Statement for the OSCE – Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) I: Freedom of Religion or Belief
22-23 June 2017, Vienna
Condemn Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban
By the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe
and Human Rights Without Frontiers
Vienna, 23 June 2017 – The Russian Federation’s ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses is arguably the most flagrant assault on religious freedom to occur in the Euro-Atlantic region since the end of the Soviet Union and its satellite communist regimes in Eastern Europe.
The ban was confirmed by the Russian Supreme Court on the 20th of April. The ban makes it a crime for about 170,000 Russian citizens to practice their faith. The denomination has faced increasing persecution in Russia for decades. Recently, Dennis Christensen, a Danish citizen, has been arrested for attending a religious meeting of Jehovah’s Witness and was sentenced to a 2-month pretrial detention. Russia has thus started to incarcerate prisoners of conscience.
Yet this unprecedented restriction on the fundamental human right to freedom of religion, a right the Russian Federation is legally and politically committed to protect, has been met with only limited and muted criticism, and more often than not, by silence indicating indifference.
International reaction has not been consistent with the gravity of this massive violation of human rights, and compels us to ask, why not?
What would have happened had the Russian Federation banned the Catholic Church, or the practice of Judaism or Islam?
The weak reaction to the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects enduring prejudice against minority religions, and what are categorized as “sects.” Indeed, it reflects the same ignorance and condescension that motivated Russian authorities, at the behest of the Russian Orthodox Church, to outlaw the group.
Our organizations applaud numerous activists, experts, international officials, and governments, and the few human rights organizations, which have voiced their objections.
But not enough have done so. The issue has not been afforded the importance it deserves, but has largely remained underreported. We can only conclude that weak international criticism and action to counter this assault on freedom of religion will be taken as a “green light” for further legal discrimination against religious communities not only in Russia, but in other states where authoritarian regimes seek to impose cultural and spiritual harmony upon their citizens.
We are thus calling on the participating States of the OSCE to raise your voices against the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Russian Federation. Without exaggeration, the future of religious freedom in the region depends on it.