For Immediate Release
March 11, 2009
Russia launches nationwide investigations aimed at banning the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses
STRASBOURG, France—The Russian Prosecutor General has ordered local prosecutors throughout Russia to investigate the religious activities and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since February 2009, over 500 investigations have been instigated. The apparent aim is to gather evidence to close down the Witnesses’ established legal activity.
Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed to Russian courts to put an end to the barrage of harassing investigations and to correct the injustices, but the claims were dismissed. Having exhausted all domestic remedies, on March 9, 2009, the Witnesses submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) an application Avilkina and Others v. Russia.
The public prosecutors have persisted in this ongoing process even though no violations of domestic law were found that would justify banning activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Prosecutors have aggressively ordered unlawful parallel intrusive investigations by various state agencies into the activities and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Contrary to domestic law and encroaching on the Witnesses’ religious freedom, the Prosecutor General continues to accept and investigate frivolous, vexatious, and unfounded complaints from the same individuals or bodies.
In their search for evidence against Jehovah’s Witnesses, the public prosecutors wrote to the Public Health Committee of the St. Petersburg Government requiring medical information on Witness patients. As a result, without their knowledge or consent three Witnesses who at the time were hospitalized had their medical file—containing private, sensitive, and confidential medical information—disclosed by the doctors to the public authorities. One of the patients was subsequently refused treatment and discharged from the public hospital where she was to undergo major surgery.
The religious community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow was banned in 2004. In the years since then, the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, located in Solnechnoye near St. Petersburg, has been subjected to repeated intrusive investigations by the prosecutor and numerous other state authorities, with the apparent intent of unlawfully closing down its religious activities. The Administrative Center was first registered as a legal entity in 1991. It currently serves as an umbrella for over 400 registered local religious communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout Russia and represents the interests of some 280,000 Russian citizens.
In the former Soviet Union, Jehovah’s Witnesses were subjected to severe persecution, but in democratic Russia they were fully exonerated and rehabilitated as victims of political repression. Many of the communities now being prosecuted have peacefully existed in Russia for decades.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are an internationally recognized Christian religion that has been present in Russia for over 100 years. They appeal to the Russian authorities to put an end to the groundless harassment of peaceful and law-abiding citizens, which is what Jehovah’s Witnesses are recognized as worldwide.
Yaroslav Sivulskiy, telephone +7 911 087 80 09,
Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia
European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses, telephone: +32 2 782 0015
USA: J.R. Brown, telephone +1 718 560 5600