A Christian based movement – Jehovah’s witnesses believe in the literal translation of the bible. Despite Russia being made up of most people who follow the Christian faith and furthermore, the very same bible – in 2017 Russia's Supreme Court heard a government request to outlaw the Jehovah's Witnesses and declare it an extremist organisation.

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In a bid to become a more tolerant society and fair to its people, the Russian state in ’97 allowed the registration of religion excluding the already recognised Abrahamic faiths - as long as they existed before 1982. However, it was only two decades later the Russian state went back on the laws they placed, by criminalising all the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses by declaring that it was not an “extremist religion”. On the 20th April 2017, a decision was made to ban all worship by Jehovah's witnesses, effective immediately. This meant that the authorities could carry out home searches, raids, interrogation, seize property and harassment of Jehovah's witnesses as any connection to their beliefs meant they were in breach of the 2017 ruling.

To date, 25 people have been arrested. Others are subject to house arrest or subject to travel restrictions. If found guilty, this carries a maximum 10-year sentence. Those that have been charged with the offence of practising their beliefs, peacefully or not - are held in prison until trial and sentence, without any idea of how long the process pre-trial will take. It seems completely incomprehensible that in the 21st Century a government can ban a whole section of society, 175,000 people in Russia to be specific, from practising their religion.

Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses attempted to appeal the decision to criminalise their faith and were quickly rejected. Now a complaint has been lodged by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to draw attention to the fact that these arrests have been made constitute unlawful interference of their right to freedom of religion. Russia is a member of the ECHR and the ECHR have an obligation to protect the freedom to practise religion. In practical terms, however, this application may lack any real prospect of help for the Jehovah's Witness. Only eight years ago the ECHR found Russia to be in violation of the European Convention against their actions to dissolve Jehovah’s Witness communities - despite this finding by the ECHR, Russia has continued this behaviour and in fact, has taken it to another level by criminalising the religion itself.

It is difficult to understand the problem the Russian authority has with this religion. Jehovah's Witnesses accept the authority of the governments of where they live. They do not become politically involved, they do not vote in elections, they do not join the military or salute to a flag as this compromises their belief in God. As such they are non-violent as being political does not interest them. It follows that the Jehovah's Witnesses left to their own faith are not causing harm to anyone else.

Like all religions the Jehovah's Witness believe that their religion is the right one. They, like most religions, would like to explain their religion to others in the hope that they can persuade you to join their religion, so that you can too can go to heaven. For most us who have met Jehovah's witnesses, often at the front doorsteps of our own homes, the notion that these people belong to a " extreme religion" is an outrageous claim.

When will governments and people in power stop making these judgement calls about other people? When will governments finally stop and take heed from history, from what dangers this marginalising of people by their religion creates in society. Having the ECHR is all very well, if applied to a country who is genuinely bothered by criticism and findings being made against them.

Sources:
https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/28/russia-sweeping-arrests-jehovahs-witnesses
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-europe-39508555/is-russia-clamping-down-on-jehovah-witnesses
https://www.rferl.org/a/extremism-probe-launched-against-jehovah-s-witnesses-leader-in-russia/29636976.html

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