Russian law enforcement officers have conducted numerous raids over the past few months, arresting dozens of members of the religious community in blatant violation of their rights to freedom of religion and association.
The authorities have carried out dozens of home searches, raids, interrogations, and other acts of harassment and persecution.
The authorities are holding 18 men in pretrial detention on charges of organizing, participating in, or financing the activities of an “extremist organization” solely for their religious activities. Several others are facing the same charges and are under house arrest or subject to travel restrictions. The charges carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Russian authorities should release those in detention immediately, drop the charges, and halt the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court issued a ruling that banned practice of the religion and declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center an extremist organization.
“The Jehovah’s Witnesses are simply peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Jehovah’s Witness faith is not an extremist organization, and authorities should stop this religious persecution of its worshipers now.”
Such persecution is not new for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, however. HRW notes that members of the faith community were arrested during the Soviet era and imprisoned in labor camps.
In the past decade, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been harassed, subjected to raids, and arrested throughout Russia.
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Russia for closing the Moscow branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and refusing to allow the group to re-register. The court found violations of articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect freedom of religion and association, respectively. In addition to awarding monetary damages, the court said that Russia should review the domestic decisions that led to the violations. Russia has refused to carry out the judgments in that case and several others brought by members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the contrary, Russia has continued to persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses, seeking the group’s complete dissolution in Russia.