WARSAW, 25 April 2017 – Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Professor Ingeborg Gabriel, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, also focusing on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions, today expressed serious concern over the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ national headquarters and all local communities “extremist” and to ban their activities with immediate effect.
“I’m deeply concerned by this unwarranted criminalization of the peaceful activities of members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses communities in Russia, eliminating this community as a viable entity in the country,” said Director Link. “This Supreme Court decision poses a threat to the values and principles that democratic, free, open, pluralistic and tolerant societies rest upon.”
Professor Gabriel said : “This ban persecuting peaceful persons for mere acts of worship clearly violates the fundamental right to religious freedom and with it international human rights standards as also guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. It therefore needs to be revised as soon as possible.”
ODIHR has also received troubling reports from civil society organizations of police halting religious services of Jehovah’s Witnesses, detaining individual believers, confiscating Bibles during worship meetings, as well as the arbitrary application of other law enforcement measures against individual Jehovah’s Witnesses and their communities, following the lodging of the lawsuit by the Ministry of Justice.
Director Link added : “I urge the Russian authorities to ensure that rights to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association of individuals belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses community are upheld, in compliance with the obligations of the country under international human rights law and OSCE commitments."
As a matter of fundamental principle, all OSCE participating States committed themselves at their inaugural conference in Helsinki in 1975 to the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction.
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