Real News One
The Russian constitution provides for freedom of religion, equal rights irrespective of religious belief, and the rights to worship and profess one’s religion – but only on paper not in real life. The law states government officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.”
The law in Russia lists Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).
Recently the Supreme Court ruled to criminalize the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist,” effectively banning their activities and literature, and ordered their headquarters property to be liquidated.
In response to the ban the European Union released a statement on the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.
“The European Union is deeply concerned by the recent reports of increased government harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, which includes police raids of private homes, arbitrary detentions and intimidation.”
“The EU will continue to follow closely the developments concerning the Jehovah’s Witnesses across the OSCE region and are worried about information received concerning several participating States limiting Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to practice their faith.”
The Russian Government claims publication by Jehovah’s Witnesses promoting peace and understanding are “extremist” material.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for Human Rights, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Great Britain stated “We are deeply concerned by the decision of Russia’s Supreme Court to reject the appeal of the Jehovah’s Witnesses against their labeling as ‘extremists.’ This ruling confirms the criminalisation of the peaceful worship of 175,000 Russian citizens and contravenes the right to religious freedom that is enshrined in the Russian Constitution.”
Russian and international media, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious groups have reported a number of attacks on including physical assaults on Jehovah’s Witnesses across the country. In separate instances, arsonists attacked a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ home and place of worship.
Vladimir Vasilyevich Ryakhovskiy, Member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, says “It has always started with Jehovah’s Witnesses and then spread to everyone else.”
Annika Hvithamar Associate Professor/Head of Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen says “If Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremist, then most versions of Christianity could be accused of the same thing.”
In a statement from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Warwick, New York, the organisation says “Russian authorities have imprisoned eight Witness men and are currently conducting 12 criminal investigations in 11 cities.” “While the increasing number of properties being confiscated is deeply worrying, the principal concern is the suffering of individual Christians who are being persecuted for their faith.”
According to the NGO Forum 18, the federal government increasingly restricted the exercise of freedom of religion since the re-election of President Vladimir Putin in 2012, enacting laws and prosecuting individuals for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.
On August 17, the Russian Ministry Of Justice formally placed the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ parent organization in the country and 395 related LROs on its list of “extremist” groups, a procedural move following the Supreme Court’s decision on April 20, upheld by the Appellate Chamber of the Supreme Court on July 17, which criminalized the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The decision terminated all activity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entities throughout the country, effectively banning their worship.
Crimes Committed by the Russian Government against Jehovah’s Witness in Russia included the incident on December 14 when authorities broke into the Kolomyazhskiy Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, cordoned off the building, and took control of the property.
At the same time Forum 18 also reported that in January the Arkhangelsk Jehovah’s Witness community was dissolved after heavy pressure from authorities and ROC Moscow Patriarchate (ROC-MP) “antisect” activists.
In addition to the order that criminalized the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as ” extremist” and ordered their headquarters property to be liquidated, individual Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 19 cases of interference in church members’ private lives. In most of these cases, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, officers of government agencies raided the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses, often carrying out unauthorized and illegal searches and seizure of private belongings and in some instances at gunpoint.
Jehovah’s Witnesses currently in pretrial detention:
• Dennis Christensen (Danish citizen), aged 45, Oryol, detained since May 25, 2017, and ordered to remain jailed until August 1, 2018.
• Valentin Osadchuk, aged 42, Vladivostok, detained since April 19, 2018, and ordered to remain jailed until June 20, 2018.
• Viktor Trofimov, aged 61, Polyarny, detained since April 18, 2018, and ordered to remain jailed until June 12, 2018.
• Roman Markin, aged 44, Polyarny, detained since April 18, 2018, and ordered to remain jailed until June 11, 2018.
• Anatoliy Vilitkevich, aged 31, Ufa, detained since April 10, 2018, and ordered to remain jailed until June 2, 2018.
Locations of the ten criminal investigations: Belgorod, Shuya, Prohladniy, Mayskiy, Kemerovo, Polyarny, Oryol, Ufa, and Vladivostok.