Russia’s Supreme Court has banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses and classified it as an ‘extremist organization’.
Authorities in the country have also listed several of the group’s publications as banned extremist literature saying the Jehovah’s Witnesses are an organization that destroys families, fosters hatred and threatens lives.
Delivering the verdict on Thursday, Judge Yury Ivanenko ruled that all branches of the religious group in Russia will be disbanded. He also ordered the organization to hand over all its properties to the state.
The extremist organization label came as a result of the group’s pacifism and rejection of blood transfusions. Russia has been very outspoken about it and repeatedly warned the group that it’s belief was against the country’s anti-extremism legislation.
Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a lawasuit to a lower court last year which notified the organization of a looming ban if it continued engaging in what it considered extremist activity. The Justice Ministry provided leaflets promoting information which posed a threat to health as evidence during the hearings. More than 90 printed booklets of the organization were found to contain extremist materials.
Svetlana Borisova, the ministry’s representative argued that the organization’s beliefs can potentially endanger the life of a child, citing a recent case.
The organization have, however, denied the extremism charges, stating that the extremism in question was found in Biblical quotes. They also alleged that some of the illegal materials were fake evidence planted in their offices.
The group has announced that it will contest the ruling in the appellate division of the Russian Supreme Court. They have also said they are prepared to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
A spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, Yaroslav Sivulsky, told Reuters:
“We are greatly disappointed by this development and deeply concerned about how this will affect our religious activity.”
The organizations website have also commented on the nationwide ban by Russia saying it could lead “to grim consequences to the adherents of different denominations as well as for Russia’s international image.”
If the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the group is upheld by it’s appellate division, Jehovah’s Witnesses may face from two up to six years in jail if they continue operating in Russia.