Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses ruled ex­trem­ist group

Lawyer calls Supreme Court dec­la­ra­tion ‘act of po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion’

The Dallas Morning News - - WORLD - Andrew Hig­gins,

MOSCOW — Rus­sia’s Supreme Court de­clared Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses, a Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tion, an ex­trem­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion Thurs­day, ban­ning the group from op­er­at­ing in Rus­sia and putting its 170,000 Rus­sian fol­low­ers in the same cat­e­gory as Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

The rul­ing, which con­firmed an or­der last month by the Jus­tice Min­istry that the de­nom­i­na­tion’s as­sets be seized and “liq­ui­dated,” was widely ex­pected as Rus­sian courts rarely chal­lenge gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions.

Vik­tor Zhenkov, a lawyer for the Chris­tian group, said Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses will ap­peal the rul­ing.

“We con­sider this de­ci­sion an act of po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion that is im­per­mis­si­ble in con­tem­po­rary Rus­sia,” he said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

An ini­tial ap­peal will be made to the Supreme Court’s ap­pel­late divi­sion, Zhenkov said, and if that fails, Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses will take its case to the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights in Stras­bourg, France.

He said the rul­ing fo­cused on the ac­tiv­i­ties of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­ter, a com­plex of of­fices out­side St. Petersburg, but had also branded all of its nearly 400 re­gional branches ex­trem­ist.

Hard-line fol­low­ers of Rus­sia’s dom­i­nant faith, the Ortho­dox Church, have lob­bied for years to have Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses out­lawed or curbed as a hereti­cal sect, but the main im­pe­tus for the cur­rent cam­paign seems to have come from the coun­try’s se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus.

Founded in the United States in the 19th cen­tury, Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses has its world­wide head­quar­ters in the U.S. and is viewed with deep sus­pi­cion by Rus­sia’s post-Soviet ver­sion of the KGB, the Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice, or FSB.

The Jus­tice Min­istry’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Svet­lana Borisova, told the Supreme Court on Thurs­day that Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses had shown “signs of ex­trem­ist ac­tiv­ity that rep­re­sent a threat to the rights of cit­i­zens, so­cial or­der and the se­cu­rity of so­ci­ety.”

Lawyers and wit­nesses for the re­li­gious group re­peat­edly dis­missed the ex­trem­ist al­le­ga­tion as ab­surd, ar­gu­ing that read­ing the Bi­ble and pro­mot­ing its non­vi­o­lent mes­sage could not be con­strued as ex­trem­ist. The group shuns po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and has no record of hos­til­ity to the Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties.

James Hill/The New York Times

An­drei Si­vak (left)

greets other Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses as they ar­rive for a ser­vice in Vorokhobino, Rus­sia. The Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tion has 170,000 Rus­sian fol­low­ers.

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