On December 7, 2017, the Sestroretskiy District Court ruled in favor of the prosecutor and annulled a long-standing contract on the property used by the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. If upheld on appeal, this ruling provides Russian authorities with a legal veneer to legitimize seizing the property, located in Solnechnoye, near St. Petersburg.

Seventeen years ago, the property was transferred to Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (WTPA), a U.S. entity, by means of a legal contract, the validity of which was never questioned by Russian officials. WTPA granted use of the property to the Administrative Center for it to direct the religious activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation and paid the taxes on the property in support of that effort.

Following the April 20, 2017, decision of the Supreme Court to liquidate the Witnesses’ legal entities, ban their activity, and confiscate their property, the prosecutor now claims that the 17-year-old contract was invalid. In fact, the time limit to contest the transaction expired years ago. At the conclusion of a four-hour hearing during which the Witnesses presented compelling evidence that the transfer was legal and should be recognized, Judge Bogdanova announced the court’s decision to satisfy the prosecutor’s claim.

The Witnesses have 30 days to submit an appeal.