Jehovah's Witness Headquarters in Warwick New York.Photo By Ken Bermido CC

Jehovah’s Witness Headquarters in Warwick New York.
Photo By Ken Bermido CC

Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) has relegated more than 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses to its List of ‘Persons Involved in Extremism or Terrorism,’ according to Jehovah’s Witness spokesman Jarrod Lopes in a release.

Once blacklisted by Rosfinmonitoring, an alert is issued against one’s passport indicating that he/she is suspected of money laundering, financing terrorism, and/or distributing weapons of mass destruction. Consequently, Jehovah’s Witnesses are being deprived of their jobs, businesses, unemployment compensation, pensions, and even the ability to purchase a SIM card for their cell phones or apply for car insurance. They cannot exercise inheritance rights, receive child support, receive judicial compensation for damages, execute powers of attorney, or access their bank accounts.

“Without just cause, Russia’s Rosfinmonitoring is vilifying Jehovah’s Witnesses, crippling them from caring for their basic needs,” said Lopes. “Russian authorities are doling out unconscionable penalties to people who did nothing more than peacefully observe their Christian beliefs. Clearly, Russia has effectively reinstated its darkest period of history by relentlessly persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses as did its intolerant Soviet predecessors.”

In December 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin – who has maintained direct authority over Rosfinmonitoring – said that the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their placement on the list was “complete nonsense.” But the repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses intensifies. Additionally, Kremlin advisers have publicly decried law enforcement agencies for misapplying the 2017 Supreme Court decision by prosecuting and imprisoning Jehovah’s Witnesses for their personal beliefs.

Most objectionable is the fact that only a small number of the 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses blacklisted have even been convicted in a court of law. The majority are either under criminal investigation or have yet to be tried (some 300 Jehovah’s Witnesses are under investigation in Russia). Some have not even been charged with a crime. Rosfinmonitoring has imposed burdensome restrictions on Jehovah’s Witnesses without any basis; fathers of large families, young mothers, retirees, labor veterans—all have been treated like criminals. Even an 85-year-old woman, Yelena Zayshchuk, was placed on the extremist list.

Those who have been labelled criminals by the courts serve a sentence and then normally remain on the Rosfinmonitoring list until they personally take steps to be removed from it. This involves numerous bureaucratic procedures. Even if they succeed in navigating the Byzantine legal structure, they continue to face financial consequences for some time afterward.

The criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses has escalated over the past year. In 2019, Russian courts convicted 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses as so-called extremists. Already in 2020, in a little more than a month, Russia has convicted eight Jehovah’s Witnesses, almost half as much as in all of 2019.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are most noted for their refusal to serve in the military and for not accepting blood transfusions.