and author of the doctoral thesis’ Cults in Criminal Law: Dogmatic study of sectarian crimes.

Ultimately, it is about opening a case within the case so that the plaintiffs are convicted. Vozpópuli has contacted the Jehovah’s Witnesses but they have not responded to our request.

Parallel courts

One of the main pitfalls of this type of religious confession is that they settle complaints of sexual abuse or physical assault within their own internal court system. Many of the people who have left the cult have claimed that they have not been able to defend themselves on equal terms.

These type of internal Jehovah’s Witness courts are made up of elders (religious leaders) and proving any of the [child sexual abuse] crimes requires two or more eyewitnesses. [Having eyewitnesses] is unusual in this type of crime because they are usually carried out when the victim is alone.

To date, only one court of first instance, in Illescas (Toledo), decided to summon four elders of the religious organization to testify in February 2019 after a complaint from an alleged victim of sexual abuse. Now, however, this complaint could become a boomerang for the interests of this religious group that claims more than 7 million faithful throughout the world. And the role of the new entity may be key.

Since the association’s inception, they have about 150 members. In article 5 of its Statutes, it is stated that “the extinction” of the Spanish Association of Victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses “may occur when the organization and the members of Jehovah’s Witnesses or any of their entities collaborate with the authorities in prosecuting cases involving child abusers who exist as members within the religious organization.”

This article of the Statutes is also one of those indicated by the plaintiffs for linking them to “pedophile activities” and they perceive it as “blackmail” for stating that they will only be dissolved if they meet such a legal obligation to report and collaborate with the authorities who are responsible for prosecuting such crimes.

The ‘victims’ prepare their strategy

The Defense has twenty days before the preview and the start of the trial. But they are convinced that they can prove the existence of “evidence of criminality” attributable to Jehovah’s Witnesses and have the case suspended and open a new complaint against the organization.

For now, however, they must submit a response to a demand from the Religious Organization calling for “damages and prejudices” (so far unquantified), the payment of the court costs in case of conviction, and the publication of the ruling of the sentence “with the same public dissemination with which the data that are considered illegitimate interference in the right to honor were released.” In other words, on the “various digital platforms” where the Jehovah’s Witnesses Victims Association carries out its activity.

Bardavío also maintains that it is “difficult to understand” why they are complaining against this small Association of only a hundred members and not, for example, against networks and stations that have made journalistic reports very critical of the way in which complaints are resolved within the religious group.

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