World Jehovah's Witnesses Already Feeling Russian Ban Impact

01:41  26 april  2017
01:41  26 april  2017 Source:   Newsweek

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You are here: Home > Supreme Court Bans Jehovah ' s Witnesses In Russia . The group, which claims to have 170,000 followers in Russian Federation, has already come under pressure in the a year ago; it was banned from distributing literature deemed to break anti-extremism laws.

Russia has banned Jehovah ’ s Witnesses and ordered they turn over their homes. Its Russian branch, based near St Petersburg, has said a ban would directly affect around 400 of its groups and have an impact on all of its 2,277 religious groups in Russia , where it says it has 175,000 followers.

Jehovah's Witnesses pray at a regional congress at Traktar Stadium in Minsk, Belarus, July 25, 2015. © Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters Jehovah's Witnesses pray at a regional congress at Traktar Stadium in Minsk, Belarus, July 25, 2015.

Russian authorities have already begun breaking up Jehovah’s Witnesses services and collecting members’ identities following a Supreme Court decision to uphold a ban on the religious organization, a spokesman for the faith said Tuesday.

Related: US: Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Shows ‘Paranoia’ of Vladimir Putin’s Government

Backing a charge from Russia’s justice ministry that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activity put it in violation of the country’s anti-extremism law, the Supreme Court Thursday ordered all 395 of the religious group's local chapters to be seized and its activities outlawed. The faith, which comprises 175,000 members in Russia and has been active in the country since 1991, has yet to receive the written decision from the court, which it needs in order to launch an appeal, something which it has said it will do.

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While the ruling is recent, the Russian state’s treatment of Jehovah ’ s Witnesses is not. “This approach dates back to the Soviet period and impacts other religious groups, including peaceful Christians and Muslims.”

In the meantime, the group's bank accounts in Russia have already been frozen and most kingdom halls, where members gather for services and prayer, have ceased activity. Where local chapters have remained operating, an intimidatory police presence is being felt, said spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, Yaroslav Sivulskiy.

“We expect that the police will be very active to interrupt meetings,” he told Newsweek Tuesday. “We've already started to receive reports in some places that meetings were disrupted. They take personal data, like copies of personal identity, of who was there. And after that, they let them go, but they want to know who attends those meetings.”

During the six-day Supreme Court hearing, the justice ministry said members of the group could be prosecuted individually if the decision went in its favor. Sivulskiy says he is now fearful of worshippers being placed in prison.

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The case of Jehovah ' s Witnesses in Russia is now closed. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has recognized the religious organization as extremist and banned all its activities in Russia .

Russia Bans Jehovah ’ s Witnesses : All About The Controversial Supreme Court Ruling. This notion, the body says has already been guaranteed by the constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as by Russia ’s international commitments and international human rights standards.

“Probably could happen,” he said. “So far nobody is in prison but this court decision is a major one. It’s opened the door for any unjust action against Jehovah’s Witnesses. We have no illusions that everything will be OK. No, it will not be OK.”

The faith's legal fight was dealt another blow Monday when a district court in Moscow rejected a lawsuit attempting to lift a suspension on the group’s assets put in place when Russia's justice ministry declared it an extremist organization last month. Sivulskiy said he has “very, very little” hope that an appeal will be successful. From there, the only remaining step will be to go to the European Court of Human Rights. But even if that court rules in the group's favor, there is no guarantee Russia would accept the decision.

The anti-extremism law was introduced in Russia following the country’s second war in Chechnya in 1999 and 2000 and the 9/11 attacks in the United States. During the Supreme Court hearing, the justice ministry argued that Jehovah’s Witnesses stance on rejecting blood transfusions was one of the ways it was in violation of that law. The Christian denomination, which was formed and still has its headquarters in the United States, had already been prevented from importing its religious texts.

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“ Jehovah ’ s Witnesses in Russia are now given the heartrending choice of either abandoning their faith or facing punishment for practicing it.” Humans Rights Watch state that if the ruling enters into force

“ Jehovah ’ s Witnesses in Russia are now given the heartrending choice of either abandoning their faith or facing punishment for practicing it.” Humans Rights Watch state that if the ruling enters into force

The Supreme Court ruling was condemned last week by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which called it an act of “paranoia” on the part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government. The ruling was also criticized by the U.S. State Department, as well as the European Union and governments in Germany and the United Kingdom. On Tuesday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) added their voice to the protest, particularly in light of reports of police breaking up religious services.

“I urge the Russian authorities to ensure that rights to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association of individuals belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses community are upheld, in compliance with the obligations of the country under international human rights law and OSCE commitments,” Michael Georg Link, director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said in a statement.

Sivulskiy said Jehovah's Witnesses are not a threat to Russia.

“You can’t accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses of being extremist," Sivulskiy said. "It’s insane because we are so innocent. Terrorism and extremism is a synonym. How can Jehovah’s Witnesses be a synonym to al-Qaeda or something like this? It’s… no words. No words.”

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