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US slams Russia for ban on Jehovah's Witnesses


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US slams Russia for ban on Jehovah's Witnesses

BY OLIVIA BEAVERS - 07/19/17 11:39 AM EDT 57
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The State Department on Wednesday slammed the Russian Supreme Court’s decision to ban Jehovah's Witnesses from practicing in the country, which considers them an "extremist" group.

"The Russian Supreme Court’s decision this week against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the latest in a disturbing trend of persecution of religious minorities in Russia," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a statement.

Nauert urged the court to reversed the ban.



"We urge the Russian authorities to lift the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities in Russia, to reverse the closing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center, and to release any members of religious minorities that continue to be unjustly detained for so-called 'extremist' activities," the statement said.

Nauert also called on the Kremlin "to respect the right of all to exercise the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief." 

Last week, Russia's Supreme Court ruled to uphold a ruling in April that called the Christian group an "extremist" organization.

The religion, which says it has 175,000 members in Russia, intends to appeal the ban that calls for them to disband.

"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, told Reuters.

A European Union spokeswoman told the news wire in a statement the decision has already led to negative consequences such as "criminal prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as police raids on their prayer halls, arson attacks and other forms of harassment."

The leading religion in Russia is the Orthodox Church, which is supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Some Orthodox members believe Jehovah's Witnesses are a "totalitarian sect," Reuters reported.

Russian authorities have painted the group as a dangerous sect that will destroy families. 


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Voice of America:

US Condemns Russia's Decision to Ban Jehovah's Witnesses

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FILE - Jehovah's Witnesses wait in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, April 20, 2017. On Monday, Russia's Supreme Court has banned the religious group from operating in the country.

The U.S. State Department is urging Russia to reconsider their new ban on the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Monday, the Russian Supreme Court rejected an appeal on an earlier ruling that labeled the group extremist, ordering the Christian denomination to disband immediately on Russian territory.

The State Department called the court decision "the latest in a disturbing trend of persecution of religious minorities in Russia."

It said, "Religious minorities should be able to enjoy freedom of religion and assembly without interference as guaranteed by the Russian Federation's constitution."

The State Department urged Russian authorities to lift the ban on the Jehovah's Witnesses' activities in Russia, and to release any members of religious minorities unjustly detained for so-called "extremist' activities".

FILE - Jehovah's Witnesses react in a courtroom after a judge's decision in Moscow, April 20, 2017, to ban the group. On Monday Russia's Supreme Court, ruling on an appeal, upheld the ban.

The Russian government maintains the religious group was distributing inflammatory pamphlets designed to incite hatred, including one that printed the novelist Leo Tolstoy's criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church.

According to the group, which is best known for door-to-door evangelizing, there are 175,000 Jehovah's Witnesses members in Russia. The ruling will allow the government to ban members from assembling and preaching, and force the group's headquarters in St. Petersburg to close along with 395 local chapters. The government will also seize Jehovah's Witnesses properties, known as Kingdom Halls.

Following the court decision, the Jehovah's Witnesses issued a statement asking "fellow believers worldwide [to] pray that the Russian government will reconsider its position and respect fundamental human rights."

"The worldwide community of Jehovah's Witnesses are deeply concerned for the welfare of their spiritual brothers and sisters in Russia," said Philip Brumley, General Counsel for the Jehovah's Witnesses. "They have become outcasts in their own country."

The denomination, which believes that Jesus Christ will soon return to Earth and establish a thousand-year Golden Age, have suffered persecution before.

The group is apolitical, refusing to vote in elections, fight in the military, or salute flags. American Jehovah's Witnesses were put in jail during World War II for evading the draft and a 1940 U.S. Supreme Court decision, now overturned, allowed schools to expel Jehovah's Witnesses children who declined to stand for the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Members were killed in concentration camps in Nazi Germany and were persecuted in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.

The religious sect became legal in Russia in 1991.


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