Supreme Court bans Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia

Church of Scientology Moscow

The Interfax news agency quoted justice ministry lawyer Svetlana Borisova in court as saying the Jehovah's Witnesses "pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security". Jehovah's Witnesses will not be able to congregate for worship at their church or anywhere else.

Participants attend a hearing on the justice ministry request to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses at Russia's Supreme Court in Moscow on April 20, 2017.

The plaintiff, the Russian Justice Ministry, cited the group's aversion to blood transfusion on religious grounds as reason for the ban. In October past year, a lower court notified the organization of a looming ban if it did not stop engaging in what it considered extremist activity.

If the Supreme Court's decision is upheld by the three-judge appellate panel, Jehovah's Witnesses may face from two up to six years in jail if they defy the court ruling and continue operating in Russian Federation.

"Sivulsky says the accusation of extremism is based on a false understanding of the Jehovah's Witnesses" assertion that theirs is the only true religion.

During the review, the Attorneys representing the Ministry of Justice could not specify a legal basis for targeting the Administrative Centre for liquidation or any extremist action on the part of either the Administrative Centre or any Local Religious Organisations (LROs) used by Jehovah's Witnesses in Russian Federation.

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"Russia's failure to respect religious freedom is yet another inexcusable violation of Moscow's OSCE commitments".

The Supreme Court ordered the religious group to suspend their activities at their main St Petersburg site immediately.

Stacks of Jehovah's Witness booklets at a court hearing in Russian Federation in 2010.

Jehovah's Witnesses, known worldwide for their proselytizing activity, hold beliefs that mainstream Christian groups consider to be controversial.

Human Rights Watch criticized Thursday's decision as an impediment to religious freedom in Russian Federation. The group had already been banned on a local level in some parts of Russian for "inciting religious hatred", which lead to arrests for practicing extremism.

The April 20 ruling to close the Jehovah's Witnesses is a direct interference with freedom of religion, effectively denying its followers the right to worship, and can not be justified as either necessary or proportionate.

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