Keeping with its long tradition of religious persecution, Russia has designated the Christian sect Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group and outlawed its practice. After accepting the justice ministry’s request, the Russian Supreme Court further ordered the shuttering of the group’s headquarters as well as its local offices and the seizure of all its property.
A Justice Ministry attorney explained the government’s reasoning, saying Jehovah’s Witnesses “pose a threat to the rights of citizens, public order and public security” while citing the group’s opposition of blood transfusions as a violation of health care laws and its distribution of pamphlets that broke anti-extremism laws. A spokesperson for the group, which numbers over 170,000 members in Russia, said they were “greatly disappointed by this development and deeply concerned about how this will affect our religious activity” and would appeal the ruling.
The group and its practice were previously banned in the USSR under Joseph Stalin, who deported thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The ban was lifted in 1991, but the group has been targeted for years with accusations of “destroying families, propagating hatred and endangering lives.”
According to testimony against the group, its operations in Russia are cult-like. The group responded that those testimonies were prepared and witnesses coached in order to advance the state’s agenda of banning the group. The group had already been banned on a local level in some parts of Russian for “inciting religious hatred,” which lead to arrests for practicing extremism. The group now fears this may now happen on a national scale.