Staunton, May 22 – Russia still casts a dark shadow on the former Soviet republics in many ways, and one of the worst of these occurs when Russia persecutes a group at little or no cost to itself because many are unwilling to condemn a nuclear power and then other post-Soviet states pick it up confident that they will either avoid criticism or enjoy Russia’s support.
One of the most notorious and vicious Russian campaigns in recent months has been Moscow’s attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with the entire religious organization declared illegal, its members harassed and, in many cases, arrested, and large numbers forced to seek (but not always to get) asylum abroad.
Now there are indications that this Russian effort is about to be copied in Central Asia. On the CentrAsia portal, Fergana-based commentator Abbos Khalikov argues that while many focus on ISIS as a threat to the region, groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses are equally threatening if not immediately then certainly in the longer term (centrasia.org/news.php?st=1558519080).
More and more people in the region recognize, he says, that the Jehovah’s Witnesses, like other nominally peaceful Protestant groups, are “’delayed action bombs’” which when they do go off could prove just as dangerous as an Islamist group.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been extremely successful in their missionary activity in Central Asia, Khalikov says; and despite what some may think, they are anything but an innocent and harmless religious organization. Their assertion of superiority over other faiths, he says, led Russia to declare them extremist; and Central Asian states should follow.
According to the Fergana commentator, the Jehovah’s Witnesses share many of the characteristics of radical Islamist groups like Hizb-ut Tahrir, including a pyramid-like hierarchy designed to ensure the flow of tithes upwards and control of believers from those above them and a “door-to-door” form of missionary activity that divides communities.
In addition, and like Salafi Muslims, Khalikov continues, “the Jehovah’s Witnesses call on their followers not to observe local law if it violates their teachings” and not to maintain ties with representatives of other faiths even if those in the other are family members or close relatives.
Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have already recognized this threat, he says, and banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But in other countries of the region, they remain more or less free to conduct what Khalikov says is their destructive work. In Kazakhstan, there are some 60 kingdom halls and approximately 20,000 followers and in Kyrgyzstan, 40 churches and 6,000 faithful.
The commentator argues that they should be banned everywhere because they threaten the unity of the overwhelmingly Muslim population and spark enmity where there should be peace. What is especially disturbing is that except for this reference to Islam, Khalikov makes exactly the same arguments Russian advocates of repressing the Jehovah’s Witnesses do.