The Russian Supreme Court recently upheld a ban against the Jehovah’s Witnesses after the Russian Justice Ministry labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses an "extremist" group in April. It is the latest in a disturbing trend of persecution of religious minorities in Russia that includes the Church of Scientology.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert urged "Russian authorities to lift the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities in Russia, to reverse the closing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center, and to release any members of religious minorities that continue to be unjustly detained for so-called “extremist” activities."
"We further urge Russia to respect the right of all to exercise the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief," said Ms. Nauert.
The Jehovah's Witnesses was organized in the 1880s in the United States. There are more than 8.3 million Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide, including about 175,000 in Russia.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal committee responsible for making policy recommendations on international religious freedom to the president and Congress, also denounced the ban.
"The Supreme Court’s decision sadly reflects the government’s continued equating of peaceful religious freedom practice to extremism. The Witnesses are not an extremist group, and should be able to practice their faith openly and freely and without government repression," said Daniel Mark, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
This Commission has designated Russia as a "country of particular concern" for "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom."
All religious minorities in Russia should be able to enjoy freedom of religion and assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Russian constitution.