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Saturday , 19 August 2017

Jehovah’s Witnesses Appeal Russia Ban In European court of human rights

Russia’s supreme court has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses from operating in the country.But,

Sergei Cherepanov, a Jehovah’s Witnesses representative, was quoted as saying that the group will appeal the decision in the European court of human rights.

“We will do everything possible,” he said.

Jehovah’s Witnesses first registered as a religious group in Russia in 1991 and registered again in 1999.

The group, which was founded in the US in the late 19th century, was banned during Joseph Stalin’s reign in the Soviet Union.

The religious organisation has over 175,000 members in Russia.

The court declared the religious organisation an extremist group.

The Russian government had on March 16 filed a suit to outlaw the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“The Supreme Court has ruled to sustain the claim of Russia’s ministry of justice and deem the ‘Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia’ organisation extremist, eliminate it and ban its activity in Russia,” said Yuri Ivanenko, a judge, in his ruling.

The court also ordered the closure of the group’s headquarters in Russia and its 395 local chapters.

“The property of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation is to be confiscated to the state revenue.”

Russia’s justice ministry attorney Svetlana Borisova was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the Jehovah’s Witnesses “pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security

The ruling, which affects more than 100,000 Jehovah’s Witness worshippers across Russia, is a serious breach of Russia’s obligations to respect and protect religious freedom.

The Justice Ministry, which had petitioned the Supreme Court to close the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, should withdraw the case and refrain from taking further measures that violate its obligations to respect the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization’s right to freedom of religion and to association. The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization said it will appeal the ruling to the European Court of Human Rights.

Yaroslav Sivulsky, member of the Managerial center of the JW, gives interview after the court hearing in the Supreme Court on April 7, 2017, Moscow.

Yaroslav Sivulsky, member of the managerial center of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, gives an interview after the court hearing in the Supreme Court on April 7, 2017, Moscow.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling to shut down the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is a terrible blow to freedom of religion and association in Russia,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are now given the heartrending choice of either abandoning their faith or facing punishment for practicing it.”

The ruling declares the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center an extremist organization, closes the organization on those grounds, and bans all Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities. The Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center is the head office for 395 Jehovah’s Witnesses branches throughout Russia.

If the ruling enters into force, people who continue to be involved with Jehovah’s Witnesses organization or their activities in Russia could face criminal prosecution and punishment ranging from fines of 300,00 to 600,000 rubles (US$5,343 to $10,687) to a maximum of six to 10 years in prison. People found to be leading such activity would face a maximum 10 years. The organization’s property will be confiscated. Jehovah’s Witnesses will not be able to congregate for worship at their church or anywhere else.

People waiting for the Supreme Court decision in front of the Supreme Court building in Moscow, on April 7, 2017.

People waiting for the Supreme Court decision in front of the Supreme Court building in Moscow, on April 7, 2017.

The Justice Ministry case followed an unannounced inspection, started in February 2017, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in St. Petersburg. The inspection found that the Administrative Center had continued to fund branches that had been closed after a court banned them for extremism. It also found the organization had taken no action to change “extremist” literature and had continued to distribute it. Jehovah’s Witnesses have vigorously denied the latter allegation. The Justice Ministry suspended all Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities when the ministry filed its lawsuit on March 15.

Members of the Jehovah's Witnesses Managerial Center during the court hearing in the Supreme Court of Russia, April 5, 2017.

Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Managerial Center during the court hearing in the Supreme Court of Russia, April 5, 2017.

A member of the Council of Europe and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia is obligated to protect freedom of religion and association. It has previously been found in violation of multiple obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights for actions taken through the courts to dissolve communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia, application no. 302/02).

The April 20 ruling to close the Jehovah’s Witnesses is a direct interference with freedom of religion, effectively denying its followers the right to worship, and cannot be justified as either necessary or proportionate. The closure order directly violates the pluralism of thought and belief that is foundational to a democratic society and as the court has repeatedly affirmed, is “at the very heart of the protection which [the convention] affords.”

“It’s not too late for the Russian authorities to make right this serious move against religious freedom,” Denber said. “The Justice Ministry should withdraw the suit against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization and stop interfering with group’s peaceful religious activity.”

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