Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses were an “extremist” organization and must disband and hand over all property to the state, Reuters said.
“The Supreme Court has ruled to sustain the claim of Russia’s ministry of justice and deem the ‘Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia’ organisation extremist, eliminate it and ban its activity in Russia,” said judge Yuri Ivanenko.
“The property of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation is to be confiscated to the state revenue.”
Also speaking, Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, said in emailed comments:
“We are greatly disappointed by this development and deeply concerned about how this will affect our religious activity.”
“We will appeal this decision, and we hope that our legal rights and protections as a peaceful religious group will be fully restored as soon as possible.”
A judge had earlier ordered the closure of the group’s Russian headquarters and 395 local chapters, as well as the seizure of its property.
Another lawyer for the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they would appeal the court’s decision, which has not yet come into effect, and could take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“We will do everything possible,” Sergei Cherepanov, a Jehovah’s Witnesses representative, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Following the decision, the religious body in Russia have 30 days to submit their appeal for consideration by a three-person panel.
Russian authorities have put several of the group’s publications on a list of banned extremist literature and prosecutors have long cast it as an organization that destroys families, fosters hatred and threatens lives.
The group, a United States-based Christian denomination known for its door-to-door preaching and rejection of military service and blood transfusions, says this description is false.
The religious organization has expanded around the world and has about eight million active followers. It has faced court proceedings in several countries, mostly over its pacifism and rejection of blood transfusions, but Russia has been most outspoken in portraying it as an extremist cult.
The ruling was issued after the justice ministry applied for an order to shut down the group’s national headquarters near St Petersburg.