Jehovah's Witnesses blame close relationship of church with state for their troubles


Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, 7 April 2016

Russian authorities are prepared for an unprecedented step: they are threatening to close the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.


On 2 March 2016 the office of the prosecutor general issued an official warning to the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. According to this document, "the religious association is subject to liquidation" in the event that "within the established [two-month] period they do not remove violations being committed," which the Russian authorities assume to be fabricated charges of extremism. Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, says: "Closing of the center may lead to the confiscation of all of our property and in the end lead to the prohibition of the religious activity of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout Russia."


Paradoxically, these events are occurring on the anniversary of the first official registration of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia: 25 years ago, on 27 March 1991, the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia was registered, and on 29 April 1999 it was reregistered. The threat to close the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, located in the village of Solnechnoe, approximately 40 kilometers to the northwest of St. Petersburg, is one of the latest of aggressive actions by representatives of the government against Jehovah's Witnesses. In the past year, Russian authorities prohibited the importing of Jehovah's Witnesses' religious literature, as well as Bibles in the Russian language. In addition, Russia became the only country in the world to have prohibited the official website of Jehovah's Witnesses, "Laws on extremism are being illegally applied against the religious activity of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia," says Yaroslav Sivulsky. "Jehovah's Witnesses are challenging such judicial decisions. We want to have the possibility to worship God and to engage peacefully in biblical educational activity, that we have conducted in Russia over the course of 125 years now."


Russian authorities display ever greater hostility with regard to Jehovah's Witnesses mainly because of the close relations connecting the state with the Russian Orthodox Church. According to reports of international news media, particularly the New York Times newspaper, this "close union of authorities with the Russian Orthodox Church" provokes aggressive actions and the creation of laws aimed against Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious minorities in Russia. According to the news agency Associated Press, "the actions of the authorities against Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia evoke alarm in the defenders of religious liberty." According to a report of the news agency Reuters, these actions are directed "against Jehovah's Witnesses and others, who have fallen into the widely extended network of criminal prosecutions as the result of the application of a Russian anti-extremism law." In December 2015 the newspaper Independent wrote that the goal of this law was "prevention of terrorism and violence on the basis of nationalism." However, as was said on 20 March 2016 on the Internet publication Huffington Post, this law is used "for persecution of such peaceful religions" as Jehovah's Witnesses. Jehovah's Witnesses seek legal help both in Russian courts and in the European Court for Human Rights, but, as reported on 25 March 2016 in the newspaper Moscow Times, Russia has adopted a new law, "giving Russian courts the right to reject decisions made by international courts."


The goal of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia is the organization and support of free biblical education of Russian citizens. Also, experienced ministers of the center coordinate help for victims of natural disasters. At the present time in Russia, with a population of more than 146 million people, there are more than 175,000 Jehovah's Witnesses.


David Simonian, a representative of Jehovah's Witnesses in the world headquarters in New York, says: "We are extremely disappointed that the authorities are threatening to close our affiliate in Russia. Jehovah's Witnesses and many others throughout the world have a lively interest in how events will develop in the future." (tr. by PDS, posted 24 April 2016)

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