'Ban Gita' Plea Dismissed in Russia

 New Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS): Hindus in Russia Wednesday posted a major victory in a hard-fought six-month legal battle as a Siberian court axed a plea seeking to ban the Bhagavad Gita and to brand the holy text "extremist" literature, even as hopes were expressed that the state prosecutors do not appeal against the verdict.

During the final hearing in the Leninsky district court of Tomsk city, Federal Judge G.E. Butenko, in a one-line oral order, rejected the petition, saying he was not "pleased" with the prosecutors' plea, Sadhu Priya Das, a leader of the Russian unit of ISKCON, told IANS over phone from Moscow.

"The court has dismissed the state prosecutors' case during the hearing today," Das said, adding that the detailed verdict will be made available only after a week.

The court reviewed the state prosecutors' plea, report of an expert group on the Bhagavad Gita and the Hindu groups' arguments against the case before delivering the verdict, providing Hindus worldwide a reason to rejoice.

The court did not hear the Russian human rights ombudsman as it did not feel this was necessary, Das added.

The verdict triggered joyous and celebratory reactions from Krishna followers and Hindus worldwide, with Iskcon's global chief Bhakti Vijnana Goswami thanking "the court, Indian and Russian governments, Indian embassy in Moscow, the Russian embassy in New Delhi, the media in both countries and all those people worldwide who stood by the Hindu campaign to get their rights upheld".

"The campaign got critical support and important message to Russia that the Bhagavad Gita and Iskcon are important to the Indian hearts," Goswami, a Russian Iskcon monk on a visit to India, told IANS from Mumbai.

The Indian government said it was "happy" to learn the case related to Iskcon founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's Russian translation of his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita had been dismissed.

"We appreciate this sensible resolution of a sensitive issue and are glad to put this episode behind us. We also appreciate the efforts of all friends in Russia who made this outcome possible," Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said.

"This demonstrates again that the people of India and Russia have a deep understanding of each other's cultures and will always reject any attempt to belittle our common civilisational values," he added.

But legal experts said that the state prosecutors had the right of appeal before the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation under provisions of the federal law on countering "extremist" activity.

"The federal law on counteracting extremist activity assures an appeal against any decision on the inclusion of materials in the federal list of extremist materials. The prosecutors may still appeal to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation against the decision," Indian Supreme Court advocate K.V. Dhananjay, who leads a lawyers' coalition that was willing to plead in the Tomsk case earlier, told IANS.

"We hope that good sense will prevail upon those prosecutors and they will realise the blunder they just committed. This decision of the district court may even help the cause of religious freedom in Russia," he added.

The case began in June. It caused a political storm in India, with parliament rocked on two days -- after IANS first reported the case from Moscow.

On the plea from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said the Indian government was doing everything to protect the Hindu rights in Russia.

Hindus in Russia and Krishna devotees, numbering about 50,000 in Iskcon centres in 80 cities, had for long pleaded with the Indian government and the Indian embassy in Moscow to intervene in the matter.

They had also written to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office, seeking his intervention when he visited Moscow Dec 15-17.

On Tuesday, Krishna met Russian ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin.

Kadakin had called the Siberian court case an act of "madmen" and said he found it ridiculous to take any religious text, be it the Bhagavad Gita, Bible or Quran, to court.


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