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05-Apr-2017  
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Russia’s Supreme Court has begun hearing a government request to outlaw the Jehovah’s Witnesses and declare it an extremist organisation. The justice ministry has already placed its headquarters near St Petersburg on a list of extremist groups.


An estimated eight million people worldwide are part of the Christian-based movement, best known for going door to door looking for new converts. It has 175,000 members in Russia and 395 branches across the country. As the case began in Moscow on Wednesday, lawyers representing the movement submitted a counter suit, asking the High Court to declare its members victims of political repression and the justice ministry’s action unlawful. The court ruled that this was not part of its jurisdiction, but did not say whose it was, Russia’s legal information agency reported.

The case was eventually adjourned until Thursday. The ministry argues that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities “violate Russia’s law on combating extremism” and their pamphlets incited hatred against other groups. Jehovah’s Witnesses representative Yaroslav Sivulsky told the BBC that the movement had nothing to do with extremism and he complained that in every case the courts never really listened to their arguments. One pamphlet quoted the novelist Leo Tolstoy, describing the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church as superstition and sorcery, according to BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford.


Russian struggle for Jehovah’s Witnesses The group was founded in the US in the late 19th Century and during Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror in the Soviet Union it was outlawed and thousands of members were deported to Siberia. Other Christian groups were also persecuted. As the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a revival of Christianity in Russia and the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses was lifted in 1991.


Gradually attitudes towards the movement hardened and in 2004 a group was banned on charges of recruiting children and preventing believers from accepting medical assistance. Witnesses take most of the Bible literally and refuse blood transfusions. They are not seen by traditional Christian Churches as a mainstream denomination. In 2009 a report commissioned by prosecutors in southern Russia found that they “undermined respect” in other religions. Human rights group Sova has said that an “official repressive campaign” has been conducted against the movement for years and many of their members have been physically attacked. 

 



Russia’s Supreme Court Begins High-Profile Case Against Jehovah’s Witnesses - jw.org

NEW YORK—Today, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation began consideration of a claim from the Ministry of Justice to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The Court announced a recess, and the hearing will resume Thursday, April 6, 2017, at 2:00 p.m.

The Witnesses had filed a counterclaim with the Court on March 30, 2017, against the Ministry of Justice. Today, however, the counterclaim was dismissed by the Court prior to the recess of the hearing. The Court also refused to allow experts to testify about the basis for the claim of the Ministry of Justice and refused to allow those who witnessed the falsification of evidence against local religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses to testify.

The high-profile nature of the case is sparking coverage by international news outlets, including an article in Time magazine posted online on April 4 (“Russian Supreme Court Considers Outlawing Jehovah’s Witness Worship”) and a front-page article in the print edition of The New York Times (“Pacifist, Christian and Threatened by Russian Ban as ‘Extremist’”) on April 5.

“We certainly hope that Russia’s Supreme Court will uphold the rights of our fellow believers in Russia to freely carry out their peaceful worship,” adds David A. Semonian, a spokesman at the Witnesses’ world headquarters in New York. “Millions of people around the world will be watching carefully to see how the case progresses and if Russia acts to protect its own law-abiding citizens who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Media Contacts:

International: David A. Semonian, Office of Public Information, +1-845-524-3000

Russia: Yaroslav Sivulskiy, +7-812-702-2691
 
Source: BBC
 
 

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