Staunton, November 5 – The latest figures, gathered at the end of October, shows that more than 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been charged with crimes since the Russian Supreme Court banned their organization as extremist three and a half years ago, something that gives the lie to Moscow’s claims that it has moved against an organization and not against a faith.
That is not the only statistic that incriminates not the Witnesses but the Russian state. According to the European Association of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, ten of their co-religionists are in Russian prison camps, 38 are in preliminary detention centers, 26 are under house arrest, and about 200 are restricted in their movements (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FA3C96F0EF80).
In addition, the Russian siloviki have moved not just against kingdom halls that the Russian courts have ordered closed but against 1166 families of believers who are suspected of practicing their religion at home. Numerous Witnesses have been found guilty but given suspended sentences, meaning that punishment still hangs over them.
Twenty-seven criminal cases have come to an end, but 148 are still being investigated. That process too can last for years and destroy the lives of those who have done nothing but sought to follow their faith. Many have been fired from their jobs and now are in extraordinarily difficult financial situations.
According to this most recent accounting, 310 Witnesses have been included in the Russian government’s expansive list of “extremists and terrorists” and thus are not allowed to be employed, maintain bank accounts or even buy a sim card for their cellphones. Such government actions have increased stress among the believers and led to at least four deaths.
All these figures show that the Russian government’s repeated claims that the April 2017 court decision about the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not ban the practice of that faith in Russia. In fact, whatever the words of the Supreme Court, the Russian powers that be have used its conclusions to try to suppress the Witnesses as such.
And that means that however much the Russian government claims to be a legal state and to operate within the law, it is in this case as tragically in so many cases acting without regard to its own constitution or laws but in ways that violate the basic rights and freedoms of its own population.
In Soviet times, most people in the West recognized that the communist regime was doing that. But unfortunately now, far too few there are prepared to admit and take action on the basis of that admission that the post-communist regime of Vladimir Putin is doing exactly the same thing and merits condemnation and opposition for exactly the same reasons.