Russia: Ban on Jehovah's Witnesses affects tens of thousands including conscientious objectors

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The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia on the grounds that they are an extremist organisation. The liquidation ruling, made on 20th April 2017 and upheld on 17th July 2017, means that the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre and all 395 regional organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are subject to liquidation, and their property can now be seized by the state. The ruling affects tens of thousands, including many conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

According to the ruling, anyone who continues to manifest his/her faith as a Jehovah’s Witness despite the ban, is liable to criminal prosecution and can face imprisonment for up to 12 years.

Recent examples of conscientious objectors affected by this legislation include cases of Avel Lukin, Damir Galeev and Evgeny Vladimirov, all of whom have been rejected permission to perform alternative civilian service due to their religious affiliation.

On 12 May 2017, a local draft commission in the Chuvash Republic rejected Avel Lukin's application to perform alternative civilian service. Lukin, a 18-year-old Jehovah Witness, appealed the decision. However, Shumerlya District Court rejected Lukin's appeal on 4 July. As reported by Forum 18, Lukin's call-up notice makes direct links between the refusal to allow him to carry out alternative service and the Supreme Court's ruling that the Jehovah Witnesses Administrative Centre is an "extremist organisation".

In April 2017, Damir Galeev and Evgeny Vladimirov, two Jehovah Witnesses conscientious objectors, had their application for alternative civilian service on the same grounds by their local draft commissions. Due to their affiliation to Jehovah Witnesses, both conscientious objectors have been claimed to be 'extremists' by their draft commissions.

Moreover, as reported by Forum 18 from a Jehovah Witnesses' statement in June, a Jehovah's Witness from Crimea was told by Russian military authorities in the region that in order to be allowed to perform Russian alternative civilian service, he would have to change his religion.

Source: Forum 18, RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witnesses now banned, 18 July 2017;  Human Rights Without Frontiers International, Russia: Supreme Court's Decision About "Extremism" Threatens Right of Conscientious Objection,15 May 2017; Amnesty International Netherlands, Russian Federation: Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses is an assault on Freedom of Assembly and Conscience, 11 May 2017. 

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