Staunton, March 31 – Since Moscow began its persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is no place in Russia where the followers of that faith are safe. But human rights activists say the Witnesses are at particular risk in Russia’s North Caucasus because there many of the Witness converts are former Muslims and their break with Islam is viewed in an especially negative way.
Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Civic Support Committee, says that Jehovah’s Witnesses in the North Caucasus have found it almost impossible to defend themselves against any actions against them, including family violence, since Moscow declared their faith extremist and therefore illegal (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/333654/).
Their family members view their shift from Islam to the Witnesses as a betrayal and often treat such converts brutally; and the victims of such abuse find it impossible to turn to the courts or even to human rights groups because of the illegal status of their religious organization. As a result, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region are especially oppressed, she says.
Often the only thing activists can do is to organize the departure of Witnesses from the region to some foreign country, but acquiring visas is not easy. Some countries refuse, and then the Witnesses who have sought to leave are tarred with yet another label that produces distrust and an unwillingness to defend them.
The situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Muslim regions like the North Caucasus, Gannushkina says, has always been difficult: Muslims don’t approve of anyone who breaks with their faith. But the situation has seriously deteriorated for this group since Moscow banned it as an organization.
Neither she nor other rights activists who took part in the briefing, including Aleksandr Verkhovsky of SOVA, Lev Levinson of the Human Rights Institute and Anatoly Pchelintsev of the Religion and Law journal, had specific numbers concerning such abuse. But they were unanimous that it is a serious problem, one that has received far too little attention in Moscow.