RUSSIA: Jehovah’s Witnesses mobilize global response to threat of ban in Russia

JW.ORG (21.03.2017) – – Threatened with an imminent ban on their worship in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are responding with a direct appeal to Kremlin and Supreme Court officials for relief through a global letter-writing campaign. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is inviting the over 8,000,000 Witnesses worldwide to participate.

On March 15, 2017, Russia’s Ministry of Justice filed a claim with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to label the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia as extremist and liquidate it. The claim also seeks to ban the activities of the Administrative Center. If the Supreme Court upholds this claim, the Witnesses’ national headquarters near St. Petersburg will be shut down. Subsequently, some 400 registered Local Religious Organizations would be liquidated, outlawing the services of over 2,300 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The branch property, as well as places of worship used by Witnesses throughout the country, could be seized by the State. Additionally, individual Jehovah’s Witnesses would become subject to criminal prosecution for merely carrying out their worship activities. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the claim on April 5.

“The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses wants to heighten attention to this critical situation,” states David A. Semonian, a spokesman at the Witnesses’ world headquarters. “Prosecuting non-violent, law-abiding citizens as if they were terrorists is clearly a misapplication of anti-extremist laws. Such prosecution is based on completely false grounds.”

The Witnesses’ global campaign is not without precedent. Nearly 20 years ago, Witnesses wrote to defend their fellow worshippers in Russia in response to a smear campaign by some members of the government in power at the time. Additionally, Witnesses have initiated past letter-writing campaigns to motivate government officials to end persecution of Witnesses in other countries, including Jordan, Korea, and Malawi.

“Reading the Bible, singing, and praying with fellow worshippers is clearly not criminal,” adds Mr. Semonian. “We hope that our global letter-writing campaign will motivate Russian officials to stop this unjustifiable action against our fellow worshippers.”


Instructions for Letter-Writing Campaign


In order to participate in the letter-writing campaign, please use the link below to download the instructions and mailing addresses.


Download instructions.

Comments of HRWF


Jehovah’s Witnesses are not engaged politically and do not pose any security threat to society. They obey the law of the land and respect authorities. At the same time, like most religious traditions there are limits to that obedience. Jehovah’s Witnesses will practice civil disobedience when laws conflict with their conscience. This has resulted in harassment, fines and imprisonment in some countries.


Jehovah’s Witnesses are against the use of violence. They have always refused to bear arms and to carry out military service. When the law does not provide for an alternative civilian service, they are usually sentenced to a prison term. This is still the case in Azerbaijan, Eritrea, Singapore, South Korea and Turkmenistan.


Whatever one might think of the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the practice of their faith is clearly in accordance with international law and standards of human rights.


HRWF calls on

  • the Russian Federation not to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • the readers of this newsletter to press the Russian authorities not to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses by writing to the embassy of Russia in Brussels ( or to the following institutions:


* President of Russia
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
23 Ilyinka Str., Moscow 103132, RUSSIAN FEDERATION

* Minister of Justice
Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov
Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation 14 Zhitnaya, Moscow GSP-1, 119991

* Minister of Foreign Affairs
Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
32/34 Smolenskaya-Sennaya Square, Moscow 119200, RUSSIAN FEDERATION

* Chairman of the Supreme Court
Viacheslav Mikhailovich Lebedev
Supreme Court of the Russian Federation
15 Povarskaya Str. Moscow 121069, RUSSIAN FEDERATION

For more information about the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their difficulties in some countries, see HRWF 2015 Annual Report on Freedom of Religion or Belief,“Religious Minorities under State Oppression” :


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RUSSIA: Interview: Jehovah’s Witnesses’ response to liquidation threat

“We would have laughed if it were not sad for us” — Representative of Jehovah’s Witnesses about conflict with Justice Ministry



Kommersant (17.03.2017) – – Today it became known that the Russian Ministry of Justice sent a lawsuit to the Supreme Court with a request to find the leading Russian organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to be extremist. The ministry thinks that this religious organization violated legislation on combating extremist activity. An employee of the press service of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, Ivan Belenko, described for Kommersant what, in his view, served as the basis for the lawsuit, appeals to the European Court for Human Rights, and also further plans of the center.

What do you see as the reason for the Ministry of Justice’s lawsuit?

The issue is that a year ago, on 2 March 2016, our organization received a warning from the office of prosecutor general. And we, of course, knew that the warning about the impermissibility of extremist activity could be fraught with serious consequences, right up to a lawsuit.

What is perceived as extremist activity?

It is possible to say that the entire mass of accusations of extremist activity advanced against believers comes down to a single fact: the entry of several publications of a religious nature of Jehovah’s Witnesses into the Federal List of Extremism Materials of the justice ministry. When we read the decisions of courts and expert analyses, on which they are based, it evokes a sad smile, because they are self-proclaimed experts who find extremism God knows where. Right up to the fact that extremism is discovered in the words of Leo Nikolaevich Tolstory, and these words were quoted in one of our magazines, and in the statements of the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno.

Further, these materials, the very fact of their presence in Russia—in most cases they were planted in our houses of worship. We have quite entertaining, fascinating recordings from surveillance cameras where, imagine people in masks and body armor breaking into our house of worship, removing from under the body armor, from the chest, publications and shoving them into a shelf. Can you imagine that?

It’s hard. What followed?

These incidents were recorded and on this basis local magistrate judges, and here the issues is a fine of 10 to 15 thousand rubles, say that they have no basis not to trust the personnel of law enforcement agencies. They fine a local religious organization—one of 400 in Russia—and then issue a warning. A second such incident—and the organization will be liquidated. At the present time eight local religious organizations have been liquidated. And on this basis the prosecutor general also issued a warning to us. They say: “Your local organizations have been found to be extremist, and that means you also are an extremist organization.” They warned us that if in the course of 12 months something similar is repeated, a lawsuit for liquidation of the organization may be filed.

Were there such incidents?

In one year there were 46 incidents of the planting of extremist materialism in our houses of worship throughout Russia. And the prosecutor general’s office thought that this is a basis. And in March 2017 the Ministry of Justice, at the behest of the prosecutor general’s office, launched an unscheduled large-scale inspection of our administrative center.

When did you learn about the justice ministry’s lawsuit?

We still have not received documents from the Ministry of Justice. We learned about it from news media and then confirmed the information on the website of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile the law requires a plaintiff who has a governmental function to first inform the defendant about the lawsuit being prepared and only after that to submit materials to a court. On this basis just yesterday the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, that is we, filed in the Russian Supreme Court a petition requesting to defer consideration of the lawsuit because of noncompliance with these rules, since here is a violation of the principle of adversarialism and equality of the parties in a judicial proceeding. That is, the court is already working hard on this case and we have not even seen what we are accused of. After all, we still need time in order to prepare. Because of this we think that such actions are mistaken.

In connection with what has happened there is an interesting circumstance. The issue is that we have appealed all cases that preceded this large lawsuit to the end, as far as the European Court for Human Rights. And what do you think? The European Court for Human Rights communicated our appeals, that is, it found them acceptable and united them into one proceeding and sent questions to the Russian government about what has happened to freedom of religious confession. The Russian government has already sent to the ECHR its own official explanations in which, as far as I recall, it seems that there are no open calls for violence and incitement of hostility in materials of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And, I remind you, the Russian constitution guarantees to everybody freedom to hold any convictions. But the Russian anti-extremism legislation is sufficiently vague that a claim about the truth of one’s own religion, and indeed even if not expressed explicitly, but somehow indirectly, it would seem is interpreted by expert linguists, gifted and highly educated people, as propaganda of one’s exclusiveness, and that means, extremism. This is funny. And we would laugh if what comes from it were not so sad for us.

What actions do you intend to take in response to the lawsuit in the Supreme Court?

If this case is not deferred for consideration, then of course we will try to defend ourselves. We have already formulated, even before this lawsuit became known, our official objections to the document of that inspection that was conducted by the Ministry of Justice in March and the results of which, apparently, lie at the basis of this lawsuit. Of course, we will object to the lawsuit and we will insist that we are infinitely far from extremism and to accuse us of this is completely untrue, incorrect, and mistaken. We will insist that the plaintiff’s demands of the Ministry of Justice be rejected.

Interview conducted by Valeria Mishina.

(tr. by PDS, posted 19 March 2017)


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RUSSIA: Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in St Petersburg on the way to liquidation by the authorities

HRWF (15.02.2017) – On 16 January 2017, the Moscow City Court rejected the appeal filed by the Jehovah’s Witness Administrative Center, St Petersburg against the Prosecutor General’s liquidation warning. On 8 February 2017, an application was filed with the European Court of Human Rights challenging the Prosecutor General’s liquidation warning.

In the meantime, on 2 February 2017 the Administrative Center received notice from the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation that it would conduct an “unplanned inspection” on the Administrative Center. The Ministry of Justice had ordered the Administrative Center to turn over thousands of pages of documents as part of its “inspection”, including a listing of all of its property, bank accounts, organizations that are part of the “structure” of the Administrative Center, and all donations received by the Administrative Center.

That inspection was scheduled to begin on 8 February 2017. However, due to the thousands of documents requested, the Ministry of Justice deferred production of those documents until 15 February 2017.

The Order of the “unplanned inspection” states that it is being conducted based on the 27 January 2017 Order of Deputy Prosecutor General V. Ya. Grin (who also issued the liquidation warning for extremism).

They were refused permission to make a copy of the Prosecutor General’s 27 January 2017 Order, although a lawyer representing the Administrative Center was permitted to read it. In essence, that Order alleged that despite the 2 March 2016 liquidation warning (which, as the Order noted, is now in force), ‘structural subdivisions’ of the Administrative Center engaged in so-called ‘extremist activity.’ In support of this assertion, the Prosecutor General has referred to trial decisions over the past months during which local religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were liquidated or convicted under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Violations. All those cases were fabricated by the planting of literature on the Federal List of Extremist Materials in places of worship, or by means of statements of false witnesses.

The “unplanned inspection” is scheduled to last from 8 February to 27 February 2017.

(*) The exact location of the offices of the Administrative Center is the village of Solnechnoye, a suburb of St. Petersburg located some 40 kilometers from the city.


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