Russia’s Ministry of Justice has said that Jehovah’s Witnesses should be considered as an extremist organization. The Ministry has asked Russia’s Supreme Court to ban and liquidate the organization, the Independent reported.
The Ministry’s legal filing has been put up on the Supreme Court’s website, although it shows no date as to when the action will take place. Ministry authorities have specifically cited recent pamphlets distributed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, some proclaiming their religion as the only true faith, while others quoting Leo Tolstoy in calling the doctrines of the Russian Orthodox church superstitious, the BBC reported.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia have said that they consider the move to be an attack to their religious freedom and said that it could adversely affect its congregation of over 170,000 witnesses in Russia. They have, however, claimed that they have received reassurances from the Ministry of Justice that they wouldn’t move forward with the lawsuit. But considering the Supreme Court website continues to show the lawsuit, the Witnesses’ claim seems hollow.
Should the court actually move forward with the lawsuit and end up declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization, it could directly affect 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses spread across 2,200 congregations in Russia. Meaning, they could be prosecuted simply for meeting up to talk about god or to read the bible. Furthermore, all of Jehovah’s Witnesses places of worship and the more than 400 legal entities belonging to the organization could be dissolved.
This isn’t the first time that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been targeted by the Russian authorities. During the 30-year reign of Joseph Stalin, many thousand Jehovah’s Witnesses were deported to Siberia, although Stalin’s prosecution also involved other Christian groups.
Vasiliy Kalin, a Jehovah’s Witnesses representative in Russia whose family was exiled to Siberia by Stalin when he was just a boy, expressed his displeasure at the lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Justice.
“The profound desire of each of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is just to be able to worship our God peacefully. For over 100 years, the authorities in Russia have trampled on the guarantees of their own laws, which grant us this right.
“I was just a boy when Stalin exiled my family to Siberia merely because we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is sad and reprehensible that my children and grandchildren should be facing a similar fate. Never did I expect that we would again face the threat of religious persecution in modern Russia.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses first legally registered in Russia as a religious group in 1991. They re-registered in 1999. Since then they have been continually prosecuted and targeted by Russian authorities. Authorities continue to tighten the restrictions on their freedom of religious practice.
Earlier in February, the General Prosecutor’s Office requested an audit of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, where by the organization were required to hand over 73,000 documents for inspection. Last year, the Russian government imposed a ban on bibles published by the group from entering the country. In March last year, Russian authorities threatened to close the organization’s administrative center and liquidate their assets. Two years ago they banned their international website in Russia. In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights called a ruling by a Russian to ban the organization unlawful.
The main confusion regarding the matter arises from how Russia defines extremism. In 2006, the country changed its definition of extremism, removing violence and hatred as a criterion and instead added “incitement of religious discord.” What this means is, in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses have the same status as ISIS.
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