Latest decision on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is yet another blow to the religious organization.
Russia’s news agency is reporting the city court of Birobidzhan’s decision to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses will be upheld. A Justice Ministry suit is working to ban the Jehovah’s Witness religion entirely.
Over 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses are located in Russia.
The Justice Ministry alleges that their religious activities are in violation of Russian law and fighting extremism. The Russian government, under the authority of their extremism law, has harassed the religious group. The extremism law does not require the existence of violence for any activity to banned as extremist.
The following is a statement from Office of Public Information for Jehovah’s Witnesses:
In a second day of proceedings, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation continued to consider a claim from the Ministry of Justice to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The day concluded with a recess until Friday, April 7, 2017, at 10:00 a.m.
During the session, the Supreme Court judge and lawyers for Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to question the representative for the Ministry of Justice, asking him to produce proof that Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremist—the basis of the claim. The Ministry of Justice was unable to provide evidence supporting their claims, such as that they fail to take effective measures against extremism. The Ministry of Justice also could not substantiate accusations regarding the Witness’ literature. For example, it was established that the Witnesses’ literature prohibited in Russia had not been distributed in the country for years, and among forensic experts, there was not a consensus that their literature should be considered extremist. The Ministry could not prove that offenses had ever been committed under the influence of the Witness’ literature.
At one point during the trial, the presiding judge asked the representative for the Ministry of Justice, ‘If you are asking for Jehovah’s Witnesses to be banned, does this mean that the faithful who gather for prayer would be under the threat of criminal prosecution? The Ministry of Justice replied, ‘Yes, if the court finds them guilty of violating Art. 282.2 of the Russian criminal code.’
David A. Semonian, a spokesman at the Witnesses’ world headquarters in New York, explains: “It was clear by today’s proceedings that the Ministry of Justice has no basis for their claims against our organization.” He adds, “But we also note the Ministry of Justice’s admission. We hope that the Supreme Court upholds justice and prevents this violation of our basic human rights.”