Denomination appeals ban by Supreme Court
The story of religious freedom, a core concept of human rights and internationally recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, continues to be eliminated in Russia. The faith of 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses was declared illegal on April 20 by Russia’s Supreme Court. The group was labeled a “sect” and “extremist organization” as the justification for a complete ban.
The denomination has appealed the decision, which could take up to six months and requires the approval of a judge and the Presidium of the Supreme Court. Given the hostility the court has already given to Jehovah’s Witnesses the outcome is looking bleak.
The decision has already been a cause of violence to members by both Russian citizens and police forces. On August 17, a 56-year-old woman was beaten by three individuals who shouted “Beat it! You were prohibited.” On September 6, police arrested two Jehovah’s Witnesses, holding one of them in jail for 10 days. World Religion News has reported on Dennis Christensen, a Danish citizen who has been held for a year for practicing his faith. Police have been profiling members of the religion, canvassing homes, and harassing members.
The Forum for Religious Freedom called the ban “arguably the most flagrant assault on religious freedom to occur in the Euro-Atlantic region since the end of the Soviet Union and its satellite communist regimes in Eastern Europe.”
The organization has accused the Russian Orthodox Church of influencing the Russian government for the ban. While there has been some international criticism, it has largely gone quiet in recent months.
One aspect that can be agreed on is the dangerous nature of denying individuals their freedom of religion. Russia is already known for violating the human rights of their citizens and acting aggressively internationally. It remains to be seen whether international pressure will increase if the appeal is denied or the state-sponsored violence continues against Jehovah’s Witnesses.