Threatened with an imminent ban on their worship in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are responding with a direct appeal to the Kremlin and Supreme Court officials for relief through a global letter-writing campaign.
Meanwhile, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is inviting the over 8,000,000 Witnesses worldwide to participate in the letter-writing campaign.
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 to 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. 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,” the Witnesses said.
Additionally, individual Jehovah’s Witnesses would become subject to criminal prosecution for merely carrying out their worship activities.
Meanwhile, the Russian Supreme Court is expected to rule on the claim on April 5. “Russia revises the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity, which vaguely defines extremism,” research revealed.
“The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses wants to heighten attention to this critical situation,” states David A. Semonian, a spokesman at the Witnesses’ world headquarters.
“Prosecuting non-violent, law-abiding citizens as if they were terrorists is clearly a misapplication of anti-extremist laws. Such prosecution is based on completely false grounds,” Semonian said.
The Witnesses’ global campaign is not without precedent. Nearly 20 years ago, Witnesses wrote to defend their fellow worshippers in Russia in response to a smear-campaign by some members of the government in power at the time.
Additionally, Witnesses have initiated past letter-writing campaigns to motivate government officials to end persecution of Witnesses in other countries, including Jordan, Korea, and Malawi.
“Reading the Bible, singing, and praying with fellow worshippers is clearly not criminal,” adds Mr. Semonian.
“We hope that our global letter-writing campaign will motivate Russian officials to stop this unjustifiable action against our fellow worshippers,” said Semonian.
It may be recalled that 2016 marks 125 years since Czarists authorities banished Semyon Kozlitskiy, one of the first Jehovah Witnesses in Russia, for preaching the Bible’s message.
In 1891, without a trial, Mr. Kozlitskiy was shackled in chains and exiled to Siberia, where he lived until his death in 1935.
Over the past century, Russia’s feelings toward Jehovah’s Witnesses have remained largely the same. As noted in the latest reporting cycle of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, numerous sources indicate that Russia continues “to curtail freedom of expression…and freedom of religion, targeting, inter alia, Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
The UN Human Rights Committee has been mandated to monitor compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Russia is a state party.