Recent ban makes the Jehovah’s Witness religious group a soft target for discrimination.
Ever since being tagged as “extremist” by the Russian Supreme Court Jehovah’s Witnesses have been constantly facing persecution and violence. Apart from vandalism, Jehovah’s Witnesses also report of persecution from the state.
For instance, there have been cases where bank accounts belonging to members have been frozen by the government.
Recently, an assembly hall belonging to the group was stoned in St. Petersburg while the home of a member was burnt down.
The ban is believed to have played a key role in spreading the hatred for the group even further. Russia, ruled by President Vladimir Putin, is dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been linked to the marginalization of various minority groups including homosexuals.
Robert Warren, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, from New York, stated that the group was hoping that the Russian court wouldn’t see them as threats. However, he added, the exact opposite had happened and that things have only gotten worse.
Though the court’s ruling hasn’t been enforced completely, the group feels that a complete ban is possible in the near future.
The Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) and Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe (FOREF) have requested Russia and Ukraine to stop repressing religious minorities.
Ukraine has also come under fire after two bills were passed establishing Ukrainian Orthodox Churches as members of an aggressor state. In essence, the bills aim to convert the churches into members of the Moscow Patriarchate.
However, the bills have been criticized widely. Criticism has even come from factions within Ukrainian politics and civil society. Many believe that the legislation violates basic human rights and allows the state to interfere in the area of religious affairs.
Orthodox congregations in Ukraine have been the targets of both pro-Russian groups and Ukrainian supporters. However, Dr. Aaron Rhodes, president of FOREF, believes that Russian aggression against Ukraine does not justify the move against the Moscow Patriarchate.
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Ironically, Orthodox Churches in Russia have supported the ban against Jehovah’s Witnesses. For instance, the Head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations issued a statement calling the minority group a totalitarian sect that followed a harmful doctrine containing false teachings.
The statement went on to criticize the group’s lack of belief in Jesus Christ and their reluctance to follow the doctrine of the Trinity.
Willy Fautre, Executive Director of HRWF, called the Russian Orthodoxy’s reaction ironic referring to the discrimination faced by the church’s own members in Ukraine.