The Supreme Court in Russia has begun hearing a government request to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses and declare it an extremist organisation.
BBC reports that the justice ministry has already placed its headquarters near St Petersburg on a list of extremist groups.
The US-founded Jehovah’s Witnesses has about 8 million people worldwide and is known for its foreign ministries as well as its door-to-door campaigns.
In Russia alone, it has 175,000 members and 395 branches across the country.
As the case began in Moscow on Wednesday, lawyers representing the movement submitted a counter suit, asking the High Court to declare its members victims of political repression and the justice ministry’s action unlawful.
The religious organisation had also urged the court to recognise the group was facing political persecution, the Russian Legal Information Agency reported.
However, the court dismissed the claim, saying it did not have jurisdiction.
The court ruled that this was not part of its jurisdiction, but did not say whose it was, Russia’s legal information agency reported. The case was eventually adjourned until Thursday.
By prohibiting its members from taking blood transfusion, the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a group violates the law on resistance to extremism, the spokeswoman for Russia’s Justice Ministry told the Supreme Court on Thursday.
“Checks have found that the organisation is in breach of the law on resistance to extremism. In particular, the organisation’s religious literature forbids blood transfusion for its members in defiance of the doctors’ recommendation,” the spokeswoman said, providing documentary evidence about one such case.
The ministry argues that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities “violate Russia’s law on combating extremism” and their pamphlets incited hatred against other groups.
Also, the Justice Ministry’s official said Jehovah’s Witnesses insist on their own exclusiveness, which also contradicts the law on resistance to extremist activity.
“The religious organization Jehovah’s Witnesses has been repeatedly warned by courts of law, but it has taken no required measures to eliminate the violations,” the Justice Ministry said.
The Justice Ministry believes that Jehovah’s Witnesses must be outlawed and the organization’s properties, including those of the 395 regional chapters, confiscated.
“In view of the threat posed by the organisation Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Justice Ministry asks for declaring it extremist and banning its activity,” the Justice Ministry’s official said.
A delegate of the religious body Yaroslav Sivulsky told the BBC that the movement had nothing to do with extremism and he complained that in every case the courts never really listened to their arguments.
According to Amnesty International, 16 members of the group in southern Russia were found guilty of organising and participating in a banned “extremist organisation” in late 2015.
A ban would directly affect around 400 of its groups and impact on all of its 2,277 religious groups in Russia which it said united 175,000 followers.