Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday issued a ruling banning Jehovah’s Witnesses after the justice ministry called on it to dissolve the “extremist organisation”.
Supreme Court judge Yury Ivanenko said Russia had decided to close down “the administrative centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the local organisations in its fold and turn their property over to the Russian Federation.”
The decision comes after the ministry said it had found signs of “extremist activity” within the organisation and requested that it be banned. “They represent a threat to the rights of people, public order and public safety,” Russian news agencies quoted justice ministry representative Svetlana Borisova as saying.
The group, which has 395 centres across Russia, has vowed to appeal the decision. “I’m shocked,” Yaroslav Sivulsky, who represents the group’s administrative centre, told reporters. “I didn’t expect that this could be possible in modern Russia, where the constitution guarantees freedom of religious practice.”
Russia’s Jehovah Witnesses have had several run-ins with law enforcement in recent years. In January, the chairman of the group’s branch in the town of Dzerzhinsk was fined for having distributed material that authorities deem extremist, local media reported.
In 2004 Moscow dissolved a branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that the move had violated the rights of freedom of religion and association.