Russian Supreme Court Bans Jehovah's Witnesses

Posted April 21, 2017

The Jehovah's Witnesses were branded an extremist group by Russia's Supreme Court on Thursday.

The ruling was issued after the justice ministry applied for an order to shut down the group's national headquarters near St Petersburg.

The ruling will force the group to close its Russian headquarters and 395 chapters nationwide.

Russia's Justice Ministry had sought the order, which the group said it will appeal.

Russia's Jehovah Witnesses have had several run-ins with law enforcement in recent years.

The decision comes after the ministry said it had found signs of "extremist activity" within the organisation and requested that it be banned.

"The treatment of the Jehovah's Witnesses reflects the Russian government's tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country's political stability", Thomas J. Reese, S.J., chairman of the USCIRF, said.

Other groups banned in the country are militant organisations al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

A court in Moscow on October 12, 2016 warned Jehovah's Witnesses over what it ruled was extremism.

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.

The organization's spokesman said if the appellate panel of Supreme Court judges upheld Thursday's verdict, the case would be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

The decision came after six days of hearings spread over the last two weeks, during which the court reviewed a claim submitted by the Ministry of Justice in Moscow.

It has said a ban would directly affect around 400 of its groups and have an impact on all of its 2,277 religious groups in Russian Federation, where it says it has 175,000 followers.

"The heads of the Jehovah's Witnesses formally watch canonical compliance with the norms but in real fact the talk is about total control of an individual's personal life - his intimate life, education and work", Koretskaya told the court.