Supreme Court bans Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia

Russian authorities have put several of the group's publications on a list of banned extremist literature

Russia's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday (April 20) that Jehovah's Witnesses was an "extremist" organization and must hand over all its property to the state, Russian news agencies reported. But Thursday's ruling also means the sect's Russian assets - including its St. Petersburg headquarters and almost 400 chapters - will become state property, according to the Tass news agency.

The decision to seize the group's assets and close down its St Petersburg head office followed a request from the ministry of justice, which claimed it had found signs of "extremist activity" within the organisation.

Justice Ministry spokeswoman Svetlana Borisova told Interfax news agency that the Jehovah's Witnesses "pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security".

The religious grouping confirmed the ruling about its "liquidation" in Russian Federation.

Some of the group's publications are listed as "extremist literature".

Russia's Jehovah Witnesses have had several run-ins with law enforcement in recent years.

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Jehovah's Witnesses has a history of persecution, including in Nazi Germany.

"The main problem that we face now is misuse of the anti-extremism law. We respect government, and we are politically totally neutral", said Yaroslav Sivulsky.

"We are greatly disappointed by this development and deeply concerned about how this will affect our religious activity", states Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses in Russian Federation. This is the nature of any religion, otherwise, why are you following a false religion?'

The Russian government cracked down on the group a year ago when it banned Jehovah's Witnesses literature they considered a violation of national security laws.

The Supreme Court ruling, which followed six days of hearings, marks the first time Russian Federation has banned an organized religious organization, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Jehovah Witness has 395 centres across Russian Federation.

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