One of the tragic aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the limitation of individual freedoms at almost all latitudes. In some countries this adds up to the deplorable and blamed limitations on freedom of belief. The 2020 report on the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia tells of a long history of abuses that do not seem to diminish, indeed, they seem to be getting worse and worse.
Below is a 2020 year-end report illustrating the scope of Russia’s crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses. For its incessant persecution of Witnesses, among other offenses, Russia is listed on UN Watch’s 2020 “Top 10 Human Rights Abusers.”
As of December 31, 2021 (Russia and Crimea):
Despite criticism it has received from mainline international scholars of new religious movements, anti-cultism is a dominant force in Russia. Its origins date back to the repression of groups labeled as sekty in the Russian Empire. In Soviet times, the State dealt directly with religious groups it regarded as dangerous, and offers of collaboration by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) were rejected. However, cooperation between the ROC and the State in the fight against “cults” was resumed in the 21st century, and focused particularly on Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On December 10, 2020, we announced an appeal signed by 14 NGOs, including FOB, to the authorities of China, Iran and Russia to release the religious prisoners, at risk of being infected with COVID-19. This appeal was based on HRWF's annual report: “In Prison for Their Faith 2020”. Today we are publishing a brief summary of the HRWF report.
HRWF (10.12.2020) – Fourteen human rights NGOs call upon the authorities of China, Iran and Russia to release religious prisoners under threat of being infected by COVID-19. These are the three countries that have the highest number of believers of all faiths behind bars, according to Human Rights Without Frontiers’ (HRWF) database of FoRB prisoners which documents thousands of individual cases.
By Alessandro Amicarelli — Covid-19 has stopped the world, but it did not stop the persecution of minority groups in several countries. Our organisation, the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) which works with the All Faiths Network, had more work to do denouncing abuses and reporting the perpetrators to protect the victims, whilst keeping on advocating the protection of freedom of religion and belief for everyone.
Washington, DC, November 10, 2020 – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today released the following new report: “The Global Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses” Issue Update. This update describes official discrimination against Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world, with a particular focus on countries where members have been imprisoned for their beliefs.
A 66-year-old Jehovah's Witness has already been given nearly two years in pre-trial detention. From the mists of this controversial judicial case now comes to light an outrageous detail that confirms the worst hypotheses feared by the defenders of religious freedom: the Vice President of the French FECRIS (Fédération Européenne des Centres de Recherche et d'Information sur le Sectarisme, i.e.
Too often the media report incorrect or incomplete news, if not bluntly false, in relation to religious minorities. Evidently, such news is the result of prejudice by certain unscrupulous journalists. Mind you, this prejudice does not arise from a closed mentality but, in its own way, "honest", that is, from stupidly fixed ideas in which one believes "honestly".
by Steno Sari — Under certain circumstances, being intolerant is not so out of place. Murder, theft, rape, child abuse and kidnapping are all considered intolerable in most societies, and with reason. However, in the course of the centuries in Christianity, deplorable forms of intolerance towards heretics and schismatics have been justified: real persecutions in no way justifiable.
We publish the following news that does justice to parents subjected to public scorn because "guilty" of being Jehovah's Witnesses and of observing the dictates of their religion, without having committed, de facto, any crime. The case, dating back to September 2019, is a textbook example of how the fake news mechanism works admirably explained by Roberto Guidotti in this article.
Torino, Italy (l.c.) — Fifty leading international scholars of religion have signed an appeal calling for the immediate end of the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, a country where members of the religious organization are routinely arrested and sentenced to terms in jail, and where all activities of their congregation are forbidden.
“Anti-extremism” legislation and religious freedom in the Russian Federation. The case of Jehovah's Witnesses
by Germana Carobene — associate professor of Ecclesiastical and Canon Law at the University of Naples "Federico II", Department of Political Sciences; councillor of FOB. — The application of "anti-extremism" legislation to minority religious groups in the Russian Federation has led to a progressive institutional tightening of the persecution and heavy discrimination, especially against Jehovah's Witnesses.
by Steno Sari — A few weeks ago I talked about fake news, starting the article with a quote from George Orwell on the courage of truth. Even today I would like to ask Orwell for help in resuming the talk left pending: "True freedom of the press is telling people what people don't want to hear." In other words, a journalist must know how to go against the tide if necessary. And it's not exactly easy.
On July 9, 2020, the Swiss anti-cult associations JW Opfer Hilfe (Aid to the Victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses) and Fachstelle infoSekta (Center for Information on Cults) issued a press release, announcing that a 2019 decision of the District Court of Zurich had become final, which acquitted Dr. Regina Ruth Spiess, a former employee of infoSekta and current representative of JW Opfer Hilfe, from criminal charges of defamation brought by the Swiss Jehovah’s Witnesses, (JW Opfer Hilfe and Fachstelle infoSekta 2020).
A seminar conducted via Zoom has been organized by CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions), Vytautas Magnus University, Vilnius, Lithuania, and New Religions Research and Information Center, Vilnius, Lithuania. At the end of the seminar a Final Statement and a White Paper "The New Gnomes of Zurich" on Jehovah's Witnesses were released.
On July 13, 2020, armed officers raided 110 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Voronezh Region. This was the largest number of coordinated raids on Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern Russia. Unfortunately, this action marks an escalation in the persecution of the Witness community following the April 20, 2017, ban imposed by the Russian Supreme Court on the Witnesses’ national organization and its 395 regional divisions on grounds of “extremism.”
There have been numerous declarations of condemnation of the discriminatory and illiberal attitude that the Russian Federation has shown for years towards Jehovah's Witnesses. Among these statements, the one issued on 11 December 2018 by Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, stands out, in which he states that "Jehovah's Witnesses are also Christians and I do not understand why they should be persecuted".
On March 3, 2020, Mr. Artëm Gerasimov, a member of the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, was sentenced by the Yalta Court (Crimea) to a penalty of 400,000 rubles (about € 5,300) on charges of practicing his religion, a crime sanctioned by the wretched Yarovaya law which labels Witnesses and other religious minorities disliked by the dominant Orthodox religion as "extremist". Gerasimov did not lose heart and appealed, but on June 4, 2020, the Crimean high court sentenced him to six years in prison, again on the basis of being a "dangerous extremist".