Russian Supreme Court’s judicial chamber for civil cases upheld a decision to ban a southern Russian branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Supreme Court rejected an appeal against a previous court ruling of the Rostov regional court issued on September 11, 2009, which declares the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ branch in the southern Russian city of Taganrog an extremist organization and bans its activities.
Some 34 books, issued and handed out by the organization, were put on the national list of extremist literature.
The ruling “could set a precedent not only for Jehovah’s Witnesses, but for believers of all confessions,” the group said in a statement, issued on its website ahead of the hearing. “It would be the first time internationally recognized Christian literature was censored in Russia.”
A plot of land, an office building and other property belonging to the group were also seized.
A regional prosecutor told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that some publications, distributed by the cult‘s followers, “contain offensive comments,” including those that say that Christianity is a “false religion.”
She said that followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses also violate the rights of atheists with their “repeated attempts to enter private premises with the purpose of intrusive preaching”
“We are deeply disappointed with that decision,” Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman Yaroslav Sivulskiy told The Associated Press. “We are concerned that it may affect all our activities, including imports of our publications which are printed in Germany.”
He said that the group will appeal the Supreme Court’s verdict to the European Court for Human Rights, arguing that the Russian courts misinterpreted the law. The law on combating extremism that served as a basis for the verdict has been widely criticized by many rights groups, which said its loose phrasing allowed authorities to stifle dissent.
A 2004 ruling by the Moscow City Court prohibited Jehovah’s Witnesses branch in the Russian capital from engaging in religious activity in the Russian capital.
Sivulskiy said there are at least 160,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.
• Extensive background about this case, provided by Forum18.