“Grave Concerns” about Russia’s Repressive Policies Prompts Action

The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom has added Russia to its list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) for the first time in two decades, prompted by the country’s recent repression of the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Russia’s Supreme Court ruled the Jehovah’s Witnesses are an extremist group.
Russia’s Supreme Court, photo courtesy of the National Catholic Reporter

“The first thing is to make it clear to the Russian government in words, directly, ideally from the president of the United States, that we have grave concerns about the direction of religious freedom,” Daniel Mark, USCIRF’s vice chairman, told Voice of America, and “not just the rules but the trajectory, which has been really concerning of late and played a big role in our decision.”

With the ruling by the Supreme Court of Russia of Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist” organization, the group was required to hand over all of its properties to the state. They are no longer permitted to have copies of their Bible. The ramifications to the 175,000 Russians who identify with the religion are profound.

“To be labeled such a way as though we are extremist is clearly a misapplication of the laws on extremism. Clearly Jehovah’s Witnesses … should not really be the target because we are not a threat in Russia or any other country in the world. We are active in over 20 lands,” said Robert Warren of the world headquarters for Jehovah's Witnesses. “We really felt the Supreme Court of the Russian Confederation had a wonderful opportunity with this ruling to really show how advanced they really are in terms of protecting the rights of its own citizens who want to pursue Bible education… this is definitely a step back.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses CPC extremism extremist group Russia U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Supreme Court USCIRF