A Supreme Court in Russia on Thursday has banned the Jehovah Witness group on the ground that they are a ‘threat’ to the public.
The country’s highest court declared it as “extremist organisation” following a lawsuit on March 15, by Russia’s Justice Ministry to halt the faith’s activities which they describe as an “extremist activity.”
Hence 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 was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying:
“They [Jehovah’s Witness] pose a threat to the rights of citizens, public order and public security.”
Borisova reportedly told the court that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ opposition to blood transfusions violates Russian health care laws.
The ruling means the country’s 175,000 adherents will not be able to congregate or distribute literature and must disband and hand over all property to the state.
According to the spokesman for Jehovah’s Witness, Yaroslav Sivulsky, it will appeal the decision at the European Court of Human Rights.
In his statement to newsmen, Sivulsky said:
“We are greatly disappointed by this development and deeply concerned about how this will affect our religious activity.”
AFP quoted him as saying, ‘I didn’t expect that this could be possible in modern Russia, where the constitution guarantees freedom.’
The recent terror attack in Russia seems to have kept the country on strict guard over religious extremism.
Russia has taken the hardest stand of any country against the Jehovah Witness faith, whose followers go from door to door and refuse military service and blood transfusions. The faith was founded in the US in the 19th century.
Under the rule of Joseph Stalin it was outlawed, but its ban was lifted in 1991 after the fall of the USSR. It has been criticised in recent years and accused of recruiting children.
A human rights group, Sova, said that the movement has been on the receiving end of an “official repressive campaign”.
The Russian authorities say that the faith destroys families, fosters hatred and threatens lives.
CTV News reported that the Human Rights Watch criticised Thursday’s decision as an impediment to religious freedom in Russia.
The Deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Rachel Denber was quoted as saying:
“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.”
The rights group also expressed concern that if and when the ruling takes effect, Jehovah Witness members could face criminal prosecution and punishment ranging from fines to prison time.