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Russian court bans ‘extremist’ Jehovah’s Witnesses

Stacks of booklets distributed by Alexander Kalistratov
Stacks of booklets distributed by Alexander Kalistratov, left, the local leader of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation, are seen during the court session Dec. 16, 2010, in the Siberian town of Gorno-Altaysk. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Alexandr Tyryshkin

(USA Today) Russia’s Supreme Court formally banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization and ordered the state to seize its property in Russia, according to Russian news media.

The court, after six days of hearings, ordered the closing of the group’s Russia headquarters and its 395 local chapters on Thursday (April 20).

The Interfax news agency quoted Justice Ministry attorney Svetlana Borisova in court as saying the Jehovah’s Witnesses pose a threat to Russians.

“They pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security,” she told the court.

Borisova also said the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ opposition to blood transfusions violates Russian health care laws.

“We are greatly disappointed by this development and deeply concerned about how this will affect our religious activity,” said Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. “We will appeal this decision, and we hope that our legal rights and protections as a peaceful religious group will be fully restored as soon as possible.”

In a statement on its website, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia said the decision could go down in history as a “black day for the fundamental freedoms in Russia.”

“This decision may lead to very dire consequences for the faithful of different religions, as well as for Russia’s image in the world arena,” the group said.

During the hearing, one witness, identified as Natalia Koretskaya from St. Petersburg, testified that she was a member of the group from 1995 to 2009, TASS news agency reported. She said top church officials purported to enforce church rules “but in real fact the talk is about total control of an individual’s personal life — his intimate life, education and work.”

Representatives of the group countered that such testimony had been prepared ahead of time to advance the state’s arguments, TASS said.

Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said they will appeal the decision, according to TASS. 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 Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has some 175,000 followers in Russia, first legally registered as a religious group in Russia in 1991 and re-registered in 1999, according to the organization’s international website.

The case reached the Supreme Court following a lawsuit by Russia’s Justice Ministry.

In February, investigators inspected the headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported. More than 70,000 pages of documents were confiscated for the General Prosecutor’s Office, according to Russia’s Sova Center of Information and Analysis, which monitors hate crimes and the enforcement of anti-extremist laws.

The religious group’s press service said its religious programs do not include banned materials and that officials have notified authorities whenever anyone brings such literature into their building.

In 2009, the Supreme Court of Russia upheld a lower court ruling that declared 34 pieces of Jehovah’s Witnesses literature as “extremist,” including their magazine The Watchtower in Russian.

The group has been officially banned from the port city of Taganrog since 2009, after a local court ruled the organization guilty of inciting religious hatred by “propagating the exclusivity and supremacy” of their religion, according to the British newspaper The Independent.

In 2015, a court in Rostov convicted 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses of practicing extremism in Taganrog. The court handed out jail sentences — later suspended — of more than 5 years for five of the defendants and stiff fines for the others.

That same year, the supreme court of Russia banned the religion’s international website as “extremist.”

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Doug Stanglin

53 Comments

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  • It won’t stop them now as it hasn’t in the past. They’ll smuggle literature into the country, hold small meetings in each other’s homes and find places to gather for small assemblies. They’ll still go door-to-door by hitting one or two houses on a block, then moving to different locations. They’ll proselytize, convert and baptize. They’ll gladly risk jail. To those Christians gloating: your sect might be the next to fall. Remember it’s an assault on free speech so all Americans should condemn it.

  • I don’t think most Christians are gloating, Jim. We are aware (or soon will be!) that the very same thing can happen to us, right here in good ole “U.S. Constitution” America.

    Another reason, btw, why some of us are grateful that Mr. Trump accidentally won the election.
    Buying us a little time, as it were.

  • “I don’t think most Christians are gloating, Jim.”

    I didn’t imply that (Sandi is the only one on this site who stated that they deserved it) nor do I believe that.

    You are severely mistaken if you think the same thing will happen here. What leads you to this conclusion?

  • You’ve got this belief that judges and justices must somehow stick to what the Constitution actually says and can’t go radically beyond that.

    I used to believe it too. But Obama’s 2nd term utterly disproved that belief, coast-to-coast.

    You saw how the Russian court first defined your Jehovah Witnesses as some sort of imaginary “threat” to citizens’ rights, and then got ’em.

    Well, there’s nothing — not even the Constitution — that stops the federal and USSC courts from doing a similar strategy on any given set of American Christians, if a hostile prez works the game like Obama did.

    Had Hillary won, btw, the judicial screws would have been tightened on Christians, especially on religious freedom, opposition to gay marriage, and healing/deliverance ministries.

  • Paranoid, woe-is-me utter nonsense.

    But it does show something about you besides that. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name’s sake.” Who said that? No one important.

    It sounds like you don’t believe it yourself, but simply see an opportunity to jump on your gays-are-evil bandwagon.

  • If you could prove a religious group are terrorists or plotting to overthrow the government, then you can ban them. The First Ammendment is more than religion yet they interlock. Your so-called war on Christianity is just removing vestiges of when the governments favored Christianity, creating a level playing field. This you perceive as persecution and conference. Join JWs in Russia or any Christian group in the Middle East and experience what true persecution means.

  • I remember that you said they deserve it. Enjoy your superior moment. May I ask your denomination? I’m curious as to what group might be next. And as much as I disdain religion, I would be sad for your group. In Canada it looks like the Muslims are getting favoritism from the government including bringing in many Muslim refugees. It seems some seeking asylum in the US have decided to cross the border to throw their prayer rug on the rich, multicultural soil of Canada. You’re heading in the same direction as England. Good luck with that and keep praying.

  • I think you’ve taken the short view of history. What happened in first, second, and third century Rome, Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, and presently in North Korea, could easily happen here with just a few tweaks. History is not static and the past informs the future. I would not characterize Obama as floydlee has, nor do I have much confidence in Mr. Trump, but I think the tide is definitely turning away from Christianity in this nation, and suspect there is indeed trouble ahead on that score. I hope that if or when that day comes, unbelievers like yourself, and Spuddie, among others who are adamant about American freedoms apart from their own personal spiritual perspective, will embrace both your rationalism and your humanity, and stand in the gap for those of us who do believe.

  • I think not Ben. I would appreciate it if you would read my earlier reply to Jim Johnson in this thread. I do not request acquiescence, merely a consideration of the argument. As to your “Blessed are the..,” I have in fact been endeavoring to be prepared for that very likelihood. Perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised, I think anything can happen at any time in this very disordered world.

  • One thing that got the Jehovah’s Witnesses banned in Taganrod was for “…inciting religious hatred by “propagating the exclusivity and supremacy” of their religion.” That particular charge could be brought against any number of religious groups. A much better response would have been to laugh at this kind of nonsense, or get the tabloid press to savage them.

    This is the trouble with authoritarian regimes like that of Soviet Russia: a limited sense of proportion when dealing with religious nonsense.

  • I have a good knowledge of history, thank you. I certainly wasn’t projecting into the far future. It is a silly notion now to think there is a true attack on religious freedom these days when what is actually happening is the correction of abuses of the First Ammendment by a religious majority in our country. That’s it.

    I’m defending the rights of a bunch of fanatics who tried to brainwash me in my teen years, so I will defend your right to practice your faith (within the law). Not because I care about religion rather it’s part of our First Ammendment and I’ve sworn to uphold the Constitution.

  • You desire to trample on the rights of others in pursuit of your religious freedom and, when opposed, claim persecution. It doesn’t work that way. You are entitled to no more (and no less) privileges than any other American.

  • Edward, that’s just nonsense. No one is out to “get” Christians. 70% of this country IS Christian. Floyd likes to feel persecuted, because it fits his narrative of the evil world that hates him and all good Bible believing Christians, that’s why I brought up the “persecuted” quote. And it’s also why I said he doesn’t really believe what he says he believes.

    What Jim says is exactly the case. Christianity, especially the “Bible believing” sort, has lost its dominance. That doesn’t mean that everyone hates Christians, though some people do. And frankly, it is people like Floyd that do their utmost to create that. That is THEIR narrative.

    I’ve written about this subject too many times to want to write about it yet again. You can click on my name and see my comment history if you need to. But compare how YOU talk about my alleged sin, and how Floyd talks about it. Frankly, if it were not for a long list of a-holes like Floyd– but people with power and money, not just a vile mouth, a bigot’s worldview, a thirst for dominion, and an evil mind– you would be surprised just how little anyone cares about what Bible believing Christianity has to say…

    On any subject.

  • Edward, read jim’s response below. Here is my addition.

    I am also quite well read in history. Rome and Russiaespecially were all about an authoritarian state in conflict with religion over who got to run the show. ROme chose to co-opt the faith, Russia to suppress it. What you see in russia now is the Russian Orthodox Church trying to reassert its former dominance, and fornicating with The Puto just as he is fornicating with it. CHina and North Korea are about a state-as-religion, nothing else.

    I have said repeatedly, that were there an actual attack on your freedom of religion– real freedom, not the fake freedom of hyper conservative Christianity getting to impose its purely theological concerns by force of law on people who don’t share them– this GAY ATHEIST would be standing right next to bigots like Floyd, defending his right to be a bigot…

    Within the confines of HIS church.

    This handful of wedding vendors claim that their faith means they don’t have to obey the civil laws that govern all of us. They have plenty of options besides claiming persecution. But like Floyd, it doesn’t fit their religious agenda and narrative. And frankly, I think THAT is what you should be afraid of.

  • And a very limited sense of humor.

    But people used to being in power, and having that power threatened, whether in reality or in the imaginations of their dark hearts, find little funny.

  • Okay, I’m not yet vanished today, so I get to play around a while today, and guess which thread I wanna play with most.

    In previous threads, I’ve explicitly said to you Ben, that I am not persecuted. You must have forgotten, but that’s okay, I am comfortable with repeating it to you. I do not feel that anyone is out to “get” me.

    But just like Edward, I see how an attitude of preparation for that one Bible verse you quoted, is warranted today. (Edward and I would characterize Obama differently, but no stress.)

    What IS clear is that the strategy taken by the Russian court, could also be taken in the future by USSC and a hostile prez. You didn’t refute it.

  • See response to Ben. You skipped a few specific points there, just like he did.

    I don’t advocate trampling on others’ rights (although one particular claimed “right” is patently false both constitutionally and scripturally), but that “non-trampling” gig MUST include not trampling on the constitutional religious freedom of a 70-year-old pro-gay Christian florist grandma named Baronelle Stutzmann.

    Otherwise you ARE in support of persecution in her case — and if you do it on her today, you are effectively making it easier for “the Russian strategy” to become a huge reality for many more Christians tomorrow.

  • I can’t refute paranoid. Nonsense, except to point out that it is paranoid nonsense.

  • Not true. Try to state only the truth. I very much am out to get Christians, all deity worshippers actually.

  • Think of Bible verses like John 3:16-18, and John 14:6. Such texts absolutely “propagate the exclusivity and supremacy” of Jesus, and thus preachers in Russia could be targeted.

  • I understand those feelings. I don’t share them. My issue is with dominionists.
    And would you really try to restrict religion by law, or merely by engaging in debate? Personally, I like Unitarians a lot, in general. I feel much the same way about my oldest friend, who is a good man in New Apostolic. I don’t care much for his church, but he doesn’t have a dominionist bone in his body.

  • I’ll add something, Edward.

    Some of the people who comment here are anti religion pretty much across the board. However, as with the thread, on Russia banning Jehovah’s Witnesses, most of us atheists would tend to come down on the side of the right of people going about their lawful business in peace regardless of their religious beliefs.

  • Actually, it isn’t a superior moment, but, if the group were Christian, it would have shown scripture true. I was moreso looking for the JW’s to come in defending their assembly. (edited)

  • Today it’s the Jehovah Witnesses in Russia. Who and where will it be next? americainbibleprophecy.org

  • Not even then could you ban the religious group. There are always going to be members who are not committing crimes. Bottom line, if Christian Identity and similar groups haven’t been banned, if mosques or imams sympathetic to terrorism haven’t been banned, no one is getting banned the same way Russia has done with JW.

  • This almost-last paragraph in the article really buried the lede. The threat to the Russian Orthodox Church is what it’s all about.

  • Floyd, Russia absolutely has targeted evangelical pastors as well. Your fears about that are justified. Jehovah’s Witnesses are an easier target because few people, except the US Supreme Court that you hold in such minimal high regard, has their back.

  • If you can believe this, Hillary, who professed Christianity, thought that Christians needed to change the Bible. That statement alone shows her knowledge of Christianity.

  • As I said yesterday, there don’t seem to be any regular JW commenters here on RNS anymore. But this has nothing to do with theology. It has to do with freedom of religion.

  • There should be no civil laws regarding the operation of a private enterprise. That being said, are you ready to lambaste Ellen Degeneres as vehemently for canceling the appearance of a Christian singer because she disagreed with what she said? Should we outlaw the act of boycotting someone you disagree with because it is forcing your opinion on a business?

  • And that’s a very important point Sandy. Not even Obama ever publicly suggested such a thing.

    So Hillary made it clear what viewpoint would guide her political decisions if she had won in 2016, and especially her judiciary and USSC decisions.

    It was — and still is — entirely rational to see a risk of truncated religious freedom under a Clinton or similar-viewpoint presidency.

  • Sure, not a total ban on every single Christian church in America.

    But you CAN truncate or take down the constitutional religious freedom of a large number of people when you’re a president who has expressed the specific viewpoints that Hillary has, or a USSC that has made Obergefell the law of the land and painted the objections of Christians and other religions as nothing but “animus.”

    That’s just the potential reality, and clear individual examples already exist across multiple states. Christians have to start thinking about things.

  • “Try to state only the truth.” Sometimes I feel like asking Ben the very same thing. Other than that, your confession is interesting.

    Meanwhile, Ben and I are both “activists and educators,” to borrow from a phrase Ben employed. We’re on opposite sides of a huge fence in which people’s lives and destinies are at stake, regardless of any political situation.

    Any victory on one side of that heartfelt fence, entails a real defeat somewhere on the other side. Some of Ben’s angrier statements clearly reflect this reality, yes.

  • Nonsense. Nonsense. Nonsense.

    Here’s the difference, I have my way, and my marriage, family, and citizenship are affirmed. You get to be displeased by it, and complain that you are being oppressed because a handful of wedding vendors are too stupid to say “sorry, I’m booked.” I get to ignore you completely.

    You get your way, your constant defamation of gay people becomes the law, and our marriages are destroyed, our families and children lose the protection that civil marriage gives us, our faiths are insulted, the faiths of many Christians and Jews is insulted and made less than yours. And probably, sodomy laws would be on the books again, to be further used as a weapon against us.

    There is a difference between us.

  • Sadly, I think that will only drive us to the inevitable end that I believe awaits the world.

  • Please don’t suppose that I was denigrating your knowledge of history, I simply declared my sense that you have missed something in your studies. Primarily in the sense that persecution of the church has occurred periodically under a number of statist regimes, and that there is a suggestive and significant pattern which makes it reasonable to argue that it could happen here as well. America, despite its many flaws and failures has been among the great empires in human history, but the, “it could never happen here,” mentality strikes me as naïve. My apologies if I have incurred your ire.

  • I have every confidence in your declaration of solidarity in the event the future I suspect is awaiting Christianity occurs.

  • But there shouldn’t be. and since you responded, why don’t you answer the other questions.

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