Since ban, persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses is 'worse than ever'

Recommended Posts

Since ban, persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses is 'worse than ever'

  • Judges of Russia’s Supreme Court attend a hearing in Moscow on Jan. 23, 2014. (Reuters/Maxim Shemetov)
Lauren Markoe  Religion News Service  |  May. 18, 2017

Since the Russian Supreme Court labeled Jehovah’s Witnesses an "extremist" group, vandals have targeted followers and their banks accounts have been frozen. Stones were thrown at a St. Petersburg assembly hall and someone tried to burn the Moscow home of a Jehovah’s Witness to the ground, a church spokesman said.

The ruling seems to have emboldened those who resent and fear the Witnesses, a religious minority that has suffered more than most in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church enjoys the backing of the state and harassment of gays and other marginalized groups has spiked in recent years.

“We were hoping the court would realize that we are not a threat,” said Robert Warren, a spokesman for the Witnesses based in their New York world headquarters. “But now the environment is worse than ever."

The court decision, say Jehovah’s Witnesses officials and human rights experts, has not been fully enforced. Worship, reports from the country indicate, continues at some of the "Kingdom Halls" that serve Russia's more than 100,000 Witnesses.

But the possibility that the government will completely shut down the Jehovah's Witnesses looms.

Don't miss a thing. Sign up for emails from NCR.

While Jehovah's Witnesses prepare an appeal — and take heart in the condemnation of the court ruling from national and international bodies, including the U.S. State Department — they are not optimistic about a reversal of the ruling. And they worry for their brethren over the border in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic.

“In some ways the situation in Kazakhstan has deteriorated even faster,” said Felix Corley, an Oslo-based religious rights activist who edits the Forum 18 News Service, which tracks abuses in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Earlier this month, a 61-year-old Jehovah’s Witness from Kazakhstan — a retired bus driver battling cancer — was sentenced to five years in prison and banned from preaching for three years after he gets out.

A court convicted Teymur Akhmedov of inciting “ethnic, social, religious, family, and racial hatred.” Jehovah's Witnesses said he peacefully shared his beliefs with a group of young men who asked him questions about his faith.

Witnesses are working on Akhmedov's appeal and say that since the Russian Supreme Court decision, anti-Witness propaganda has spread in Kazakhstan. Recently a popular television channel there reported that Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia plan a bombing, and speculated that the same could happen in Kazakhstan, said Bekzat Smagulov, a Jehovah's Witness and spokesman on the Akhmedov case.

"Most people are afraid," Smagulov said of Kazakhstan's 18,000 Witnesses.

In Russia, where authorities have officially declared the group illegal, fears run even higher. The surveillance and prosecution of the Witnesses began decades ago and involves all levels of government and law enforcement — from the Justice Ministry to the FSB (the successor to the KGB) to local police.

But Russia can't honestly fear violence from the Jehovah's Witnesses, said Corley. "I cannot believe they think they're going to go out and kill people."

Yet the court last month, after six days and 30 hours of testimony, deemed the Jehovah's Witnesses a threat to the state, commanded a halt to all their activity and allowed for the seizure of their property.

Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch, the international nonprofit, called the case against the Witnesses "absurd."

Specifically, Russian prosecutors accused the group of breaking a 2002 anti-extremism law — a statute human right activists say the government uses to harass groups Putin and his allies disfavor.

That law prohibits any group, except the Orthodox Church and a few other traditions, from claiming the true path to salvation. The Jehovah's Witnesses, like many denominations, make such a claim, Denber said, but not in a way that should land them on the same list of outlaws that includes al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

The Witnesses' Western ties are also particularly suspect in today's Russia, which seeks to challenge the West as an international power broker, Denber said.

More Witnesses live in the U.S. than any other country. And though Jehovah's Witnesses regard Christ as their founder, the modern-day group formed in Pittsburgh, where a group of Bible students in the late 19th century began writing down the Witnesses' beliefs.

Among those beliefs: pacifism.

The world's 8 million Witnesses — who can be found in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia — eschew violence and don't join the military, which makes some question their patriotism even when they find alternative ways to serve their countries.

But their pacifism also makes the extremist label all the more confounding to those in the Western world who know the Witnesses as the well-mannered people who ring doorbells and ask if they can share a copy of The Watchtower, the group's journal.

And though the Witnesses have been harassed in many nations, in Russia they suffer more acutely and are commonly described as a cult — a group that rejects much of Orthodox Christianity, including its trinitarian understanding of God.

Another attribute of the Witnesses may threaten their persecutors.

"They're very well-organized," Denber said.

Share this post

Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Welcome To Our Community

    The most intelligent people on planet Earth hang out on this forum. Be ready to have your points of view challenged and refined.

  • Recently Browsing

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Who's Online (See full list)

  • Topics

  • Posts

    • Chief Operating Officer and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell recently gave a revealing and fascinating interview with Marie Claire. A historically fashion-focused media outlet, Marie Claire has recently taken to exploring a much broader subset of topics, with a particular affinity towards content that might help empower women both young and old. Gwynne Shotwell may well be one of the best stories of success for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields over the last decade. Engineering, particularly aerospace engineering, has a rather shadowy history of diversity and inclusion, even to this day. Regardless, Elon Musk has demonstrated no discriminatory tendencies whatsoever throughout his storied history. According to Shotwell, Space and Tesla CEO Elon Musk called Shotwell and asked her to apply for a position as Vice President of Business Development after a conversation that lasted a few minutes, following a tour of SpaceX’s facilities. She was immediately hired and the rest is history. Musk and Shotwell have truly become a force to be reckoned with in the launch industry, and Shotwell has developed a reputation as an unbelievably effective salesperson, whom Musk regularly praises.

      Shotwell and Musk played critical roles in early talks with NASA that ultimately translated into a ~$2 billion commercial resupply services (CRS) contract awarded for delivery of cargo and supplies to the International Space Station, and helped bring SpaceX back from the brink of bankruptcy in 2008. Promoted to Chief Operating Officer and President soon after, Shotwell has since helped secure SpaceX’s backlog of more than $7 billion worth of launches. In light of SpaceX’s rapidly accelerating launch cadence, the most interesting information to come out of Marie Claire’s interview with the COO might be related to the workload its employees face. SpaceX has long been almost mythologized as a place where employees might be expected to regularly work 60-80 hour weeks if they expect to keep their jobs. While the company has fought to combat those rumors, it is undeniable that at least a minority in the company have been required to work extremely trying hours in certain periods of frenetic activity. However, Shotwell directly addressed those concerns, personally admitting that requiring 70-80 hour work weeks was unsustainable in the long run for SpaceX employees. Further, stepping well out of line with the traditional engineer work ethic, she stated that the company’s employees were encouraged to “focus on simplifying their jobs and making the task easier instead of putting their heads down and being a hero”. Encouraging a responsive, intelligent work ethic for all employees is truly exceptional throughout almost all engineering-focused companies. While she has always acted as a sort of temper to Musk’s extraordinary willingness to accept risks in the pursuit of non-traditional solutions or goals, she noted that, “I have learned over my 15 years of working with him to not bet against him and not question whether something can be done”. Sober voices will be necessary along SpaceX’s path to Mars, and the Musk-Shotwell duo encourage significant optimism that SpaceX will eventually succeed. Musk could not have found a more perfect person to help lead SpaceX, and Shotwell will almost certainly continue to work miracles as she works to ensure that SpaceX achieves its lofty ambitions. The post SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell talks space, life and Elon Musk appeared first on Via
    • OK, Arauna, walk me through this. How do you verify that it was indeed 539 BCE when Babylon fell to Persian armies? Do you agree with the Babylonian source that the battle of Opis occurred in Nabonidus' 17th year (although the year is actually broken off)? Assuming that the missing year is indeed '17' (and there is good reason to believe so from the tablet's format), how do we go about tying Nabonidus' 17th year to a modern calendar year? Do you have any suggestions on how we can do that? If you do not believe the Babylonian source about the Opis battle and the fall of Babylon, what alternatives do you propose for establishing 539 BCE as the correct year?
    • Thank you so much you are so helpful may Jehovah bless you
    • French government, employers and unions begin final discussions on labour reforms
    • Iraq: Civilians flee battle as Coalition forces close in on Tal Afar
  • Forum Statistics

    • Total Topics
    • Total Posts
  • Member Statistics

    • Total Members
    • Most Online

    Newest Member
    Brenda Gameson