Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Russian supreme court bans Jehovah's Witnesses and orders seizure of group's property!

Russian courtroom April 2017: Photograph - Ivan Sekretarev /AP

The Russian supreme court has banned the religious group the Jehovah's Witnesses from operating in Russia by ordering the closure of its HQ and 395 local chapters. The order also calls for the seizure of the group's property including its religious literature.

The ban came after the justice ministry denounced the Jehovah's Witnesses as an extremist group. Svetlana Borisova, an attorney for the justice ministry, told the court that the Jehovah's Witnesses, "pose a threat to the rights of citizens, public order and public security." She also added that the group's opposition to blood transfusions violated Russian healthcare.

The Witnesses believe that the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church lies behind their persecution by the Russian authorities. The organisation claims to have around 170,000 adherents throughout Russia and they have said, that they will appeal against the ruling of the supreme court. If the ruling takes effect, Witnesses could face criminal prosecutions including fines and imprisonment.

Andrew Brown, a Guardian journalist, has pointed out that the persecution of the Jehovah's Witnesses by the Russian authorities, has been going on since at least 2004. Using anti-terror legislation, the Witnesses, a virulently pacifist and non-violent group, have been treated as though they were a group of violent religious fundamentalists who plant bombs and sever heads. Their meeting places, kingdom Halls, have been raided and their members threatened with imprisonment for refusing military service. Unlike many Christians, the Witnesses adhere to the 6th Commandment - "thou shalt not kill" and this adherence to non-violence, has made them one of the most persecuted Christian sects of the 20th century.

Under Hitler, Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany, were incarcerated in the Nazi death camps and were executed for refusing to serve in the military. They refused to swear loyalty to Hitler or any worldly government. As they wouldn't say "Heil Hitler", the Gestapo ransacked their meetings, made them wear a purple triangle and took their children off them, so they could receive "a proper patriotic German education." In 1942, Wolfgang Kusserow, a German Jehovah's Witness, was beheaded in Brandenburg prison by the Nazis for refusing to fight - "You must not kill", he said at his trial. "Did our creator have all this written down for the trees?" By the end of the war, half of all witnesses in Germany were in concentration camps and a quarter of them had died. They were also imprisoned in both Britain and the U.S.

Earlier this year, the Russian police stormed a meeting of Witnesses in the small town of 'Birobidzhan' in Siberia. They later claimed to have discovered 'extremists' literature. However, eyewitnesses who were present at the meeting, say the police were seen planiting the literature under a chair. The authorities then ordered that the building be closed. Other congregations in Belgorod, Stary Oskol and Elista, have also been closed down.and the organization has been told to disclose information on all of its 2,277 Russian congregations.

In April 1951, Joe Stalin exiled more than 9,000 Jehovah's Witnesses to Birobidzhan, a mosquito infested swampland in Siberia. They were only allowed to take 150kg of possession with them and everthying else, was confiscated by the Russian state.

Religious persecution is not something that is new in Russia. Baptists, Catholics, Proteststant, Dukhobors (spirit wrestlers') and even members of the Russian Orthodox Church, have all been persecuted at one time or another. However, the latest crackdown on the Jehovah's Witnesses, is seen by some as evidence of the resurgent power of the Orthodox Church and the increasing authoritarianism, of the kleptocratic, mafia-style Putin regime, which is seen to be behind the murders of many of the regimes political opponents, including Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium 210 in London in November 2006.

Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale and author of 'On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century', notes how many European nationalists are eager to overturn the widespread view of the 1930's as a period of shame. In particular, he refers to Vladimir Putin's, rehabilitation of the philosopher of Russian fascism, 'Ivan Ilyin', who was influential eighty-years ago. Although he spent the 1930's exiled from the Soviet Union and was buried in Switzerland, Putin had him dug up, and his remains moved to Russia, where he layed flowers on his grave. In his speeches, Putin frequently quotes the Russian nationalist and fascist.

Russia prosecutors claim that the Jehovah's Witnesses destroy families, foster hatred and threaten lives, which is entirely refuted by the Witnesses themselves. Human Rights Watch, has denounced the supreme court decision as an impediment to religious freedom and association in Russia.

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