JEHOVAH’S Witnesses are mobilising a global response to Russia’s systematic attack on religious freedoms, which could have dire consequences for 175 000 congregants, the organisation has said.
BY STAFF REPORTER
This followed that country’s decision to criminalise religious literature, places of worship known as Kingdom Halls and criminalising the preaching work of Witnesses in over 2 300 congregations under the guise of fighting extremism.
Witnesses’ spokesperson John Hunguka yesterday said the global letter-writing campaign was a direct appeal to Kremlin and Supreme Court officials for relief. The letters should be sent no later than April 1.
Hunguka said the Witnesses’ global campaign was not without precedent. “Nearly 20 years ago, Witnesses wrote to defend their fellow worshippers in Russia in response to a smear campaign by some members of the government in power at the time. Additionally, Witnesses have initiated past letter-writing campaigns to motivate government officials to end persecution of Witnesses in other countries, including Jordan, Korea, and Malawi,” Hunguka said.
He said if the ban was confirmed on April 5 Russia could liquidate some 400 registered Kingdom Halls known in Russia as Local Religious Organisations.
“The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is inviting the over eight million Witnesses worldwide, including Zimbabwe to participate. We respectfully request the Russian Federation to among other things – stop the repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses in its territory; to cease misapplying legislation on extremism to the peaceful worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses and to ensure that the Witnesses can peacefully enjoy freedom of religion and assembly without interference as guaranteed by the Constitution of that country,” Hunguka said.
He added: “we welcome the opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue with representative of the Russian government in Zimbabwe, Mr Sergey V Bakharev.”
Some of the publications outlawed by Russia include My Book of Bible Stories – which teaches basic truths to people willing to know more about the Truth and have denied the importation of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a Bible translation published by the Witnesses.
“On March 15, 2017, Russia’s Ministry of Justice represented by its first deputy minister SA Gerasimov filed a claim with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to label the Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia as extremist and liquidate it. The claim also seeks to ban the activities of the Administrative Centre. If the Supreme Court upholds this claim, the Witnesses’ national headquarters near St Petersburg will be shut down,” the organisation also said in a statement.
“The branch property, as well as places of worship used by Witnesses throughout the country, could be seized by the State. Additionally, individual Jehovah’s Witnesses would become subject to criminal prosecution for merely carrying out their worship activities. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the claim on April 5.”
“The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses wants to heighten attention to this critical situation,” stated David A. Semonian, a spokesman at the Witnesses’ world headquarters.
“Prosecuting non-violent, law-abiding citizens as if they were terrorists is clearly a misapplication of anti-extremist laws. Such prosecution is based on completely false grounds.”
“Reading the Bible, singing, and praying with fellow worshippers is clearly not criminal,” Semonian added. “We hope that our global letter-writing campaign will motivate Russian officials to stop this unjustifiable action against our fellow worshippers.”