Russia's Supreme Court is due to resume considering a total ban on Jehovah's Witness activity on 12 April. Already police in several towns have disrupted their worship. A Moscow community's rental of a hall to mark their main annual commemoration was cancelled after an FSB visit.
By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18
As Jehovah's Witnesses await a verdict at Russia's Supreme Court in Moscow on whether they will be banned across the country, their communities are already feeling the effects of the Justice Ministry's actions. They have reported intimidation, harassment, and the disruption of worship by law enforcement agents in several towns as a result of the Justice Ministry's 15 March order summarily suspending most of their activities. One community found that its contract on a rented hall in Moscow had been cancelled.
The harassment comes as hearings in the Justice Ministry's attempt to liquidate the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre are underway in the Supreme Court. After three days of hearings between 5 and 7 April, Judge Yury Ivanenko adjourned proceedings until 10.00am Moscow time on 12 April. This is the day after the Jehovah's Witnesses main annual commemoration – the Memorial of Christ's Death – on 11 April.
Should the Justice Ministry suit be upheld, the Administrative Centre in St Petersburg and all 395 local Jehovah's Witness organisations would be dissolved and their property confiscated. Their members would risk criminal prosecution for "extremist activity" if they continued to meet for prayer or bible study.
The Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) has added the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre to its list of "organisations, against which there is evidence of involvement in extremist activity or terrorism", and the Centre's financial transactions are already being blocked.
Three United Nations Special Rapporteurs have warned that any ban on Jehovah's Witnesses would be "a threat not only to Jehovah's Witnesses, but to individual freedom in general in the Russian Federation". Russian human rights defenders and members of other religious communities have also spoken in their support.