Russian Supreme Court bans Jehovah’s Witnesses

On Thursday, after six days of hearings before the Supreme Court, Judge Yury Ivanenko handed down the operative part of a decision declaring the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be an extremist organisation, banning their activities and ordering that the JWs’ national headquarters in St Petersburg and its local properties to be forfeited to the state. According to Tass, the full text of the decision was to be furnished to the parties within five days. Russia Religious News carries summaries of the proceedings [scroll down].

The JWs have 30 days in which to appeal the decision to a three-judge appellate panel of the Supreme Court. If that panel affirms Ivanenko J’s decision, the JWs plan to appeal to the ECtHR.

Metro [“News … But Not As You Know It“] reported the case under the headline “Russia bans Jehovah’s Witnesses, ruling they must hand over their homes“. One’s immediate response would be to doubt that: the brief report of the Court’s order suggests that it is the organisation’s property that is to be expropriated, not the property of individual adherents. But, on reflection, in cases where JWs meet in each others’ homes, would those homes be expropriated as well?

On the face of it, should it get as far as Strasbourg the case looks like a straightforward violation of Article 9 ECHR (thought, conscience and religion) and A1P1 (peaceful enjoyment of possessions) – and possibly of Article 11 (assembly and association) as well. But given the pace of proceedings in the ECtHR, that might be of little comfort to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the shorter term.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Russian Supreme Court bans Jehovah’s Witnesses" in Law & Religion UK, 22 April 2017,

[With thanks to Daniel Hill] 

6 thoughts on “Russian Supreme Court bans Jehovah’s Witnesses

  1. I am not clear what threat their “extremism’ is presenting other of course than their refusal to serve in the miltary

  2. Perhaps the most absurd reason highlighted by the Russian Ministry of Justice is that Jehovah Witnesses write in their literature that they practise the true faith. This, according to the Justice Ministry, is “insulting” to believers of other faiths and hence “extremist”.

    This, and their refusal to take up arms now “justifies” the State to confiscate all the religion’s property and declare all its members criminals should they continue to practise their faith, which might include reading the Bible at home and saying a prayer. Not to mention the wider consequences – Witnesses being summarily dismissed from their employment or Witness children being expelled from school or even being forcibly separated from their “extremist” parents. According to unconfirmed reports on some social media sites Russian Secret Police have visited schools in some cities in Russia demanding teachers identify the Jehovah’s Witness children. Let us hope this is not true.

    It is ironic that the judgment was given on April 20 – Hitler’s birthday. It’s Jehovah’s Witnesses today, who is next in line in Russia?

    Ian Barnett
    Barrister: Senior Lecturer, Hertfordshire University School of Law

  3. Pingback: Asociación para la Defensa de la Libertad Religiosa » Titulares Internacionales de Libertad Religiosa del 22 y 23 de Abril de 2017

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