Gernot Erler, Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with Russia, Central Asia and the Eastern Partnership Countries, issued the following statement today (19 July) on the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious community in Russia:
I am very concerned by the fact that the court ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has been upheld. Despite our appeals on a number of levels, this move makes the peaceful enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and thought a criminal offence. This has now opened the floodgates to the criminal prosecution of members of this religious group exercising the right to the freedom of religion and thought, rights that are enshrined in the Russian constitution. In so doing, Russia is also, unfortunately, contravening its international obligations as a member of the Council of Europe.
We will observe the further developments and consequences of this ruling for the Jehovah’s Witnesses very closely. I assume that this ban will also be brought before the European Court of Human Rights.
In its appeal ruling on 17 July 2017, the Russian Supreme Court upheld the judgement of 20 April ordering that the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses and its regional institutions be liquidated. Prior to this, the Russian Ministry of Justice had called for the religious community to be prosecuted owing to allegations of “extremist activities” and the “propagation of extremist materials”. Members of the religion risk long prison sentences when continuing to practice their faith.
Prior to the ruling, the Federal Government had, together with partners in the EU, called for the right to religious freedom in Russia to be respected. Moreover, EU representatives observed the trial in the court room. The freedom of religion and thought is enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Russia has committed itself to upholding these rights.