Russia's Supreme Court to consider Jehovah's Witnesses ban

Russia's Supreme Court to consider Jehovah's Witnesses ban

"The use of counter-extremism legislation in this way to confine freedom of opinion, including religious belief, expression and association to that which is state-approved is unlawful and risky, and signals a dark future for all religious freedom in Russian Federation", they stressed.

Andrei Sivak, a Russian elder of the Jehovah's Witnesses, was arrested in 2010 after undercover security officers infiltrated services and secretly filmed him leading worship.

Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, who is chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, also criticized the Russian action.

"We object to letting local religious chapters participate in the hearings, because they are structural units of Jehovah's Witnesses", the spokeswoman said.

There are about 175,000 Jehovah's Witnesses members in Russian Federation. That law, which requires neither the use nor advocacy of violence for activity to be labeled extremist, was enacted after a sustained Russian campaign against this group began in early 2006.

Russia's government has launched a Supreme Court bid to outlaw Jehovah's Witnesses and have the movement declared an extremist organisation.

They added that pamphlets handed out by religious representatives incited hatred against other groups. These groups are also being persecuted for their beliefs in the Russian-occupied areas of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

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The high-profile nature of the case is sparking coverage by worldwide news outlets, including an article in Time magazine posted online on April 4 ("Russian Supreme Court Considers Outlawing Jehovah's Witness Worship") and a front-page article in the print edition of The New York Times ("Pacifist, Christian and Threatened by Russian Ban as "Extremist") on April 5. Today, however, the counterclaim was dismissed by the Court prior to the recess of the hearing.

Concerns about the counter-extremism legislation have previously been raised in a communication by the three experts to the Russian authorities on July 28, 2016.

In January 2014, a court in Kurgan ruled to ban the organization's booklets as extremist.

Jehovah's Witnesses is an global religious organization based in Brooklyn, New York.

"We urge the authorities to drop the lawsuit in compliance with their obligations under global human rights law, and to revise the counter-extremism legislation and its implementation to avoid fundamental human rights abuses", the United Nations experts concluded.

The opinions expressed in this article are exclusively those of the author and are not necessarily those of World Religion News.

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