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Religious intolerance & oppression in Russia

Oppression of Jehovah's
Witnesses, Pentecostals & Jesuits.

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Russia's "On Freedom of Conscious and On Religious Associations" law is being used to oppress various faith groups in the country: The government uses a provision of the law that allows the courts to terminate any organization that incites hatred or intolerant behavior. A disbanded group would no longer have the right to publicly express their beliefs, hold religious services, rent property, or distribute information.

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Oppression of the Jehovah's Witnesses:

bullet 1998: The Committee for the Rescue of Youth brought a case against the Jehovah's Witnesses, who had been in Russia for over a century. Charges include that the faith group:
bullet Destroys families;
bullet Promotes discord;
bullet Is a threat to society; (This is partly based on their refusal to observe national holidays)
bullet Fosters hatred;
bullet Drives their membership to insanity and suicide; and 
bullet Endangers members' lives with their policy prohibiting blood transfusions

Defense lawyers cited the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which guarantee religious freedom.

The trial opened in 1998-SEP, but was delayed until 1999-FEB-9 because the prosecutors had not completed their preparation. The prosecutor said that Russian minds were not prepared for Jehovah's Witness literature. Spokesperson Judah Schroeder commented: "Who is to decide what Russian minds are allowed to read?" The court ruled in their favor on 1999-MAY-6. The group now have official status. If they had lost, the Witnesses had planned to appeal their case to the European Court.

bullet 2004: After a six-year trial, the government was successful in banning activities by the Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow. This was the first successful prosecution under the 1997 law. More details.
bullet 2009: In early 2009, government oppression of the Jehovah's Witnesses was ramped up once more. Forum 18 reported:
"In the space of just three weeks, Jehovah's Witness communities across Russia have undergone 500 state check-ups. 'That's a conservative estimate -- we're definitely talking the whole country,' Yaroslav Sivulsky remarked to Forum 18 News Service from the Jehovah's Witnesses' St Petersburg headquarters on 10 March. 'Our telephones here are red hot from people calling to report incidents and ask why it's happening'."

"The nationwide sweep, ordered by First Assistant General Public Prosecutor Aleksandr Bastrykin, is linked to an investigation into the Jehovah's Witnesses' St Petersburg headquarters, the Moscow Regional Public Prosecutor's Office explains in its order for check-ups sent to district subdivisions on 13 February."

"Having failed to find grounds for prosecution since the St Petersburg investigation began in 2004, the authorities are now 'trawling' for information to shut down the Jehovah's Witnesses' Russian headquarters and over 400 dependent organisations, Sivulsky believes: 'Nothing else makes sense'."

"Jehovah's Witnesses' 'missionary activity, social isolation, refusal to perform military service, accept blood transfusions and other religiously motivated restrictions required of members of this organisation provoke a negative attitude towards its activity from the population and traditional Russian confessions,' the Moscow Regional Public Prosecutor's Office order notes. ..."

"On 25 February North Ossetia Public Prosecutor's Office filed suit with the local Supreme Court for the liquidation of the republic's four Jehovah's Witness organisations in Alagir, Beslan, Mozdok and Vladikavkaz."

"As well as distribution of allegedly extremist religious literature, the suit cites a number of grounds for the organisations' closure, including Jehovah's Witnesses' allegedly anti-constitutional refusal of blood transfusions and religious activity outside the geographical location where they are registered. It also notes that four Vladikavkaz Jehovah's Witnesses have refused to perform alternative military service - in one case resulting in a Soviet District Court sentence of 180 hours' forced labour - and that the husband of a member of the Beslan organisation has filed for divorce because she is a Jehovah's Witness." 1

bullet 2010: Regional governments are issuing extremist warnings to Jehovah's Witnesses communities. Forum 18 reports:
"Even though 34 Jehovah's Witness publications described as extremist have not yet been added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials, public prosecutors in disparate Russian regions have already begun issuing extremism warnings to Jehovah's Witness communities, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In what is believed to be the first such instance in post-Soviet Russia of extended detention in connection with preaching, two Jehovah's Witnesses informally accused of distributing extremist literature in Bryansk Region were released on appeal yesterday evening (14 January), six days into a ten-day sentence for 'petty hooliganism'. Pointing to the general shutdown during Russia's lengthy recent holiday period, Grigory Martynov of the Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 13 January that it is too early for a comprehensive assessment of the situation, however: 'We are waiting to see what the New Year will bring'."

"The 34 Jehovah's Witness titles - published in Germany and the USA and widely distributed internationally - were described as extremist in a decision of Russia's Supreme Court on 8 December. Under the Extremism Law, mass distribution, preparation or storage with the aim of mass distribution of the titles could now result in a four-year prison term. The Supreme Court also upheld, as part of the ruling, the liquidation of the Taganrog Jehovah's Witness congregation as extremist. Shortly after the decision, a Court secretary insisted to Forum 18 that Jehovah's Witnesses expound extremist views in Russia. Asked if they had killed anyone, for example, she replied: 'To a certain extent, yes'." 4

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Oppression of a Pentecostal Church:

bullet 1999: Officials in the city of Magadan in the far east of Russia are attempting to disband the Word of Life Church. Pastor Nickolay Voskoboynikov commented "This persecution is no different from those which were done under the communist regime." The city's first move was to have the church declared illegal under the 1997 law. This failed when it was shown that the church was a member of the Pentecostal Union, a government approved body. The police then resorted to terrorist tactics by raiding the church and the homes of its leaders. The pastor, assistant pastor and bookkeeper were rounded up in the middle of the night and taken in for questioning. Local media outlets appear to have been influenced by the anti-cult movement. They are accusing the church of hypnotizing believers and generating mental illness. Some members have received threats from their employers. 2

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Oppression of the Jesuits:

bullet 1999: Russia has refused to register the Society of Jesus, "one of the Catholic Church's most prestigious orders of priests." Ecumenical News International reported on 1999-MAY-3 that the Jesuits appealed the decision, and are partly basing their appeal on a letter written in 1800 CE by Tsar Paul 1. 3

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Geraldine Fagan, "RUSSIA: Nationwide strike at Jehovah's Witnesses," F18 Forum, 2009-MAR-13, at:
  2. "Russia harasses, threatens Christians," Religion Today, 1999-JAN-14, at:
  3. Ecumenical News International news highlights for 1999-MAY-3.
  4. Geraldine Fagan,, "Supreme Court ban on Jehovah's Witnesses begins to bite," Forum 18 News Service, 2010-JAN-15, at:

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Copyright 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAR-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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