A People's History of the European Court of Human Rights

By Michael D. Goldhaber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Minos and Jehovah

In 1938 the Greek anti-Communist dictator Ioannis Metaxas passed a strict criminal law against proselytism. Minos Kokkinakis of Crete was the first man arrested under the law and, a half century later, he would be the last. In the intervening years, he would be detained more than sixty times and serve more than six years behind bars. Minos lived an epic life. Despite his name and homeland, it was an epic lived less in the style of Minoan myth than of the catechism.

Minos, like many other Jehovah's Witnesses, loved a verse in the Gospel according to Luke that valorizes legal victimhood. “[P]eople will lay their hands upon you and persecute you,” predicted Luke, “delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, you being haled before kings and governors for the sake of my name. It will turn out to you for a witness.” Given a group identity formed on this verse, it should perhaps be no surprise that Witnesses pioneered the constitutional law of religious freedom on two continents. Minos lived to the rhythm of biblical verses, and his life resembled that of a Hebrew prophet—with a strong Oedipal subtext.


“Fifty Years of Persecution”

Minos Kokkinakis was born into a family of cloth merchants. His father and four brothers each had his own shop in Sitia. In 1936, at the age of twenty-seven, Minos branched out to the nearby town of Ierapetra. At first, he was active in the Orthodox church. His father was the Greek Orthodox cantor in Sitia, and Minos became a favorite of the Ierapetra bishop. But soon after he moved, Minos met a traveling Jehovah's Witness minister. Minos converted, and he began to recruit followers, starting with his shop assistant, Elissavet, who became his wife. Minos's father urged the bishop to use every means at his disposal to discipline his son.

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