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Russia outlaws extremist
© AFP

Russia outlaws ‘extremist’ Jehovah’s Witnesses

21/04/17Government

Russia’s Supreme Court has accepted the government’s request to classify Jehovah’s Witnesses as an outlawed religious group, deeming it to be an extremist organisation.

The justice ministry argued that the group had distributed pamphlets which incited hatred against other groups.

Lawyers representing the group reject the claims and say they will appeal.

The denomination says it has 175,000 members in Russia.

An estimated eight million people worldwide are part of the Christian-based movement.

Practitioners of the faith argue that it means their activities from now on will be criminalised.

The justice ministry urged the court to close the group’s national headquarters near St Petersburg, Russian news agencies reported, in addition to banning some of its ‘extremist’ publications.

One pamphlet distributed by the group quoted the novelist Leo Tolstoy as describing the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church as superstition and sorcery.

Officials have accused the religion of destroying families, propagating hatred and endangering lives.

Jehovah’s Witnesses say the accusations are completely untrue. A spokesman told the AFP news agency that he was “shocked” by the ruling.

“I didn’t expect that this could be possible in modern Russia, where the constitution guarantees freedom of religious practice,” Yaroslav Sivulsky said.

Human rights group SOVA has argued that an “official repressive campaign” has been conducted against the movement for years and many of their members have been physically attacked.