A Siberian court has thrown out a petition that sought to ban a translation of the Bhagavad Gita as “extremist” literature.

Judge Galina Butenko of the Leninsky District Court in Tomsk ruled on Wednesday that there were no grounds for recognising Bhagavad Gita As It Is as extremist because the book was “one of the interpretations of the sacred Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita.”

The defence side said it was fully satisfied with the court verdict.

“This court decision shows that Russia is indeed becoming a democratic society,” said lawyer Alexander Shakhov, who represented at the trial the local branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

India's Ambassador to Russia Ajai Malhotra, who had fiercely opposed the trial, welcomed the court ruling.

“The verdict of the Honourable Judge in Tomsk in dismissing the case pertaining to the Bhagavad Gita deserves to be applauded,” said the envoy. “It is very nice to see that this issue has been conclusively resolved and is now behind us.”

State prosecutors had filed the petition against Bhagavad Gita As It Is, claiming it sowed “social hatred” and called for “violence against non-believers.” The case was built on expert testimony from local professors of philosophy and philology, who said the book expresses religious hatred and discriminates on the basis of gender, race, nationality and language. Prosecutors offered no comment as they left the court after the verdict.

“We are happy that the court showed reason and competence in passing the correct verdict,” said Sergei Zuyev, vice-president of ISKCON in Russia. “It is not right for secular courts to try religions.” On the eve of Wednesday's hearing, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna had summoned the Russian Ambassador in New Delhi, Alexander Kadakin, asking the Russian government to provide all possible help to resolve the issue.

Russia's Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin welcomed the court decision. “I think the Russian government must draw the right conclusions from this incident. It should fight terrorism by exposing terrorist plots and outfits, not by passing judgment on ancient sacred scriptures,” he said.

The case against the book had been filed on the basis of the 2002 Russian anti-extremism law, criticised in Russia for its very loose definition of extremist activity. Human rights activists said the law had been used to suppress legitimate criticism of authorities. The Russian Christian Orthodox Church has also been accused of using the law as a tool to fight “non-traditional religions”, such as Scientology, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Hare Krishna movement in Russia.

In a particularly bizarre case, a court in Rostov Region two years ago accused Leo Tolstoy of extremism for his denunciation of the Russian Orthodox Church teaching as “a crafty and evil lie” and “a concoction of gross superstition and witchcraft.” Tolstoy was expelled from the Church nine years before his death for his repudiation of Jesus Christ and the Russian Church.

‘India happy'

New Delhi Special Correspondent writes:

“We are happy to learn that the case has been dismissed by the Hon'ble Court in Tomsk in the Russian Federation. 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,” said the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs.

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