WASHINGTON — Following the Russian government’s request for its Supreme Court to effectively ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia from worshipping, claiming that they are members of an “extremist organization,” Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), and Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), issued the following statements:
“It is wrong to apply flawed counterterrorism laws to those who seek to practice their faith,” said Chairman Wicker. “The Russian government is exploiting genuine threats of violent extremism to undermine what little religious freedom remains in that country. This distracts from real efforts to fight terrorism. I urge the Russian government to drop the case immediately.”
“At stake in the upcoming court case is the legality and perhaps the survival of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – and in fact basic religious freedom – throughout the Russian Federation,” said Co-Chairman Smith. “If the Supreme Court of Russia declares this faith group an extremist organization, it is an ominous sign for all believers and it marks a dark, sad day for all Russians.”
“As a staunch supporter of religious liberty, I am appalled by the Russian government treating an entire religious group as a threat to national security,” said Commissioner Hudson. “Religious affiliation should never be a justification for persecution.”
On March 15, the Russian Ministry of Justice filed a formal court claim to label the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an extremist group and liquidate their national headquarters and 395 local chapters, known as “local religious organizations.” Should the Russian Supreme Court decide against the Administrative Center, 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia could face criminal prosecution for practicing their faith.
According to the Helsinki Final Act signed by all 57 participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – including Russia – “participating States will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.”