Massimo Introvigne: "The only connection between Jehovah's Witnesses and violence is that they are victims of violence"European Union
"I worked closely with Russia, which is an active member of the OSCE and which has done a lot in the interests of persecuted Christians around the world. Therefore, it seems to me somewhat paradoxical that the problems of religious freedom now exist within Russia itself. As I understand it, the law used against Jehovah's Witnesses is the law on countering extremism. And it is quite understandable that Russia is concerned about problems related to extremism because of its geopolitical position and the fight against terrorism. However, religious freedom is a fragile concept and the definition of extremism can easily be turned against groups that are not particularly popular, and it is usually a test of the quality of religious freedom in a country.
I have been studying Jehovah's Witnesses for 40 years, and it is especially important that they are a "peaceful community," to put it formally in the terminology of historians and sociologists. They are peaceful people who reject violence and have never used violence themselves. The only connection between Jehovah's Witnesses and violence is that they are victims of violence. The Nazi regime murdered more than 2,000 Jehovah's Witnesses. Here is a well-known fact that testifies to their peacefulness: when Jehovah's Witnesses were in concentration camps, they were the only prisoners whom the Nazis allowed to visit as barbers, because only they could be trusted with a dangerous razor, confident that they would not use the blade against Nazi guards. As can be seen, Jehovah's Witnesses are a supremely peaceful community.
And now, as far as I know, they are sometimes accused of extremism under Russian law, because their publications claim that they are the only true religion. But there are two observations in this regard. First, a certain emphatic style of writing is characteristic of religious literature in general. This can be found in the Holy Quran of Muslims, and in the Old Testament in the Bible. Second, Jehovah's Witnesses are not in favor of being treated better by states or governments than by members of any other religion.
Therefore, I believe that declaring Jehovah's Witnesses extremists is based on a misinterpretation of what is the typical literary style of their publications. Banning and discriminating against Jehovah's Witnesses in any way would be a mistake and a danger to the religious freedom of many other groups. This would tarnish the image of Russia, both as a government and as a country, which does a lot in an international forum, advocating for religious freedom for persecuted Christians in many countries of the world.
Dr. Massimo Introvigne, Founding Director of the International Centre for the Study of New Religions (Italy), has served as OSCE Commissioner for Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination since 2011.