Below are quotes from statements by Russian and foreign governmental, political, and public organizations condemning the repressions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation.
How Does the International Community Consider the Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia?
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We have heard the Russian delegation claim more than once at the Permanent Council that Jehovah’s Witnesses are, and will continue to be, able to practice their religion freely, and that freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed in the Russian Federation. However, we continue to see numerous reports about home raids, detentions, and criminal investigations concerning Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is in strong contrast with the claims by the Russian delegation. […] All people, including members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, must be able to peacefully enjoy their human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of association and peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, without discrimination, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, Russia's OSCE commitments and obligations under international law.
«The increasing number of searches, as well as use of simultaneous large-scale home raids, creates the impression of an organised campaign of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses. […] So-called 'evidence' used against those investigated and prosecuted includes regular aspects of communal religious life."
The United States and many others in this hall have spoken out and will continue to speak out concerning reports of unjust police raids, arbitrary arrests and detentions, convictions resulting in up to six-year sentences, and torture of Jehovah’s Witnesses by Russian authorities. In its public statement, the Voronezh Investigative Committee claims that some of the individuals detained used such “conspiracy measures” to conceal their activities as “storing reports and other documentation in electronic form, organizing groups and using video conferencing to conduct collective meetings. […] These justifications are both absurd and shameful.
“All people, including members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, must be able to peacefully enjoy their human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of association and peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, without discrimination. […] We therefore call on the Russian Federation to conduct prompt, effective and thorough investigations into all reports of such acts. […] Since the liquidation of all local religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, reportedly 869 houses have been searched, 26 individuals are in pre-trail detention, 23 under house arrest, 316 are charged and 29 already convicted. […] According to reports from the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, echoed also by Forum 18 and media articles, on 6 February 2020, in Orenburg, five individuals (Aleksey Budenchuk, Gennadiy German, Roman Gridasov, Feliks Makhammadiyev, and Aleksey Miretskiy) were beaten by prison officials of Penal Colony No. 1. All suffered severe injuries and one needed hospitalization. In addition, on 10 February 2020, Vadim Kutsenko was reported to be tortured before being taken into custody, as law enforcement officers repeatedly beat and choked him and applied electric shocks, while demanding information on other Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
“These events make us think about the existence of a conflict between constitutional freedom to practice one’s own religion individually or collectively with others and the signs of extremist activity specified in Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. [...] Vague criteria for classifying religious materials as extremist are unacceptable when virtually any federal judge may prohibit any book, image, video or audio recording at their own discretion.”
“I regret the decision of the court that dismissed the Christensen appeal. The situation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia is of concern to me. Freedom of religion and worldview is an important human right. Every state must respect it. Religious freedom is indivisible and valid for all religious communities.”
All people, including members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of religion or belief as well as freedom of assembly without discrimination, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation and Russia's international commitments, including Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. In light of this, we call upon the authorities to drop charges against and to release all those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of religion or belief, the freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
“Harsh sentence imposed on Christensen creates a dangerous precedent, and effectively criminalises the right to freedom of religion or belief, for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. […] We urge the Government of Russia to revise the Federal Law on Combating Extremist Activity with a view to clarifying the vague and open-ended definition of ‘extremist activity’, and ensuring that the definition requires an element of violence or hatred. We also call on the authorities to drop charges against and to release all those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of religion or belief, the freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
“Mr Christensen’s conviction and imprisonment for nothing more than peacefully practising his faith is an unacceptable violation of the right to freedom of religion. […] [Co-rapporteurs] expressed their hope that Mr Christensen’s conviction would be overturned without delay by the appeals court and called on the Russian authorities to release him pending an appeal.”
“Today, a Russian court in the city of Oryol sentenced Mr Dennis Christensen, a Danish citizen, to 6 years of imprisonment. Mr Christensen was arrested in 2017 when Federal Security Service agents raided a peaceful religious meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses in Oryol. He has been convicted on grounds of ‘organising extremist activity’, which amounts to exercising his right to freedom of religion as a Jehovah's Witness. A number of other criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses are also currently pending. No one should be imprisoned for peaceful acts of worship in the expression of their religious beliefs. The European Union expects Mr Christensen to be released immediately and unconditionally. Jehovah’s Witnesses, as with all other religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as by Russia's international commitments and international human rights standards.”
“We urge the Russian authorities to stop deprivations, interrogations and criminal investigations for peaceful religious activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We ask the international organizations and governments of the democratic states to call on the Russian government to end the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses. […] After Russia outlawed the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the number of acts of intolerance, violence and discrimination based on religion or belief are increasingly perpetrated towards the members of the community. The private property is armed searched, the meetings for worship are regularly interrupted by the OMON forces and FSB agents. The state carries censorship of the religious literature.”
“Regarding Jehovah's Witnesses. Perhaps we can and even should be much more liberal towards representatives of various religious sects, but we must not forget that our society is not exclusively composed of religious sects. Ninety percent of the citizens of the Russian Federation or so consider themselves Orthodox Christians. We have three more religions which are essentially traditional and receive help from the State. We should treat the representatives of all religions equally—this is true, but we should still take into account the country and the society in which we live. Of course this does not mean we should enlist representatives of religious communities in destructive or even terrorist organizations. Of course, this is sheer nonsense, we must thoroughly look into it, and I agree with you on this point. [...] Jehovah's Witnesses are also Christians, and I also fail to understand why they should be persecuted.”
“Mr. Christensen, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was arrested in Oryol, Russia, on May 25, 2017, following the raid of a prayer service in which he was participating. As of September 13, 2018, Mr. Christensen has appeared 38 times before Oryol’s District Court. He faces a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison. […] In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization. […] But these religious communities only seek to practice their beliefs peacefully and without fear. When they arrested Dennis, he was reading the Bible with fellow believers. The international community must uphold internationally recognized human rights and press for the release of… Dennis, and the many others imprisoned in Russia for their religious identity or activities.”
“In all cases, the accusations brought against believers are based on the assertion that a group of believers held a worship service. The accusations of citizens that they read the Bible together and pray to God are interpreted as “continuation of the activities of an extremist organization.” The Council considers that such an interpretation is not consistent with the legal position of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. There is a contradiction between the declared position of the Government of the Russian Federation and law enforcement practice. This cannot but cause concern, since criminal prosecutions and arrests have become systemic. The situation is associated with the Soviet period, when “Jehovah's Witnesses” were subjected to unreasonable repression on the basis of religion, as a result of which the Law of the Russian Federation of October 18, 1991, No. 1761-1, “On the rehabilitation of victims of political repression,” was extended to them.”
“What happens to them, in fact, happens to us. This is a test of the immune forces of society. The persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses highlights the failure of anti-extremist legislation in general. If the society fails to protect Jehovah's Witnesses, if they are not restored in their rights, this will mean that everyone can be declared an extremist. […] An experience of a person who found answers with Jehovah's Witnesses to his questions that the Catholic priest could not resolve, was declared by the courts as propaganda of religious superiority—that is all extremism. Such “extremism,” and much more brutal, can be found in theological, liturgical, and other texts of most faiths. If you take on religious scriptures with the same measure, you will have to ban all religions.”
“The Russian government claimed that although it was liquidating the legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses, individual Witnesses would be free to practice their faith. However, the government's claim is inconsistent with its actions. Over the past year, authorities have launched nine criminal investigations and five Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently in detention.”
“The acts of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation [dated April 20, 2017, and July 17, 2017] do not provide an assessment of the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses and do not contain a restriction or a ban on the practice of the above teachings individually.”
“The State party is also requested to do away with the Federal List of Extremist Materials.”
“The Russian Supreme Court on 17 July upheld its previous decision to liquidate all legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, terminate their activity and confiscate their property, alleging "extremist activity". The decision confirms the ban on the peaceful worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country. This ban has already resulted in cases of criminal prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as police raids on their prayer halls. It has contributed to an atmosphere of hatred and stigmatization, which has led to arson attacks and other forms of harassment. Jehovah’s Witnesses, like all other members of religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as by Russia's international commitments to international human rights standards through its membership of the OSCE and the Council of Europe.”
“I am very concerned by the fact that the court ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has been upheld. Despite our appeals on a number of levels, this move makes the peaceful enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and thought a criminal offence.”
“The Russian Supreme Court’s decision this week against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the latest in a disturbing trend of persecution of religious minorities in Russia. We urge the Russian authorities to lift the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities in Russia, to reverse the closing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center, and to release any members of religious minorities that continue to be unjustly detained for so-called “extremist” activities. We further urge Russia to respect the right of all to exercise the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.”
“We are deeply concerned by the decision of Russia’s Supreme Court to reject the appeal of the Jehovah’s Witnesses against their labelling as “extremists”. This ruling confirms the criminalisation of the peaceful worship of 175,000 Russian citizens and contravenes the right to religious freedom that is enshrined in the Russian Constitution.”
“Jehovah’s Witnesses, like all other religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as by Russia's international commitments and international human rights standards.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision sadly reflects the government’s continued equating of peaceful religious freedom practice to extremism. The Witnesses are not an extremist group, and should be able to practice their faith openly and freely and without government repression.”
“I asked Mr. President to exert his influence in order to ensure the preservation of minority rights. This also applies to Jehovah's Witnesses.”
“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. 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.”
“The recent decision of the Supreme Court to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in the Russian Federation an extremist organisation, and to close it down, together with the 395 Local Religious Organisations used by Witnesses, raises serious concerns regarding freedom of religion in Russia and is another example of the legislation against extremism being abused to curtail freedom of expression and assembly” said the co-rapporteurs. They noted that, as a result of these developments, Jehovah’s Witnesses can now be prosecuted for “extremist activity” merely for attending religious services and practising their faith.”
“Russia's failure to respect religious freedom is yet another inexcusable violation of Moscow's OSCE commitments. People who practice their faith peacefully should never be in danger of being harassed, fined, or jailed. The court order to seize organization property owned by Jehovah's Witnesses adds insult to injury. I am hopeful that this case will be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.”
“Yesterday's decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to ban the activities of the Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia on grounds of "extremism" could make it possible to launch criminal prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses for mere acts of worship. Jehovah’s Witnesses, like all other religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation as well as by Russia's international commitments and international human rights standards.”
“I am alarmed by the decision of Russia’s Supreme Court to recognise the Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘extremists’. This ruling effectively criminalizes the peaceful worship of 175,000 Russian citizens and contravenes the right to religious freedom which is enshrined in the Russian Constitution. The UK calls on the Russian government to uphold its international commitment to this basic freedom.”