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Jehovah's Witnesses suing Dutch State for discrimination

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have sued the Dutch State for discrimination, the religious organization informed Trouw. They consider it discriminatory that the government investigated them, but no other religious organization, for their handling of sexual abuse cases.

Utrecht University conducted the investigation involved, following publications in Trouw in which sexual abuse victims within the Jehovah’s Witnesses described what happened to them, and published the results in January 2020. Utrecht University concluded that 60 percent of sexual abuse victims were very critical of how the Jehovah’s Witnesses handled their cases, scoring the handling a 1 out of 10. Many victims were traumatized by how things were handled, the researchers said.

Sander Dekker, then the Minster for Legal Protection, ordered the investigation at parliament’s insistence because the Jehovah’s Witnesses failed to arrange an investigation themselves, as the Catholic Church did at the time with the Deetman Commission.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses cooperated in the Utrecht University investigation but unsuccessfully tried to stop the publication of its results. The religious organization objects to the researchers’ findings, specifically, the researchers describing them as a “closed community” that makes it more difficult to report sexual abuse to the authorities. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the results “indicate an opinion of the researchers rather than a scientifically substantiated position.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses also said that they experience “adverse consequences” from the investigation in the form of “many allegations.”

A religious organization suing the state is “fairly unique,” Paul van Sasse van IJsselt, a special professor on law and religion, told Trouw. But he isn’t surprised. The Jehovah’s Witnesses litigate a lot in Europe against government interference and have often been successful in the European Court, he said.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses did not reveal the precise indictment, so it is hard to predict whether the lawsuit has a chance of success, the professor continued. The fact that they are the only religious community that was investigated does not necessarily mean discrimination. “There may be legitimate grounds for paying special attention to this, such as signals that reports are not being handled properly,” Van Sasse van IJsselt said.

The trial already happened, and the court will rule on Wednesday, December 13, a spokesperson for the court in The Hague confirmed to Trouw.

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