The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales has issued a formal statement expressing serious concern over the Russian Supreme Court’s recent ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On 20 April 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court upheld an application by Russia’s Ministry of Justice to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center an extremist organisation and to ban its activities in Russia. The ruling requires the organisation to close, bans its activities and allows its property to be confiscated to the state revenue. It is the first time a Russian court has ruled that a registered national centralised religious organisation is “extremist” and should be banned.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center is the head office for 395 Jehovah’s Witnesses branches and 175,000 members throughout Russia. If the ruling enters into force, it will criminalise those who continue to be involved with the organisation and its activities. Penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment may be imposed on conviction.

This ruling forms part of a series of actions by Russian authorities  targeting Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. In 2004, Moscow’s courts banned the local religious organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. Since 2007, Russian courts have banned at least eight local Jehovah’s Witnesses organisations, and 95 pieces of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature have been placed on the federal registry of banned extremist materials.

BHRC Chairperson Kirsty Brimelow QC said:

“The actions of the Russian authorities offends Russia’s own constitution as well as international law.

BHRC calls on the Russian government to uphold religious freedom and restore the legal rights and protections of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religious group. Russia must urgently comply with the clear and repeated judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Read the full statement of concern here

Image credit: jw.org