Russia has effectively banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country after a Supreme Court ruling was issued deeming the religious group as “extremist.”
The religious group was found to be extremist on April 20 after six days of trials and witness testimonies, and the Supreme Court ordered that its headquarters and 395 chapters in the country be closed down and liquidated.
“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’ organization extremist, eliminate it and ban its activity in Russia,” said Judge Yuri Ivanenko.
Svetlana Borisova, who represented the Russian Justice Ministry in court, said that the Jehovah’s Witnesses “pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are also prohibited from all of its worship activities and evangelizing, and those who continue such practices risk a fine of thousands of dollars and anywhere from six to 10 years in jail.
Representatives of the religious group said that they plan to appeal the court decision, according to numerous reports.
“We are greatly disappointed by this development and deeply concerned about how this will affect our religious activity,” Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a representative of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, was quoted as saying by Religion News Service. “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."
Rachel Denber, the deputy Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch, called the Russian court’s decision “a terrible blow to freedom of religion and association in Russia.”
“Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are now given the heartrending choice of either abandoning their faith or facing punishment for practicing it,” Denber added.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been registered as a legal religious group in the country since 1991, according to the group’s website, with some 175,000 followers within the Russian population.