Russia: Jehovah’s Witnesses banned, property confiscated
Supreme Court declares Jehovah’s Witness headquarters and local communities “extremist”, bans all their activity immediately, and orders their property seized by state, Christian Telegraph reports according to Forum 18 News Service. Russia’s estimated 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses now risk criminal prosecution for “extremist activity” if they continue to meet for prayer or bible study.
Russia’s Supreme Court in Moscow has declared on 20 April the Jehovah’s Witness national headquarters in St Petersburg and all 395 local organisations “extremist”, banned all their activity immediately, and ordered their property seized by the state. Judge Yury Ivanenko took just over two minutes to read out his decision after nearly 30 hours of hearings across six days. Jehovah’s Witnesses intend to appeal against the ban.
Judge Ivanenko issued the ruling at 18:48 Moscow time on 20 April. Earlier in proceedings, he had rejected requests by Jehovah’s Witness representatives to have the Justice Ministry’s lawsuit dismissed or postponed (see below).
This is the first time that a court has ruled that a registered national centralised religious organisation is “extremist” and banned.
Russia’s estimated 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses now risk criminal prosecution for “extremist activity” if they continue to meet for prayer or Bible study (see below).
Any attempt by Jehovah’s Witnesses to share their beliefs, even within the restrictions of the July 2016 so-called “missionary amendment” to the Religion Law, will now be illegal, as the amendment prohibits any missionary activity by former members of banned “extremist” organisations. The July 2016 changes also imposed harsh restrictions on anyone sharing any religious beliefs, including where and who may share them, as part of alleged “anti-terrorism” changes.
Further consequences of the ruling remain uncertain, including the effect on “extremism” cases currently underway against individual Jehovah’s Witnesses (for example, the criminal trial of two men in Sergiyev Posad on charges of “inciting religious hatred”) and on the attempt to ban the Jehovah’s Witness edition of the Bible as “extremist” (see below). Other Jehovah’s Witness literature which has not been banned now seems likely to be immediately outlawed (see below).
Also unclear is what will happen to young Jehovah’s Witness men who seek to undertake alternative civil service rather than military service on grounds of their pacifist religious beliefs.
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