Richard Clayton: "A shocking example of how a bad law is being used for an even worse purpose"European Union
"I have experience with Jehovah's Witnesses, and quite extensive. I know them as gentle people and very convinced in their views, but this does not distinguish them from many others.
To call extremism the idea that your religion is true and someone else's false, or to call it terrorism, is, frankly, absurd. I can't imagine that at least some country agreed with this. I fully share the conviction that the Russian government is behaving in this situation in an extreme way.
There is nothing in the case evidence that I have read, on which the charges against Jehovah's Witnesses are based, that would in any way support the accusations of extremism.
Recognizing Jehovah's Witnesses as extremists will do nothing to help Russia consolidate its reputation as a civilized country. Any decision against Jehovah's Witnesses will affect others. It will be a red flag for everyone - if you disagree with the Russian authorities, you are at risk. This is a direct signal: you need to do what you are told, you need to refrain from expressing your views and not have beliefs that are at odds with the state ideology. This application of the law forms an image of religious freedom in Russia as extremely negative: "You can believe in anything, as long as you believe in what I tell you."
In my opinion, this is a shocking example of how a bad law is being used for an even worse purpose.
Of course, Jehovah's Witnesses can appeal to the Strasbourg Court. This, of course, will take time and a lot. But such draconian, extraordinary measures, as well as the irreparable consequences of confiscation of property, should prompt the Strasbourg Court to maintain their status quo until the case is heard. Of course, it will be a very difficult time, and they will be persecuted even more than before.
Having worked with them, I find the idea that Jehovah's Witnesses are extremists or dangerous to society to be extremely strange. Perhaps someone is irritated by them. But irritation is not a reason to close them or deprive them of their rights.
Richard Clayton, Queen's Counsel, UK Representative to the Venice Commission.