As many as 315,000 Russians have signed a petition expressing “deep concern” over a court ruling to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow, and sent it to President Vladimir Putin. At least half of those who signed it were of ’traditional’ faith — there are 130,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, community spokesman Christian Presber told MosNews.
Two representatives from the community — including a lawyer — hauled the 72 volumes containing the signatures to the presidential administration building in the Kremlin Wednesday morning, just before 10 a.m.
Officials at the administration “were intimidated by the size of the volumes,” Presber told MosNews, and even expressed doubts until the lawyer present assured them that this was where the petition was to be filed.
“We consider this decision to be an attempt to persecute citizens for their religious beliefs,” the petition read.
“We would like to draw your attention to the fact that this ban lays the groundwork for infringing the rights of more than 136,000 Russian citizens practicing the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose fate cannot but concern their relatives, friends, neighbors.”
Prompting the petition was the Moscow Golovinsky Court’s ruling on March 26 liquidating the local registered Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses and banning the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. An appeals court upheld the decision in June.
“Ordinary people and religious experts alike fear that the vague criteria used as a basis to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses could be applied just as easily to any religion, including their own,” the religious community said in a press release.
Presber said that people who were not members of Jehovah’s Witnesses were glad to sign the petition because “they saw it as a thin edge of the wedge,” a danger to general religious freedom in Russia.