The platform for Belgium's international community

Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Jehovah’s Witnesses to face trial for discrimination and incitement to hate

17:02 16/09/2020

The Belgian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses attended a hearing yesterday in criminal court in response to charges of discrimination based on religious beliefs and incitement to hatred. It is the first time that the Jehovah’s Witness are being tried in a criminal court anywhere in the world.

The congregation, which is based in Kraainem, is being given several months to prepare their case; the trial begins next February. The case follows a five-year investigation by a court magistrate in Ghent in response to complaints filed by Patrick Haeck, an ex-member.

“It’s an important precedent,” Haeck told VRT. “How is it possible that a religious community can commit a crime under the guise of freedom of religion?”

Haeck was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for 35 years and was an elder – someone with considerable authority within his local congregation in Ghent. When he exposed a case of sexual abuse within the congregation, he was officially shunned.

‘Shunning’

Jehovah’s Witnesses use shunning as a tactic to keep members from being disloyal to the group, he claims. “It’s worse than just being excluded,” Haeck told Het Nieuwsblad. “From the highest levels of the organisation comes the order that no one is allowed to talk to you, not even your own family. They declare that this person must be avoided because they have a mental illness that is contagious.”

Several more former Witnesses have joined the complaint, and stories have flowed out from former members who have been shunned. Cecile Temmerman was a Witness for 35 years when her son began to ask critical questions of the congregation's elders.

“I knew hundreds of people in the congregation; almost every day someone came over to visit,” she told Het Nieuwsblad. “From one day to the next, everyone turned their back on me.” She means that literally and figuratively: Witnesses physically turn away from members who are being shunned.

‘In the hands of Satan’

“At a meeting, everyone was warned that my family was in the hands of Satan,” continued Temmerman. “I had literally no one left in my life; the Witnesses make sure that you have no social contact outside the organisation – including family. Even my very best friend wouldn’t speak to me any more. I sank into a depression.”

The prosecutor in Ghent is bringing four charges again the Belgian congregation: for inciting discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs against a person and against a group, and inciting hatred or violence against a person and against a group.

While Jehovah’s Witnesses have been the target of civil court cases before, this is the first time an entire congregation has ever been charged with a crime. Haeck hopes this will set a precedent in other countries.

“Not only for Jehovah’s Witnesses but other religious organisations as well,” he said. “There is a strict separation of church and state. Now that there is more attention being paid to religious extremism, we have to ask ourselves where we draw the line, at what point the state must become involved.”

Photo ©Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw

Comments

zwg2827

I was disfellowshipped 20/08/2020. A friend of more than 50 years, after a 10 minute conversation stated; well that is the end of a 50 year friendship! My wife whom is neither disfellowshipped or disassociated is also shunned by her JW family and she has been locked out of the zoom meetings by the local congregation here at Chinchilla Queensland, Australia. The reason for my disfellowshipping? From personal study of the Bible I discovered serious flaws in doctrine I had accepted for more than 60 years! I dared to express my concerns to a "friend" an elder. Everything quickly spiralled down from there. They JW/Watchtower are nothing more than a disgusting, cruel cult. Please feel free to publish my statement and my name as you wish. Yours faithfully, George Walsh.

Sep 28, 2020 01:03
TGHouse

I was either disfellowshipped or involuntarily disassociated sometime in February 2014 for questioning doctrine and attending another churches religious services when I was trying to research other christian groups and their teachings. I had started to research and question doctrine as early as 2012 but I continued to struggle with family and congregation pressure to conform, fear of being shunned, and guilt that i was questioning "God's organization". It wasn't until my own father turned me in for attending other religious services that I started to receive different attitudes and changed behaviors. The elders of my congregation near the area of Yosemite National Park, USA wanted me to attend a JW secret court known as a judicial committee but I was unable to attend their specified time and requested a reschedule. I never heard back from them and I have never heard back or had any contact with 90% of my family who were also JWs. I have since been told by various non JW relatives and in-laws that My husband and I have been slandered and called "drunkards", "apostates", and "terrible people", when all I want to do is get on with my life and not receive dirty looks everytime I run into a JW I know in public. My Husband and I embraced our freedom from the JW's by choosing to do good through volunteering for various oorganizations and coaching kids sports in our local community but it still hurts to experience the shunning and hate of all who were once close to me for the first 30 years of life with in the Jehovahs Witness Organization. I wish them peace but the unloving behaviors and shunning rules with in the group need to change.
Tera G.
California, USA

Sep 30, 2020 21:05
enlightened

I was a Jehovah's Witness for 30 years. I left when I realized we were being lied to. Now since 2012 forty five of my JW family no longer recognize me. To them I am DEAD. There is ZERO contact with myself and my husband who are now in our 80's. Sad, fear based religion that needs to be exposed for the cruel tactics they use to keep their members. It is a hate crime to shun flesh and blood just because of our lack of faith in their religion.

Oct 15, 2020 18:50
King198700

Too bad they couldn't be charged for forcing members onto Welfare and forcing others to not pursue high paying jobs.

Oct 23, 2020 17:16