Tuesday, February 9, 1999 Published at 22:40 GMT
Moscow seeks ban on Jehovah's Witnesses
Opponents say the powerful Orthodox church is behind the move
By Andrew Harding in Moscow
A trial has begun in Moscow in which the authorities are trying to ban Jehovah's Witnesses from the city.
The authorities in Moscow are throwing the book at the Jehovah's Witnesses, accusing them of breaking up families, promoting suicide, failing to recognise other religions and promoting religious discord.
Sects and cults
Judah Schroeder, a Jehovah's Witness spokesman, said the authorities had no evidence against his organisation and he claimed the case was being orchestrated by Russia's powerful Orthodox Church in an attempt to stifle competition.
If the Jehovah's Witnesses lose the case, a ban will be imposed on all their activities in Moscow. As a result other religious groups are watching the trial closely, fearing that a successful prosecution could set a dangerous precedent.
Foreign governments have repeatedly criticised the new law, which says that religious organisations must be present in Russia for 15 years before they can publish or distribute literature or bring in foreign missionaries.