The Russian government is attempting to a criminalise Jehovah’s Witnesses by using anti-extremism laws. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office is attempting to have Jehovah’s Witnesses declared as extremists.
The move is being made using Russia’s anti-extremist laws which have been described as discriminatory, deeply lawed and patently absurd. Legal experts have said that the move is being pushed by elements in the Russian Orthodox Church to promote the own interests and to suppress and “competition”.
Dr Emily Baran, assistant professor of Russian and Eastern European history at Middle Tennessee State University has commented that Russian citizens should be troubled by the State’s decision to discriminate against Witnesses because it suggests that the State is prepared to revoke equal rights for other groups, and to take similar measures against other minority communities.
Dr. Mark Juergensmeyer, director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara stated that the curtailment of religious freedom in the name of combatting extremism is a regrettable ploy.
The Witnesses have appealed the charges against them and court proceedings are expected to resume on September 23, 2016.If the court rules in favour of the prosecution, it could lead to the Witnesses’ national legal entity being liquidated effectively banning their activity throughout Russia.
Russian authorities have increasingly resorted to fabricating evidence to justify charges of extremism against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In 2014 On June 26, 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their right to worship without unlawful interference from the Russian authorities. In its unanimous judgment, the Court found that Russia violated Articles 5 (right to liberty and security) and 9 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention) when police overwhelmed a religious service with an illegal raid on the night of April 12, 2006.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been active in Russia since 1891. There are some 175,000 Witnesses in Russia and over 8 million in 240 lands.