DECEMBER 25, 2017
On December 14, 2017, Russian authorities broke into the Kolomyazhskiy Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, cordoned off the building, and took control of the property. None of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the hall were injured during the raid, and the building appears to be undamaged.
The Assembly Hall is the largest property that Russian authorities have seized from the Witnesses since the July 17, 2017, ruling of the Appellate Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The Supreme Court ruling ordered the liquidation of all the Witnesses’ legal entities throughout Russia, the banning of their activity, and the seizure of their properties.
The Assembly Hall seats 1,500 and was used for large religious meetings and by local congregations after it was renovated in 2002. Attorneys for the Witnesses learned that the authorities had reregistered the Assembly Hall under the ownership of the Russian Federation. The property has since been transferred to a new owner, a neighboring health center, which has already posted a new sign on the gate.
The seizure follows on the heels of a court ruling just one week earlier that threatens to take possession of the property used by the Witnesses as their national headquarters, located near St. Petersburg. The ruling annulled a 17-year-old contract between the Witnesses’ national headquarters in Russia and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. If upheld on appeal, the ruling opens the way for Russian authorities to seize the property and other Witness properties under foreign ownership in Russia.
Jehovah’s Witnesses consider the actions of the Russian government as gross religious intolerance, which has deprived them of not only religious freedom but also their property—much of which was purchased and renovated by Russian citizens of little means. The Witnesses are pursuing every available appeal against the government’s actions, including applications to the European Court of Human Rights and complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee.