Supreme Court bans Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia

Posted April 22, 2017

Supreme Court Judge Yuri Ivanenko declared the denomination's Administrative Center, its head office in Russian Federation, an "extremist organization" and, on that basis, ordered the Jehovah's Witnesses group in Russian Federation "dissolved" and its activities banned.

Reuters, citing an Interfax news report, adds that Justice Ministry attorney Svetlana Borisova said the Jehovah's Witnesses "pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security".

According to the new expanded definition, the Jehovah's Witnesses are extremists.

"Jehovah's Witnesses, like all other religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation as well as by Russia's worldwide commitments and global human rights standards", the statement says.

In March, Justice Ministry already suspended the center's activity pending the final decision by the Supreme Court.

According to the Justice Ministry, violations of the law "On Combatting Extremism" were revealed during inspection conducted in the organization.

Jehovah's Witnesses has said it would appeal the decision.

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On January 25, chairman of the Jehovah's Witnesses branch in the town of Dzerzhinsk was fined 4,000 rubles ($67) for keeping and distributing extremist literature banned in Russian Federation.

The judicial action came after a request from the Russian Ministry of Justice to label the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist group.

However, the religious group isn't going down without a fight.

Members of the Jehovah's Witnesses - a Christian evangelical movement that was born in the United States in the 19th century - consider modern churches to have deviated from the Bible's true teachings. USCIRF Chair, Thomas J. Reese, S.J., commented that "The court's decision sadly reconfirms the disregard of the government for religious freedom in present-day Russian Federation".

In a statement, the group said the decision marked "a black day for fundamental rights in Russia" that "could lead to the most lamentable consequences for believers of various confessions, as well as for Russia's image on the world stage".

The April 20 ruling to close the Jehovah's Witnesses is a direct interference with freedom of religion, effectively denying its followers the right to worship, and can not be justified as either necessary or proportionate.