Jehovah's Witnesses banned in Russian Federation as court declares it 'extremist'

Church of Scientology Moscow

Russia's Supreme Court has ruled Jehovah's Witnesses is an "extremist" organisation after the justice ministry applied for an order to shut down the group's national headquarters near St Petersburg, Russian news agencies report.

Jehovah's Witnesses did not offer an immediate reaction to the ruling, but in a statement following the original declaration it said "extremism is profoundly alien to the Bible-based beliefs and morality" of members of the faith.

"The Supreme Court's ruling to shut down the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russian Federation is a bad blow to freedom of religion and association in Russian Federation", said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"The property of the Jehovah's Witnesses organisation is to be confiscated to the state revenue".

The ruling comes after a Moscow court warned Jehovah's Witnesses over its "extremist activities" in October 2016. Leaders of the group could face as many as 10 years in prison.

Jehovah's Witnesses will not be able to congregate for worship at their church or anywhere else.

Jehovah's Witnesses has a history of persecution, including in Nazi Germany.

"The treatment of the Jehovah's Witnesses reflects the Russian government's tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country's political stability", Thomas J. Reese, S.J., chairman of the USCIRF, said.

The Russian list of banned extremist organizations now contains 59 entries, a lot of them white supremacist organizations.

The Justice Ministry case followed an unannounced inspection, started in February 2017, of the Jehovah's Witnesses Administrative Center in St. Petersburg.

The religious organisation has over 175,000 members in Russian Federation.

In a Thursday ruling, the court upheld a government request to ban the group from operating on Russian territory.

In its lawsuit the Justice Ministry mentioned various violations, exposed by a snap check of the organizations activities, including those of the federal law on resistance to extremist activities.

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