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Jehovah’s Witnesses

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AUGUST 2, 2017
RUSSIA

International Response to Russia’s Supreme Court Decision Against Jehovah’s Witnesses

International government agencies and officials have responded to Russia’s Supreme Court decision that criminalizes the worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. These statements have criticized Russia’s unjust and harsh judicial action against a minority religious group known for peaceful religious activity.

On July 17, 2017, a three-judge panel of the Appellate Chamber of Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the Court’s April 20 decision “to liquidate the religious organization ‘Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia’ and the local religious organizations that are part of its structure [and] to turn over to the Russian Federation all property of the liquidated religious organization.” With this decision, the Court effectively banned the worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout Russia.

Statements After the July 17, 2017, Appellate Chamber Decision

The following are excerpts of statements made after the July 17, 2017, decision by the Appellate Chamber of Russia’s Supreme Court to uphold the April 20 ruling:

“We are deeply concerned by the decision of Russia’s Supreme Court to reject the appeal of the Jehovah’s Witnesses against their labelling as ‘extremists.’ This ruling confirms the criminalisation of the peaceful worship of 175,000 Russian citizens and contravenes the right to religious freedom that is enshrined in the Russian Constitution.”—Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for Human Rights, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Great Britain. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/minister-for-human-rights-statement-on-russian-supreme-court-ruling

“The Russian Supreme Court’s decision this week against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the latest in a disturbing trend of persecution of religious minorities in Russia. We urge the Russian authorities to lift the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities in Russia, to reverse the closing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center, and to release any members of religious minorities that continue to be unjustly detained for so-called ‘extremist’ activities.”—Heather Nauert, Department Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State. https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/07/272679.htm

“Jehovah’s Witnesses, like all other religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as by Russia’s international commitments and international human rights standards.”—Spokesperson for the European Union External Action Services. https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/30022/statement-spokesperson-upheld-ban-activities-jehovahs-witnesses-russia_en

“The Supreme Court’s decision sadly reflects the government’s continued equating of peaceful religious freedom practice to extremism. The Witnesses are not an extremist group, and should be able to practice their faith openly and freely and without government repression.”Daniel Mark, Chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. http://www.uscirf.gov/news-room/press-releases/russia-jehovah-s-witnesses-banned-after-supreme-court-rejects-appeals

“I am very concerned by the fact that the court ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has been upheld. Despite our appeals on a number of levels, this move makes the peaceful enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and thought a criminal offence.”—Gernot Erler, Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation With Russia, Central Asia, and the Eastern Partnership Countries, Foreign Ministry of Germany. http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/sid_5DAC942B7DE50BCC4AFCDFC864C2E383/EN/Infoservice/Presse/Meldungen/2017/170719-Ko_RUS-Zeugen_Jehovas.html

“Russia’s recent outrageous decision to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses from existing as a recognized faith community in Russia is a complete violation of the protections for freedom of religion and belief in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. . . . People of goodwill from all faith communities as well as all those who cherish freedom of conscience rights must stand in solidarity with the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Russia.”—Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, president, Lantos Foundation. https://www.lantosfoundation.org/news/2017/7/17/lantos-foundation-condemns-russias-outrageous-decision-to-ban-jehovahs-witnesses

Statements After the April 20, 2017, Decision of the Supreme Court

Prior to the Appellate Chamber’s decision, numerous government agencies and officials condemned the Russian Supreme Court’s April 20 ruling:

“I asked President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to guarantee minority rights here as well as with Jehovah’s witnesses.”—Chancellor Angela Merkel, during a news conference with President Putin. http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-russia-germany-putin-syria-idUKKBN17Y1JZ

“The recent decision of the Supreme Court to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in the Russian Federation an extremist organisation, and to close it down, together with the 395 Local Religious Organisations used by Witnesses, raises serious concerns regarding freedom of religion in Russia and is another example of the legislation against extremism being abused to curtail freedom of expression and assembly.”—Theodora Bakoyannis and Liliane Maury Pasquier, co-rapporteurs of the PACE Monitoring Committee for the Russian Federation. http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-EN.asp?newsid=6599

“Russia’s failure to respect religious freedom is yet another inexcusable violation of Moscow’s OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] commitments. People who practice their faith peacefully should never be in danger of being harassed, fined, or jailed. The court order to seize organization property owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses adds insult to injury. I am hopeful that this case will be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.”—Senator Roger Wicker, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. http://csce.emailnewsletter.us/mail/util.cfm?gpiv=2100141660.2454.614

“Yesterday’s decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to ban the activities of the Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia on grounds of ‘extremism’ could make it possible to launch criminal prosecutions against Jehovah’s Witnesses for mere acts of worship. Jehovah’s Witnesses, like all other religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation as well as by Russia’s international commitments and international human rights standards.”—Spokesperson for the European Union External Action Services. https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/24870/statement-ban-activities-jeho

“I’m deeply concerned by this unwarranted criminalization of the peaceful activities of members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses communities in Russia, eliminating this community as a viable entity in the country. This Supreme Court decision poses a threat to the values and principles that democratic, free, open, pluralistic and tolerant societies rest upon.”—Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. http://www.osce.org/odihr/313561

“This ban persecuting peaceful persons for mere acts of worship clearly violates the fundamental right to religious freedom and with it international human rights standards as also guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. It therefore needs to be revised as soon as possible.”—Professor Ingeborg Gabriel, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination. http://www.osce.org/odihr/313561

“I am alarmed by the decision of Russia’s Supreme Court to recognise the Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘extremists’. This ruling effectively criminalizes the peaceful worship of 175,000 Russian citizens and contravenes the right to religious freedom which is enshrined in the Russian Constitution. The UK calls on the Russian government to uphold its international commitment to this basic freedom.”—Baroness Joyce Anelay, former Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/minister-for-human-rights-criticises-russian-supreme-court-ruling-for-labelling-jehovahs-witnesses-as-extremist

International Condemnation of Russia’s Supreme Court Decision

On July 20, 2017, the Permanent Council of the OSCE adopted a statement from the European Union (EU). The statement calls on Russia to allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to “be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation as well as by Russia’s international commitments and international human rights standards.” The statement was unanimously adopted in Vienna by all 28 member states of the EU, and other non-EU member countries such as Australia, Canada, and Norway have aligned themselves with it. https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/pc_1155_eu_jehovahs_witnesses_in_russia.pdf

Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are deeply disappointed that with its arbitrary decision, Russia’s Supreme Court has effectively banned their worship throughout the country. In their responses, international government agencies and officials expose Russia for unjustly declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremists” and for ignoring its own constitutional and international commitments to protect religious freedom. The European Court of Human Rights has yet to hear this matter and will hopefully reverse the nationwide ban.