Over the past year the Russian state has conducted a systematic campaign of terror against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country.
In at least seven cities across police have conducted aggressive raids against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The raids have included Russian special police forces (OMON). Those taking part in raids wore masks and carried machine guns, raided the private homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ while pointing guns at them, and detained both young and old for interrogations.
The Russian authorities have successfully liquidated the legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and have begun confiscating the Witnesses’ properties, and they are now turning their attack and focusing on people and their worship. It is now becoming a criminal offense for the over 175,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia to practice their faith.
Newsweek reports that at least 26 Jehovah’s Witnesses are being charged under Russia’s draconian anti-extremism law, and seven are being held in pre-trial detention.
Human Rights Watch has said Russian authorities should drop the charges against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In April 2017 the Russian Supreme Court banned all Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations throughout Russia. The ruling declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center an extremist organization, closed the organization on those grounds, and banned the religious group’s activities throughout Russia. The Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center was the head office for 395 Jehovah’s Witnesses branches throughout Russia.
It is not the first time Jehovah’s Witnesses have been persecuted and terrorised in Europe. Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered religious persecution in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945 after refusing to perform military service, join Nazi organizations or give allegiance to the Hitler regime. An estimated 10,000 Witnesses—half of the number of members in Germany during that period—were imprisoned, including 2000 who were sent to Nazi concentration camps. An estimated 1200 died in custody, including 250 who were executed. They were the first Christian denomination banned by the Nazi government and the most extensively and intensively persecuted.