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CHRISTIANITY TODAY : Jehovah's Witnesses Remain Banned as Russia Rejects Appeal And most Russians are okay with it.


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Jehovah's Witnesses Remain Banned as Russia Rejects Appeal

And most Russians are okay with it.
 JULY 17, 2017 6:37 PM
Image: Alexander Aksakov/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The last-ditch efforts by Jehovah’s Witnesses to appeal Russia’s ban against their faith have failed in the country’s Supreme Court.


With all three judges siding on Monday with Russia’s Ministry of Justice, the April 20 ruling to liquidate the Witnesses’ centers and criminalize their worship stands—despite desperate pleas from members of the faith and religious freedom advocates.

“The Supreme Court’s decision sadly reflects the government’s continued equating of peaceful religious freedom practice to extremism,” said Daniel Mark, chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which called outRussia’s violations earlier this year. “The Witnesses are not an extremist group, and should be able to practice their faith openly and freely and without government repression.”

In Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church remains the dominant religious affiliation, support is high (79%) for the government’s ban designating Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group, according to a survey conducted by the Levada Center last month.

Almost half of Russians view Witnesses as a “Christian sect,” while small minorities think of it as a Protestant offshoot (5%) or a variant on ordinary Christianity (2%).

Russian Protestants, though also a minority, view Jehovah’s Witnesses as having their own theology and methodology. While Witnesses stand out with their distinct materials and eager proselytism, evangelicals have enjoyed a better reputation with the Russian government in many cases, as CT has previously reported.

Still, all religious groups attempting to share their faith and gain converts must adhere to the new evangelism ban enacted in Russia a year ago. The law, part of an anti-terrorism package, restricts preaching, teaching, and recruiting religious adherents to officially recognized houses of worship.

For example, Mormon missionaries have had to confine their activities to volunteering in centers, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. “No more knocking on doors in a quixotic quest for converts. No more handing out pamphlets on the street. No more doctrinal discussions about prayer, prophets or priesthood.”

Just last month, some missionaries were deported because of restrictions on where foreign visitors can stay; they were registered to be hosted by the church, not at their apartment address.

More than 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses were resettled as refugees in the United States this fiscal year, down from almost 700 last fiscal year. However, only 53 have come from Russia since 2003, according to State Department statistics. (The most by far—more than 9,000—have hailed from Cuba.)

CT previously reported on Russian evangelicals’ reactions to the ban on Witnesses and the ban on evangelism.

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POSTED BY:Kate Shellnutt

For the First Time, Russia Ranked Among Worst Violators of Religious Freedom

USCIRF annual report expands countries of particular concern.
 APRIL 26, 2017 10:44 AM

Russia’s ongoing crackdown on religious minorities, foreign missionaries, and evangelists has earned it a spot among the worst countries in the world for religious freedom.


The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which flags religious freedom violators for the State Department, listed the former Soviet state among six new Tier 1 “countries of particular concern” (CPC) in its latest annual report, released Wednesday.

It is the first time in the commission’s almost 20-year history that Russia has made the list. A total of 16 countries currently hold the CPC designation, and another dozen are being reviewed as Tier 2.

Russia is the only country whose repression of religious freedom has both intensified and expanded into a neighboring state by means of military occupation since USCIRF began monitoring it, officials said. The report dedicated seven pages to its problematic policies, from the “persecution of religious minorities in the occupied areas of Crimeaand Donbas” to recent moves against non-Orthodox Christians in its heartland.

Last week, Russia’s Supreme Court officially banned Jehovah’s Witnesses nationwide after several years of blacklisting their materials and shutting down regional centers.

“The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to religious freedom is being eliminated through a flawed application of this law,” which labels the pacifist organization an extremist group, said Thomas Reese, USCIRF chair and a Catholic priest. The commission recommended the US government urge Russia to amend the law to add criteria preventing it from being used against peaceful groups.

Additionally, the commission wants to see more pressure put on Russian officials over repressive application of other laws, including its “foreign agents” law—which restricts missionary activity—and a 2016 anti-evangelism regulation (known as the “Yarovaya law”)—which keeps non-Orthodox Russians from sharing their faith outside official church buildings.

Russian evangelicals, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, continue to push back against the restrictions, which have resulted in arrests, fines, and confiscated materials for Protestants found guilty. They have risked punishment to continue to spread the gospel.

“They say, ‘If it will come to it, it’s not going to stop us from worshiping and sharing our faith,’” Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia and a former Moscow church planter, told CT last year. “The Great Commission isn’t just for a time of freedom.”


The USCIRF report states that religious freedom violations are getting more common and more severe. Globally, the state of religious freedom has worsened enough that the commission worries about observers becoming “numb to violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.”

Beyond Russia, the commission called out several issues of major concern:

  • ISIS’ continued genocide and sectarian violence in the Middle East
  • Threat of violence toward Coptic Christians in Egypt
  • Blasphemy laws in countries like Pakistan

The full list of Tier 1 countries of particular concern includes: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, with the addition of Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam this year.

The countries on the Tier 2 list are: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.

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Foreign reaction to Supreme Court ruling quick EU STICKS UP FOR RUSSIAN JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES Interfax.ru, 18 July 2017   Russian Jehovah's Witnesses, like all other religious groups

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Jehovah's Witnesses vow to appeal Russia ban in European court





MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Jehovah's Witnesses said on Tuesday it would appeal a ban on its activities in Russia at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, saying it had exhausted all other legal channels.

It was speaking a day after Russia's Supreme Court rejected the religious group's appeal and upheld an April ruling which declared the organization "extremist" and ordered it to disband in Russia.

"We plan to appeal this at the European Court of Human Rights as soon as we can," Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a member of the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses, said by phone.

"All legal avenues inside Russia have been exhausted."

Sivulskiy said the Jehovah's Witnesses strongly disagreed with the court's ruling against it, but had no option but to comply.

Religious life in Russia is dominated by the Orthodox Church, which exerts considerable political influence and enjoys the support of President Vladimir Putin. Some Orthodox scholars view Jehovah's Witnesses as a 'totalitarian sect'.

Prior to the ban, Russian authorities put several of the group's publications on a list of banned extremist literature and prosecutors have long cast it as an organization that destroys families, fosters hatred and threatens lives.


The group, a United States-based Christian denomination known for its door-to-door preaching and rejection of military service and blood transfusions, says this description is false.

It says it has 175,000 followers in Russia.

Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alexander Winning

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Jehovah's Witnesses ban comes into force in Russia after Supreme Court dismisses appeal

Court upholds justice ministry's claim religious group is 'extremist' for second time 

Click to followThe Independent Online

An appeal hearing at Russia's Supreme Court over the ban on Jehovah's Witnesses as an 'extremist' organisation on 17 July 2017 Courtesy of Jehovah's Witnesses

A ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses is to come into full force in Russia after a court dismissed an appeal against the group’s classification as an “extremist” organisation.

The British and American governments were among those raising human rights concerns over the prohibition, which will liquidate the group’s administrative centre near St Petersburg and 395 local religious organisations.

Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the ruling on Monday, having previously decided in favour of the justice ministry’s characterisation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist organisation” whose members “pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security”.

Judges ordered the closure of the group's Russian headquarters, local chapters and the seizure of its property by the state.

“While we were prepared for a negative ruling, it is still very disappointing,” said David Semonian, international spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses.

“It is very concerning that despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, powerful elements within Russia continue to frame our organisation as extremist. 

“We can only hope a fair evaluation of the facts will eventually prevail and our right to worship in Russia will be legally restored.”

An appeal hearing at Russia's Supreme Court over the ban on Jehovah's Witnesses as an 'extremist' organisation on 17 July 2017 (Courtesy of Jehovah's Witnesses)

The Christian denomination put forward requests to allow experts to testify on whether their beliefs can be considered extremist but the three-judge panel rejected all motions.

In the two months following the initial ruling on 20 April, the Jehovah’s Witnesses international headquarters reported a seven-fold increase in incidents of violence and harassment it said was linked to the case.

Members have raised concern Russia’s ban will “give impetus to further acts of aggression”.


“Regardless of what negative consequences this decision brings, Jehovah's Witnesses will continue to act within the law to secure their rights and support their fellow worshippers in Russia who must bear the burden of injustice,” Mr Semonian said.

The case could be taken to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled a previous attempted ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia unlawful in 2010, but the court has no power to enforce its decisions and Russia could ignore any verdict.

The British Government previously said it was “alarmed” by the ban and called on Vladimir Putin to uphold religious freedom.

Human rights attacks around the world


      Baroness Anelay said the original ruling “effectively criminalises the peaceful worship of 175,000 Russian citizens and contravenes” rights enshrined in the country’s own constitution.

      “The UK calls on the Russian government to uphold its international commitment to freedom of religion,” she added.

      The US Commission on International Religious Freedom denounced the Russian Supreme Court’s latest ruling and said it reflects the government’s “continued equating of peaceful religious freedom practice to extremism”.

      “The Witnesses are not an extremist group, and should be able to practice their faith openly and freely and without government repression,” said its chairman, Daniel Mark, following the by-partisan body’s call for Russia to be designated a “country of particular concern” for violations of religious freedom.

      “The Russian government is intensifying its crackdown on religious freedom at home while also extending its repressive policies to neighbouring states.”

      Jehovah's Witnesses, who are known for door-to-door preaching and handing out literature, reject some of mainstream Christianity's core beliefs and have more than 8.3 million members around the world.

      Stacks of booklets distributed by the local leader of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation Alexander Kalistratov. He was sentenced to two years in prison by a Russian court of inciting religious hatred for distributing literature about his beliefs. (Reuters)

      The US-based group has generated controversy for stances including its rejection of blood transfusions and opposition to military service, facing court proceedings in several countries.

      Jehovah’s Witnesses first registered as a religious group in Russia in 1991 and registered again in 1999, but have been targeted repeatedly by authorities in a wide-ranging crackdown on religious freedom.

      Russia changed its legal definition of extremism in 2006, removing requirements for violence or hatred but stating the “incitement of….religious discord” as criteria, leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses with the same legal status as Isis or Nazis. 

      The group's international website was blocked in Russia two years ago over alleged extremism, with its Bibles banned the following year, while a local chairman was jailed for two years on charges of possessing “extremist literature” in 2010.

      The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was among the international bodies condemning a “state sponsored campaign of harassment and mistreatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses” it said dated back to the 1990s in Russia.

      It listed police searches, assaults, arson attacks, vandalism, seizures and raids on worship, as well as the arrest of several members and criminal investigations.

      The Russian Orthodox Church, which enjoys close ties with the Kremlin and the patronage of Mr Putin, is the country’s largest religion, with followers representing around 41 per cent of the population.

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      Foreign reaction to Supreme Court ruling quick


      Interfax.ru, 18 July 2017


      Russian Jehovah's Witnesses, like all other religious groups, should have the possibility of enjoying freedom of assembly, the press secretary of the European External Action Service declared on Tuesday.


      Yesterday the Supreme Court turned down the appeal of the Russian Jehovah's Witnesses of the ban of the organization and its liquidation on the basis of a lawsuit by the Russian Ministry of Justice.


      "Jehovah's Witnesses, like all other religious groups, should have the possibility of peacefully enjoying freedom of assembly without interference, which is guaranteed by the constitution of the Russian federation and also by Russia's international obligations and international standards in the area of human rights" a statement of the press secretary of the European External Action Service, which was distributed by the embassy of the EU in Russia, says.


      "This ban has already led to criminal prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses and also to police raids in places of worship, deliberate arson, and other forms of repression," the European Union's declaration says.


      On 20 April, the Russian Supreme Court ruled, on the basis of a lawsuit by the Russian Ministry of Justice, that Russian Jehovah's Witnesses are an extremist organization and prohibited its activity on the territory of the country. On 17 July, the Supreme Court left without change its previous decision on the liquidation of all registered organizations. According to the ruling, the parent organization "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" is liquidated, as well as 395 regional divisions. The organization's property, according to the court's decision, was turned over as state income.


      The lawsuit against the religious organization was filed on 15 March, at a time when, by order of the Ministry of Justice before consideration of the suit in the Supreme Court of the RF, the work of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia was suspended because of extremist activity. The press service of the ministry told Interfax that the lawsuit was filed on the basis of results of an unscheduled documentary inspection conducted from 8 to 27 February 2017, on the correspondence of the activity of the religious organization "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" with the goals and tasks declared in its charter. According to information of the Ministry of Justice, "the activity of the organization is conducted with violations of charter goals and tasks and also of existing legislation of the RF, including federal law 'On combating extremist activity.'"


      In addition to the appellate complaint in the Russian Supreme Court, Russian Jehovah's Witnesses have turned to the European Court of Human Rights, a representative of the organization, Sergei Cherepanov, told Interfax earlier. (tr. by PDS, posted 18 July 2017)

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