BRUSSELS, April 21. /TASS/. Followers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group should be allowed to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly in Russia, the European External Action Service said in a statement on Friday.
"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," the statement says.
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 called for the immediate shutdown of all 395 local chapters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and transferred the organization’s assets into state custody.
"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," it said.
The European Union "continues to promote freedom of religion or belief as a right to be exercised by everyone everywhere, based on the principles of equality, non-discrimination and universality," according to the statement. 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. The Supreme Court’s ruling has not taken effect yet. If the organization appeals it, the ruling will come into force as of the moment the appellate court pronounces its opinion or in 30 days’ time.
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.