Police have broken up a Moscow prayer meeting attended by about 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses and detained about 20 worshippers, a representative of the religious group told the Associated Press Thursday.
Vasily Kanin, a member of the small Russian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said police in 10 squad cars arrived Wednesday at a public hall which the group had rented over the past few months and forced the worshippers to end their service.
“They burst in at the height of the service, when the symbols were being passed,” Kanin said, referring to the bread and wine used to symbolize Jesus Christ’s body and blood.
About 20 Jehovah’s Witnesses were taken to a police precinct and questioned for between two and four hours before being released, he said.
Kanin said police told the worshippers they were enforcing a ban on the group. But Kanin said a recent court ruling had prohibited only a legal status for the denomination and the accompanying rights to hold bank accounts and property.
“They can’t ban simple meetings, the constitution gives that right to every person,” Kanin said.
Police could not immediately comment.
A June 2004 ruling by the Moscow City Court upheld a lower court decision earlier that year that prohibited Jehovah’s Witnesses from engaging in religious activity in the Russian capital. The ruling arose from a Russian law that allows courts to ban religious groups which are considered to be inciting hatred or intolerant behavior.
There are about 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow and 133,000 nationwide, according to the group.
Prosecutors claimed the group was destroying families and endangering followers’ health by forbidding medical procedures such as blood transfusions. They also said Jehovah’s Witnesses were violating privacy by distributing religious pamphlets on the street and by mail.
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