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UN experts voice concern over possible ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

April 04, 22:33 UTC+3 GENEVA

Rapporteurs of the UN on human rights called the lawsuit "a threat not only to Jehovah’s Witnesses but to individual freedom in general in the Russian Federation"

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Russian administrative centre of Jehovah's Witnesses

Russian administrative centre of Jehovah's Witnesses

© Alexander Demianchuk/TASS

GENEVA, April 4. /TASS/. A total of three rapporteurs of the UN on human rights have said the moves taken by the Russian authorities to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in Russia an extremist organization are "extremely worrying", said a report the UN in Geneva released on Tuesday.

They expressed condemnation of a lawsuit, which the Ministry of Justice filed with the Supreme Court of Russia on March 15 "to declare the center extremist, to liquidate it and to ban its activities."

"The lawsuit is a threat not only to Jehovah’s Witnesses but to individual freedom in general in the Russian Federation," wrote David Kaye of the U.S., the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Maina Kiai of Kenya, the Special Rapporteur on freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, and Ahmen Shaheed of the Maldives, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

"The use of counter-extremism legislation in this way to confine freedom of opinion, including religious belief, expression and association to that which is state-approved is unlawful and dangerous," the three experts claimed, adding that it signaled "a dark future foo all religious freedoms in Russia."

"We urge the authorities to drop the lawsuit in compliance with their obligations under international human rights law, and to revise the counter-extremism legislation and its implementation to avoid fundamental human rights abuses," the rapporteurs said.

Russia’s Supreme Court is expected to hear the Justice Ministry’s lawsuit on recognizing the extremist character of operations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in Russia for the purpose of its further disbanding and the prohibition of its activities in Russia.

The ministry said in its lawsuit an off-schedule inspection had exposed a range of violations in the routine activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including encroachments on the law on counteraction to extremism.

On October 12, 2016, Tverskoy district court in Moscow issued a warning to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in connection with the showings of extremism there. Under Russian law, a religious association or organization is subject to disbanding if it does not eliminate the specified manifestations of extremism before the required deadline or displays new ones.

On January 16, 2017, Moscow City court passed a resolution that reaffirmed validity of the warning for extremist activities.

The 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 organizations but three of them were eliminated for extremism.

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