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Expert warns Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses can spark backlash in EU

April 21, 14:56 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The Supreme Court’s decision was the largest ban on the activities of a religious movement since the disintegration of the Soviet Union

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Russia's Supreme Court judge Yuri Ivanenko reads the decision to brand the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organization in Russia

Russia's Supreme Court judge Yuri Ivanenko reads the decision to brand the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organization in Russia

© AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev

MOSCOW, April 21. /TASS/. Classifying Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization in Russia could trigger a great amout of backlash from EU members and the United States where its activities are allowed, Russian religious studies scholar and leading research fellow of the Center for Religion and Society Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, Roman Lunkin, said in an interview with TASS.

Situation forecast

"After the Supreme Court ruling, Russia will appear in all reports on religious freedom as a country violating this freedom. Besides, this decision will be condemned by all Western countries. The Jehovah’s Witnesses ruling can become a symbol of violating the right to religious freedom," he noted.

Commenting on the religious organization’s plans to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the expert indicated that the court’s decision is unlikely to affect its fate. "I am sure that, if Jehovah’s Witnesses files a petition with the European court, it will make a decision in favor of the believers," he contended.

Lunkin recalled that Russia pays fines on the court’s ruling, but "there is no mechanism to review the cases in which the ECHR overturned the original verdicts. "That’s why, in my opinion, the ECHR decision and outrage by international institutions are unlikely to affect the organization’s fate in Russia," he emphasized.

When asked about the organization’s future activities, Lunkin noted that changing its name is impossible.

"Proceeding from hard-line ideology, no rebranding is possible. There will be no change of image or (the organization’s) name. After a ban practically all believers, and there are more than 100,000 of them, will turn themselves into members of illegal religious groups," he noted, adding that the Supreme Court’s decision was the largest ban on the activities of a religious movement since the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Court ruling

On Thursday, Russia’s Supreme Court declared Jehovah’s Witnesses to be an extremist organization and outlawed its activity throughout Russia, thereby upholding the Justice Ministry’s requests. The court ordered the immediate shutdown of all 395 local chapters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and transferred the organization’s assets into state custody.

Jehovah’s Witnesses said it would appeal the decision. The organization’s spokesman said if the appellate panel of Supreme Court judges upheld Thursday’s verdict, the case would be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

Jehovah’s Witnesses is an international religious organization that supports offbeat views on the essence of the Christian faith and provides special interpretations of many commonly accepted notions. In Russia, it had 21 local chapters but three of them were shut down for extremism.

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