Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Jehovah’s Witnesses Given ISIS Asterisk in Russian Media

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 19 – On Monday, the Russian Supreme Court confirmed the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the basis of Russian government claims that the Witnesses are an extremist organization; and already yesterday, Russia media discussing the denomination have been forced to put an asterisk after any reference to indicate that it has been banned as extremist.

            That asterisk not only leads to a footnote, already used in the case of the Islamic State, that declares that “the organization has been recognized as extremist and its activity in Russia banned by a decision of the court,” a formulation likely to spark more attacks on the Witnesses among Russians who will now view them as equivalent to ISIS.

            An example of this unfortunate Russian practice is provided in both the title and the content of an article by Kavkaz-Uzel specifying that the defenders of the Witnesses say they are “victims of political persecution” and that they plan to appeal the Russian high court’s decision to the European Court of Human Rights (

            Such asterisks, like putting defendants in Russian courts behind bars at hearings, may seem like small things; but they are likely to cast a far larger shadow on those to whom they are applied because of the way in which they will become the Muscovite equivalent of “a scarlet letter” on anyone they are applied.

            And thus, those who care about human rights need not only to support the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ appeal to Strasbourg but also to be alert to the ways in which Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin is virtually inviting Russians to attack a group whose only “crime” is to obey the law, read the Bible, and encourage others to do likewise. 

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