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Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses banned since 20 April 2017

22.04.2024    source:
Willy Fautre
World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses (20.04.2024) – April 20th marks the seventh anniversary of Russia’s nationwide ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has led to hundreds of peaceful believers jailed and some brutally tortured.

Vladimir Piskarev, Vladimir Melnik and Artur Putintsev in a cage during a court hearing. November 2022

Vladimir Piskarev, Vladimir Melnik and Artur Putintsev in a cage during a court hearing. November 2022

International human rights advocates are decrying Russia for persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is eerily reminiscent of the repression the Witnesses faced during the Soviet-era. Experts assert that the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has been a prelude to the return of large-scale Stalinist oppression.

“It’s hard to believe this nationwide assault on Jehovah’s Witnesses has continued for seven years. For reasons passing understanding, Russia uses enormous local and national resources to hunt down harmless Witnesses—including those elderly and infirmed—often breaking into their homes in the early morning hours or middle of the night,” said Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“During these home raids or when being interrogated, innocent men and women are sometimes beaten or even tortured to give up the names and whereabouts of fellow believers. The Witnesses are criminalized simply for reading their Bibles, singing songs, and peacefully talking about their Christian beliefs. Russian authorities with an unfounded animus for non-Orthodox Christians continue to unconscionably trample on the Witnesses’ human rights and freedom of conscience. Fully aware that their personal faith and integrity are being attacked, the Witnesses have become determined to hold to their convictions.”

Persecution by the numbers in Russia and occupied Crimea since the 2017 ban

  • Over 2,090 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses raided 
  • 802 men and women have been criminally charged for their Christian beliefs
  • 421 have spent some time behind bars (including 131 men and women currently in prison)
  • 8 years  * is the maximum prison sentence, up from 6 years [Dennis Christensen was the first to be convicted (2019) and sentenced to prison]
  • Over 500 men and women have been added to Russia’s federal list of extremists/terrorists since the ban

In comparison:

  • According to Article 111 Part 1 of the Russian Federation’s Criminal Code, grievous bodily harm draws a maximum of 8 years sentence
  • According to Article 126 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, kidnapping leads to up to 5 years in prison.
  • According to Article 131 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, rape is punishable with 3 to 6 years in prison.

The ban—FAQs

How did this all start?

Russia’s Federal Law “On Combating Extremist Activity” (No. 114-FZ), was adopted in 2002, partly to address concerns about terrorism. However, Russia amended the law in 2006, 2007, and 2008 so that it extends “far beyond any fears of extremism linked to terrorism,” according to the article “Russia’s Extremism Law Violates Human Rights,” published in The Moscow Times.

The law “simply seizes upon the ‘terrorist’ vocabulary that has become commonplace internationally since the 9/11 assault on New York’s Twin Towers, and uses it to describe unwelcome religious groups across Russia,” explains Derek H. Davis, formerly the director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. Hence, “the ‘extremist’ label has been unfairly and disproportionately used against Jehovah’s Witnesses,” says Davis.

In the early 2000s, Russian authorities began banning dozens of the Witnesses’ Bible-based literature as “extremist.” Authorities then framed the Witnesses (see link1link2) by planting banned literature in the Witnesses’ houses of worship.

Soon, the Witnesses’ official website,, was banned, and shipments of Bibles were detained. This campaign escalated to the nationwide ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in April 2017. Subsequently, tens of millions of dollars of the Witnesses’ religious properties were confiscated.

Have things escalated?

Yes. Russia is handing down some of the harshest prison sentences since the 2017 ban. For example, on Feb. 29, 2024, Aleksandr Chagan, 52, was sentenced to eight years in prison, a punishment typically reserved for those inflicting grievous bodily harm. Chagan is the sixth Witness to receive such a harsh sentence simply for the peaceful practice of his Christian beliefs. As of April 1, 2024, 128 Witnesses are imprisoned in Russia.

We’ve also seen spikes in home raids. For example, there were 183 homes of Witnesses raided in 2023, with an average of 15.25 homes per month. There was a rise in February 2024, with 21 raids reported.

“Typically, the home raids are conducted by officers armed for mortal combat,” says Jarrod Lopes, a spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “The Witnesses are frequently dragged out of bed and not fully dressed, while the officers arrogantly record the whole thing. Video footage of these ridiculous raids is all over the internet and social media. Local police and FSB officials want to make a theatrical spectacle as if they are risking their lives fighting dangerous extremists. It’s an absurd charade, with dire consequences! During the raids or while being interrogated, some Jehovah’s Witnesses have been brutally beaten or tortured. As you can imagine, that is never recorded. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses are neither surprised nor intimidated by Russia’s systematic persecution. It’s well documented in the history of Russia, Nazi Germany, as well as other lands, that the Witnesses’ faith has always outlasted the persecuting regime. We expect history to repeat itself.”

Soviet repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses | Operation North

This month marks the 73rd anniversary of “Operation North”—the largest mass deportation of a religious group in the history of the USSR—in which thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses were deported to Siberia.

In April 1951, some 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and their children from six Soviet republics (Belorussia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine) were essentially kidnapped when authorities deported them in crammed trains to the frozen, desolate landscape of Siberia. This mass deportation was called “Operation North.”

In just two days, the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses were confiscated, and the peaceful adherents were banished to remote settlements in Siberia. Many of the Witnesses were required to work in dangerous and harsh conditions. They suffered malnutrition, disease, and mental and emotional trauma from being separated from their families. The forced deportation also resulted in death for some of the Witnesses.

Many Witnesses were finally released from exile in 1965, but their confiscated properties were never returned.

Despite the government’s attempt to eliminate some 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses from the region, “Operation North did not achieve its goal,” according to Dr. Nicolae Fustei, coordinating scientific researcher for the Institute of History in Moldova. “The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was not destroyed, and its members did not stop promoting their faith but instead began to do it with even more boldness.”

After the fall of the Soviet regime, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses spiked.

Exponential growth

In June 1992, the Witnesses hosted a large scale international convention in Russia in St. Petersburg. About 29,000 from the former Soviet Union attended along with thousands of delegates from around the world.

The majority of Witnesses deported during Operation North were from Ukraine—over 8,000 from 370 settlements. Yet, on July 6-8, 2018, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine welcomed thousands for another large convention held in Lviv, Ukraine. Over 3,300 delegates from nine countries traveled to Ukraine for the program, which appropriately featured the theme “Be Courageous”! Today, there are more than 109,300 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine.

Visit here for accounts about the impact of Russia’s persecution on Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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