Police executed a search warrant last week at the headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kraainem just outside Brussels, the VRT reports. The news was confirmed by the federal prosecutor’s office. It has been revealed that an investigating magistrate has been carrying out an enquiry into the movement since January, following allegations of sexual abuse. The first public news of the investigation was revealed last month by the VRT documentary programme Pano, which revealed that leaders of the community had tried to silence members who complained of sexual abuse.
The movement has its own internal disciplinary system, some of whose “judges” told Pano how they were instructed to keep allegations of abuse from leaking out. Victims also gave information on how the silencing techniques worked.
“In cases of sexual abuse, we had instructions to first make contact with the head office in Belgium,” one “judge,” told Pano. “They were to instruct us further on how to approach these tricky questions, in the interest of guarding the reputation of our community. The first thing they asked was, had the victim already made the allegations public elsewhere? They, in fact, they almost told us outright not to go to the police.”
The investigation allegedly feared that the revelations in the programme might lead the movement’s leaders to destroy incriminating evidence, but as the prosecutor’s office has declined to give more information, no explanation has yet been given as to why a search warrant took a month to be executed.
A spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses denied the programme’s allegations last month. “We attach a great deal of importance to the welfare of children, and invariably report any allegations to the authorities,” Louis De Wit said. “There is no place within our community for anyone who might carry out such practices.”