Photo: – 25/3/17

The activities of the head organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been suspended in Russia, reports RIA-Novosti with reference to the Ministry of Justice website. The religious organization “The Administrative Center of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia,” is now included in the list of public and religious associations whose activities have been suspended “in connection with the implementation of extremist activities.”

The Administrative Center is the umbrella organization that manages the Jehovah’s Witnesses branches throughout Russia. The group’s main growth came in the late 1980s, bringing the number of communities to 409. Some communities have been liquidated, leaving the number at about 400. There are today about 175,000 members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult throughout Russia.

The group regularly faces legal problems and branch closures due to extremist activities. Courts around Russia have placed their texts on list of extremist materials. There have been at least thirty-nine warnings of the “inadmissibility of extremist activity” in twenty-four regions since late 2007, according to Forum 18. In the past few years, Russian courts have been taking a harder stance against the group. From 2007 to 2012 there were eight warnings and one liquidation, but thirty-one warnings and nine liquidations from 2013 to 2016.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in St. Petersburg received a formal warning from the General Prosecutor’s Office in March 2016 concerning extremist activity, but the office maintains that such activities have continued, and completed an exhaustive inspection of all structures and activities of the Administrative Center on February 27, 2017. On March 15, Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a suit at the Supreme Court to have the Witnesses officially declared an extremist organization.

The final decision on whether to forbid the organization’s work in Russia will be made by the Supreme Court on April 5, and the group’s activities have been suspended by the Ministry of Justice from March 15 until that time.

The Ministry of Justice determined that,

From the moment of the suspension of the activity of the religious organization “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia” are suspended the rights of the religious organization “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia” and local organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses that are members of its structure, like their founder, to media of mass information. They are prohibited to use state and municipal news media, to plan and to conduct meetings, rallies, demonstrations, parades, picketing and other mass actions or public events, and to use bank deposits, with the exception of use for settling accounts connected with their economic activity, and covering losses (damages) caused by their actions, and payment of taxes, fees, or fines, and outlays based on labor contracts.