Human Rights Advocate Calls Russia’s Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘Deeply Troubling’
The International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) has expressed grave concerns about Russia’s recent clampdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses—one of many minority religious faiths operating in that country.
Dr. Ganoune Diop, Secretary General of the IRLA, says the April 20 ruling by Russia’s Supreme Court raises serious issues of human rights and religious freedom.
“This action contradicts Russia’s constitutional protection of freedom of worship and religion for all its citizens, not just for those who belong to majority faiths,” says Diop. He points to Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which guarantees “freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with others any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to them.”
“The decision to close down the operations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses—labelling this peaceful religious minority as ‘extremist’—should deeply concern the international community,” adds Diop.
There are some 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, with 395 local congregations and administrative offices in St. Petersburg. The court ruling, which will take effect in 30 days, will result in all property of the denomination being confiscated by the state. All activities associated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith will be illegal with penalties ranging from fines of a few thousand dollars to six years’ imprisonment.
“We join our voice with the many other organizations and individuals around the world who are calling on the Russian government to uphold its constitutional commitment to protect the religious freedom rights of all its citizens,” says Diop.
The ruling, issued by the nation’s highest court, deems Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” organization—a label that places this pacifist religious group on par in Russia with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
During the Soviet era, Jehovah’s Witnesses endured decades of discrimination, persecution, and imprisonment. In recent years, the group has continued to face ongoing state opposition, including having many of its publications banned and its websites blocked.
Lawyers representing the Jehovah Witnesses in Russia say they plan to appeal last week’s ruling.