Russia’s Supreme Court has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, ruling that the group is an “extremist” organisation and ordering it to hand over all its property to the state.
The authorities had already put several of the group’s publications on a list of banned extremist literature and prosecutors had cast it as an organisation that destroys families, fosters hatred and threatens lives.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reject this description.
“I’m truly shocked, because I wasn’t expecting that something like that is even possible in modern Russia, where the constitution guarantees the freedom of religion,” said Yaroslav Sivulsky, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Russian representative who was in court. “But in real life, we see that neither the constitution nor everyday laws are observed.”
The religious organisation has an estimated eight million followers worldwide. It claims to represent Christianity but none of the major Christian churches recognise the group. Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for their door-to-door preaching and rejection of military service and blood transfusions.
The organisation has faced court proceedings in several countries – but Russia has been most outspoken in portraying it as an extremist cult.
The Interfax news agency quoted another representative for the organisation as saying that it would appeal against the decision in the European Court of Human Rights.