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OSCE concerned over Russia’s declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses extremist organization

On April 20, Russia’s Supreme Court outlawed Jehovah’s Witnesses activity throughout Russia
Russian administrative centre of Jehovah's Witnesses  Alexander Demianchuk/TASS
Russian administrative centre of Jehovah's Witnesses
© Alexander Demianchuk/TASS

WARSAW, April 25. /TASS/. Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Professor Ingeborg Gabriel, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, on Tuesday voiced concern over the decision of Russia’s Supreme Court to recognize the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group and its communities as extremist.

"I’m deeply concerned by this unwarranted criminalization of the peaceful activities of members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses communities in Russia, eliminating this community as a viable entity in the country," Link said. "This Supreme Court decision poses a threat to the values and principles that democratic, free, open, pluralistic and tolerant societies rest upon."

"This ban persecuting peaceful persons for mere acts of worship clearly violates the fundamental right to religious freedom and with it international human rights standards as also guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. It therefore needs to be revised as soon as possible," Gabriel said.

ODIHR said in a statement it is concerned over reports from civil society organizations, which claim that police stopped Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious services, detained worshipers and seized Bibles during worship services.

"I urge the Russian authorities to ensure that rights to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association of individuals belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses community are upheld, in compliance with the obligations of the country under international human rights law and OSCE commitments," Link stressed.

On April 20, 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 declared 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.