In a blow to religious liberty, Russia’s Supreme Court has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses from operating anywhere in the country. The high court accepted a request from the justice ministry identifying the religious organization as an extremist group.
The court ordered the closure of the group’s Russian headquarters and its 395 local chapters, as well as the seizure of its property.
Justice Ministry attorney Svetlana Borisova said in court that Jehovah’s Witnesses pose a threat to Russians. “They pose a threat to the rights of citizens, public order and public security,” she told the court. Borisova also said Jehovah’s Witnesses’ opposition to blood transfusions violates Russian health care laws.
Yaroslav Sivulsky, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, said in a statement they are “greatly disappointed by this development and deeply concerned about how this will affect our religious activity.” Jehovah’s Witnesses said they would appeal the ruling.
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim more than 170,000 adherents in Russia. The group has come under increasing pressure over the past year, including a ban on distributing literature deemed to violate Russia’s anti-extremism laws.
Human Rights Watch criticized the decision as an impediment to religious freedom in Russia. “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.
The rights group also expressed concern that if the ruling takes effect, Jehovah’s Witnesses could face criminal prosecution and punishment ranging from fines to prison time.
Religious freedom is being challenged on many fronts around the world. This is just the latest in a serious of religious liberty issues in Russia, which supports the Russian Orthodox Church as the state church.
Will your church also face the same challenges some day in countries all around the world? The Bible predicts that those who do not go along with the ecumenical movement and the soon-coming worship laws will be considered extremists, experience religious discrimination and suffer persecution. See Psalm 94:20-22 and Revelation 13:15-17.
“When we reach the standard that the Lord would have us reach, worldlings will regard Seventh-day Adventists as odd, singular, strait-laced extremists. ‘We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.’” Fundamentals of Education, page 289.