The organisation suffered severe persecution by the KGB during the soviet era and after more than a decade of relative peace resulting from the collapse of communism in the early 90s, it again fell victim to the 2002 Russian anti-extremist law. The law according to The New York times, makes it illegal for any group other than the Orthodox Church and other traditional religious institutions, to proclaim itself as offering a true path to religious or political salvation.
The experience of Andrei Sivak brings to light what the organisation has been going through for some time now in Russia. Sivak tried to change money only for his name to pop up on the exchange bureau's computer system along with those who where members of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other violence instilled militant groups. Shocking to know that the 43-year-old father of three who has never held a gun before and who's Christian faith is committed to the belief and practice of Jesus' words found in the book of Matthew that instructs all to love your neighbour as yourself, could be tagged as an extremist.
Sivak's troubles began in 2010 when undercover security officers posed as worshipers and secretly filmed a service (talk) of which he was taking the lead, a source revealed. This officers accused Sivak and a second elder 'Vyacheslav Stepanov' of "inciting hatred and disparaging the human dignity of citizens". They were both put on trial for extremism which was heard by a municipal court in Sergiyev Posad. No evidence of extremism was produced and in the ruling last year the court found the two men not guilty, not until Sivak tried to change money.
A reliable source revealed to Newstac that the Organisation is at the center of an escalating campaign by the authorities to handicap religious groups that compete with the Russian Orthodox Church and that challenge President Putin's militaristic patriotic values.
There are over 170,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and the group has come under serious pressure over the past few years including the banning of their website and literatures. Here's the organisations Historic Milestone in Russia as revealed by JW.ORG
1887 — First recorded instance of The Watchtower being mailed to Russia
1891 — First Russian Witness exiled to Siberia
1928 — Jehovah's Witnesses fail to achieve legal registration; years of persecution begin
APRIL 1951 — About 9,500 Witnesses from six Soviet republics exiled to Siberia
OCTOBER 1965 — Easing of government restrictions and oppression
MARCH 27, 1991 — Soviet Union legally registers Jehovah's Witnesses
DECEMBER 11, 1992 — Russian Federation legally registers Jehovah's Witnesses
MARCH 1996 — Jehovah's Witnesses fully exonerated as victims of political repression
MARCH 26, 2004 — Moscow Community of Jehovah's Witnesses banned
2009 — Russian law-enforcement authorities begin misapplying the Federal Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity
SEPTEMBER 11, 2009 — Rostov Regional Court declares 34 publications of Jehovah's Witnesses to be extremist
JUNE 10, 2010 — European Court of Human Rights declares the ban on the Moscow Community of Jehovah's Witnesses a violation of human rights
JULY 30, 2014 — Seven of sixteen Witnesses on trial in Taganrog are criminally convicted for practicing their faith
DECEMBER 2, 2014 — Supreme Court of the Russian Federation bans jw.org (Jehovah's Witnesses official website)
NOVEMBER 30, 2015 — All sixteen Witnesses on retrial in Taganrog are criminally convicted for practicing their faith. The judge suspended the sentences
And April 5th 2017 was set for a court hearing to decide if the Witnesses are extremists or not.
Letter Writting Campaign
Two weeks before the scheduled proceedings, the over 8 Million Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide decided to embark on a letter writing campaign soliciting for their right to worship. These letters were sent to the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, Prime minister of Russia, the Prosecutor general, the Ministry of Justice, Minister of Foreign affairs, as well as the chairman of the Supreme Court. The letters were sent in different languages not necessarily translated into Russian's. These letter writing campaign made the Guiness book of world record of all time in sending letters. It was reported that in the United States alone the post office calculated that $55 million was spent to send letters to Russia within 2 weeks. Over 12 million letters were sent to Russia worldwide. Below are some screen-shots of the letter writing campaign.
Mixed Feelings On Court Ruling
Jehovah's Witnesses on Thursday 20th 2017 were banned and tagged an Extremist group in the same category as the Islamic State after weeks of heated debates and adjournment.
The Ministry of Justice representative, Svetlana Borisova, told the Supreme Court on Thursday that Jehovah's Witnesses had shown "signs of extremist activity that represent a threat to the rights of citizens, social order and the security of society."
Viktor Zhenkov, a lawyer for the organisation said the organisation would appeal the ruling. "We consider this decision an act of political repression that is impermissible in contemporary Russia," Mr. Zhenkov said in a telephone interview. "We will, of course, appeal."
Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued in Moscow, condemned the court ruling as "a serious breach of Russia's obligations to respect and protect religious freedom." reveals The New York times.
The human rights group's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, Rachel Denber said the decision delivered "a terrible blow to freedom of religion and association in Russia."
The question is- how can an organisation be tagged as an extremist group with no record of violence or weapons of mass destruction. Not even a Pistle or a hand knife was found after series of raid and persecution. The activities of Jehovah's Witnesses and the publications that they produce encourage love of God and neighbor, love for family, and respect for government. That is why the Watchtower and Awake magazines are the most distributed and read publications of all time and till date.
Lawyer Zhenkov said that an initial appeal will be made to the Supreme Court's appellate division, and if that fails, Jehovah's Witnesses will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France. The hearings have just began.