Russia’s government has launched a Supreme Court bid to outlaw Jehovah’s Witnesses and have the movement declared an extremist organisation. The Chris
Russia’s government has launched a Supreme Court bid to outlaw Jehovah’s Witnesses and have the movement declared an extremist organisation. The Christian-based faith group’s headquarters, near St Petersburg, has already been added to a list of extremist groups by the justice ministry.
The case opened in Moscow on Wednesday as lawyers argued that the country’s 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities violate Russia’s law on combating extremism. They added that pamphlets handed out by religious representatives incited hatred against other groups. The government wants to eliminate all local chapters and confiscate their assets.
However, the organisation attempted to launch a counter case asking judges to declare members as victims of political repression and brand the government’s actions as unlawful. The court ruled this was not part of their jurisdiction, because other courts are responsible for determining whether a person or group have been politically repressed.
Russia’s Supreme Court won’t let the 395 local chapters of Jehovah’s Witnesses participate in the hearings. Regional law enforcement authorities interrupt believers’ peaceful prayers. A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said
“We object to letting local religious chapters participate in the hearings, because they are structural units of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the spokeswoman said.
In 2009, prosecutors in southern Russia wrote a report that found that Jehovah’s Witnesses undermined respect in other religions.
The group, which was founded in the United States in the late 19th century, was banned during Joseph Stalin’s reign in the Soviet Union. Thousands of members were deported to Siberia. The ban was lifted in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses are no threat to either the Russian Orthodox Church or to the Russian government,” David Semonian, international spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, told Time magazine.
“The constitution guarantees freedom of worship, and that is all we are asking, to have the same rights as other religious groups have so we can go about our ministry in a peaceful way.”
Worldwide there are more than 7 million members.