Jehovah’s Witnesses Flee to Finland

Human Rights Watch has sharply criticized Moscow

Russian Jehovah's Witnesses’ are being hunted down by the Russian security agency, and the Russian National Guard. These actions are legal as the Supreme Court in Russia banned the religious organization one year ago. The Judges ruled the members of Jehovah's Witnesses promote “extremism.” Any Russian found to be a member will face a jail sentence anywhere from six to ten years. Moscow has already launched raids against the Christian denomination.

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There are approximately 175,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. This number was valid prior to the Christian denomination being labeled an extremist religious organization. Russian authorities view the organization's members with skepticism. This is as they do not go for military service, do not donate blood, and do not vote. Moscow sees Jehovah's Witnesses not only a threat to other Russians but also to themselves. Many of the Russian security establishment even see the members as a threat to public safety and children.

The Murmanski Vestnik, the regional newspaper of the Murmansk region, reported raids made by Rosgvardia (Russian National Guard) and FSB in Polyarny located on the Kola Peninsula. They detained two residents on suspicions of them being Jehovah's Witnesses. They were charged with arranging meetings and teachings on behalf of the organization. Law enforcement also carried out searches at six Polyarny addresses.

Continued persecution by the Kremlin has led to many Jehovah's Witnesses fleeing Russia. About 1,000 Russians now seek asylum in several European nations, including Finland. The latter saw the maximum number of Russian refugees as the country shares a border with Russia. The first asylum seekers arrived in Finland during the summer of 2017. According to Veikko Leininen, the spokesperson for Jehovah's Witnesses Finland branch, many more will arrive in the days to come.

This is not the first time Jehovah's Witnesses faced persecution. They were made to suffer during Soviet times as well. The Russian authorities were asked by Human Rights Watch to drop all charges against Dennis Christensen, a citizen of Denmark. His only crime was to be a member of Jehovah's Witnesses. The Dane has been in custody for about 11 months in Orel. His trial is yet to begin. Human Rights Watch had pointed out Russia is a Council of Europe member. It is also a signatory to European Convention on Human Rights. Moscow is thus obligated to protect all freedom of religion rights and its associated laws.

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