Dear friends, you will have noticed that things have been quieter around the past few months, or maybe a bit longer Reclaimed Voices. By last summer, we had one time-out slotted. At about the same time, things started to play a role in my private circumstances that required attention and energy. I had been homeless for almost three years now, living off my savings, waiting to qualify for a home. My money ran out and I was forced to apply for assistance. In the fall I managed to find temporary work, in January I finally got a house and in the weeks that followed I was busy with DIY and furnishing.
Meanwhile played - and plays! - there is indeed still everything to do with sexual abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses, which is not always immediately visible to everyone. We have shared some messages with you in the meantime, but perhaps it is good to give an overview so that it becomes more transparent.
Research by the University of Utrecht
The investigation into Sexual abuse and willingness to report within the community of Jehovah's witnesses completed and the report sent to the Ministry of Justice and Security. The report would be made public no later than six weeks later.
In early January, it became clear that the disclosure would be in the week of January 20. Later we got a definite date: January 23. Because we would undoubtedly receive questions from the media, we wondered whether we as a board of Reclaimed Voices were allowed to view the report earlier. We were promised to receive it under embargo the day before, on Wednesday, January 22. We also received an invitation from the researchers at Utrecht University for an interview on Thursday morning before it went public. This allowed us to ask questions and provide them with an explanation.
It turned out differently. The board of Jehovah's Witnesses in Emmen filed summary proceedings at the last minute to prevent publication of the report. Instead of reading through the investigation report, we sat that Wednesday afternoon at the Central Netherlands court. In the hallway, because the lawyer of Jehovah's Witnesses requested that the hearing take place behind closed doors and the judge had granted it.
You now know the outcome: on Thursday we were again at the same court and the objections of Jehovah's Witnesses were heard by the judge rejected on all counts. The report was released.
Jehovah's Witnesses sue OM
In the same week that the summary proceedings were pending, we heard that Jehovah's Witnesses had also started a lawsuit against the Public Prosecution Service. They found the raids in kingdom halls, the branch office in Emmen, and in some of the homes of elders to be illegal. They invoked the right of non-disclosure that elders would have regarding information shared with them during pastoral care.
The case was scheduled to take place on January 29, but the day before, the board of Jehovah's Witnesses received the counter-objection from the Public Prosecution Service. They asked for uitstel and the case was moved to March 6. By then they asked for another postponement, and so the case finally came on April 10. We were now in the middle of the corona crisis and the case was conducted via video bubbles. Outside the parties involved, there were some journalists who had the opportunity to call in and follow the case.
Reporter Marinde van de Breggen registered as a result of the session Trouw: “If the religious community is proved right by the judge, it means that the raid was unlawful. The consequence of this would be that the seized documents may not be used as evidence in the criminal case against the abuse suspect. ” We are therefore looking forward to the verdict, which will be on May 8th.
Minister Dekker and the Jehovah's Witnesses
Minister Dekker would like the community of Jehovah's Witnesses to heed and apply the recommendations in the report. He therefore sent the research report to the national government in Emmen earlier in December. Although also under embargo. The board of the Christian congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Netherlands responded with a long letter to Minister Dekker, in which they expressed their objections to the report. The board is of the opinion that the report contains 'serious errors', that the government should not base its decision-making on it and that the report should not be made public [Read here our response to the Expert Opinion annexed to this letter].
After the judge rejected the objections of Jehovah's Witnesses to publication, another conversation took place between Minister Dekker and the board of Jehovah's Witnesses from Emmen. The minister again urged that the recommendations in the report be taken to heart. The board would deliberate on this and later respond to the minister.
Also the board of Reclaimed Voices was allowed to talk to Minister Dekker. That is why we traveled to The Hague on March 2. During the conversation I got the impression that the minister mainly wanted to form an opinion about who we were. At some point, he concluded - somewhat pleased, I believe - that we did not come across as disgruntled ex-members who were out to destroy the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. Thus, at least in the letter, the government of Jehovah's Witnesses had portrayed us.
Minister Dekker will inform the House of Representatives about the results of the investigation into sexual abuse of Jehovah's Witnesses. He first wanted to await the response of the board of Jehovah's Witnesses, following the conversation with him. The minister has now received this. Minister Dekker then also decided to await the appeal's decision. For the administration of Jehovah's Witnesses was not satisfied with the judge's judgment.
An appeal regarding the UU report
"Should the report be made public, we will use all available remedies to challenge the conclusions and recommendations," the board of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Netherlands had written to Minister Dekker in response to the investigation report.
The references to articles from the European Convention on Human Rights in the letter to Dekker give me the impression that Jehovah's Witnesses are pursuing a lawsuit over religious freedom. They seem to feel attacked and discriminated against for their beliefs. The bad thing about this is that the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses thereby shifts attention and takes the role of victim. In this way they appear to be the aggrieved party standing up for their rights.
The appeal is still pending and I cannot say anything further. When we have news about it, or if there is a statement, we will let you know.
In the meantime, let's not forget what really matters. It is about safety for children. It is about the right help for victims of sexual abuse and recognition of what they have suffered. It is about how a - albeit religious - community and its management deals with situations of sexual abuse and its victims.
Meanwhile, we are in the midst of a corona crisis. It may therefore not be so bad that it all seems to take a long time with the developments. Politicians and media are now mainly focusing on the corona virus, the measures and their consequences. We will just have to keep in mind that it will receive the necessary attention again at the right time.
I can imagine that the corona measures also have tangible consequences for all of you. The lack of contact, physical proximity, the security and comfort that comes from an embrace, a feeling of loneliness. We hope to see many of you back in a time when we can just greet each other again with an embrace. Until then, be especially nice to each other and to yourself!
With kind regards,