On March 15, 2017, Russia’s Ministry of Justice filed a claim with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to label the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia as extremist and liquidate it. The claim also seeks to ban the activities of the Administrative Center. If the Supreme Court upholds this claim, the Witnesses’ national headquarters near St. Petersburg will be shut down.
Threatened with an imminent ban on their worship in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are responding with a direct appeal to Kremlin and Supreme Court officials for relief through a global letter-writing campaign. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is inviting the over 8,000,000 Witnesses worldwide to participate.
Subsequently, some 400 registered Local Religious Organizations would be liquidated, outlawing the services of over 2,300 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The branch property, as well as places of worship used by Witnesses throughout the country, could be seized by the State. Additionally, individual Jehovah’s Witnesses would become subject to criminal prosecution for merely carrying out their worship activities. The Russian Supreme Court is expected to rule on the claim on April 5.
According to the Helsinki Commission, which monitors human rights and religious freedoms in Europe and the Communist Bloc:
"The Russian government is exploiting genuine threats of violent extremism to undermine what little religious freedom remains in that country. This distracts from real efforts to fight terrorism. I urge the Russian government to drop the case immediately" (Roger Wicker).
Chris Smith added: “At stake in the upcoming court case is the legality and perhaps the survival of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – and in fact basic religious freedom – throughout the Russian Federation. If the Supreme Court of Russia declares this faith group an extremist organisation, it is an ominous sign for all believers and marks a dark, sad day for all Russians.”
These are dark times for religious liberty in Russia. Last July, Russia outlawed all public evangelism except evangelism within the walls of an officially recognized church building.
We will be monitoring this religious freedom development at F7.
"The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3).