Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday declared Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that rejects violence, an extremist organization, banning the group from operating on Russian territory and putting its more than 170,000 Russian worshipers in the same category as Islamic State militants.
The ruling, which confirmed an order last month by the Justice Ministry that the denomination be “liquidated” — essentially eliminated or disbanded — had been widely expected. Russian courts rarely challenge government decisions, no matter what the evidence.
Viktor Zhenkov, a lawyer for the denomination, said Jehovah’s Witnesses would appeal the ruling. He said it had focused on the activities of the organization’s so-called administrative center, a complex of offices outside St. Petersburg, but also branded all of its nearly 400 regional branches as extremist.
“We consider this decision an act of political repression that is impermissible in contemporary Russia,” Mr. Zhenkov said in a telephone interview. “We will, of course, appeal.” An initial appeal will be made to the Supreme Court’s appellate division, Mr. Zhenkov said, and if that fails, Jehovah’s Witnesses will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France.
Religious freedom in Russia has been seriously curtailed for years. Under an "anti-extremism" law passed in 2002, any religion that claims to offer a "true path" to salvation – other than the Russian Orthodox Church – can be banned. That’s flat-out bizarre, the sort of law that you would find in the sort of radical theocracy that the Christian Reconstructionists want to establish here in the United States. It’s just one more reminder of how thankful we should be that the Constitution of the United States protects freedom of religion.