The crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is escalating, even one year after President Vladimir Putin called for an investigation, says a new report from Human Rights Watch.
More than 30 Jehovah’s Witnesses are behind bars and another 300-plus face criminal charges under Russia’s extremism laws, the report issued Thursday says. The report also documents nearly 800 home raids since 2017, when the Russian Supreme Court banned nearly all Jehovah’s Witnesses from the country.
“For Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, practicing their faith means risking their freedom,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There is nothing remotely justifiable about this. It’s time for President Putin to ensure that law enforcement stop this harmful persecution.”
Just over a year ago in a meeting with a human rights council, Mr. Putin described mistreating religious minorities to be “nonsense” and said he was unaware of any prosecutions against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Verdicts are expected this month on a number of cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses detained for holding prayer meetings.