Jehovah’s Witnesses banned in Russia for being ‘extremist’
Supreme court ruling after justice ministry applies for order to close group’s headquarters
Participants attend a hearing on the justice ministry request to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses at Russia’s supreme court in Moscow on Thursday. Photograph: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images
Russia’s supreme court has banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses from operating in the country, accepting a request from the justice ministry that the religious organisation be considered an extremist group.
The court ordered the closure of the group’s Russian headquarters and its 395 local chapters, as well as the seizure of its property. The Interfax news agency quoted justice ministry lawyer Svetlana Borisova in court as saying the Jehovah’s Witnesses “pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security”.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses claims more than 170,000 adherents in Russia. The group has come under increasing pressure over the past year, including a ban on distributing literature deemed to violate Russia’s anti-extremism laws.
Interfax news agency quoted Sergei Cherepanov, a Jehovah’s Witnesses representative, as saying that the group will appeal the decision in the European Court of Human Rights. “We will do everything possible,” he said.
The group, a United States-based nontrinitarian Christian denomination known for its door-to-door preaching and rejection of military service and blood transfusions, says the description of it as extremist is false.
The religious organisation has expanded around the world and has about eight million active followers. It has faced court proceedings in several countries, mostly over its pacifism and rejection of blood transfusions, but Russia has been most outspoken in portraying it as an extremist cult. Its Russian branch, based near St Petersburg, has regularly rejected this allegation.
It has said a ban would directly affect about 400 of its groups and have an impact on all of its 2,277 religious groups in Russia.