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24 Nov, 2020 15:41

Jehovah’s Witnesses members arrested in Moscow over ‘extremist organization’ allegations

Several leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia have been detained by law enforcement officers under legislation outlawing the religious group.

In a statement published on the website of the Investigative Committee on Tuesday, authorities reported the arrests of several people after a “conspiratorial gathering” in a private apartment in Moscow.

At the meeting, “followers studied religious literature and information contained in other sources of information propagating the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and carried out other actions characteristic of the group.”

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“It was also found that the members of the unit persuaded and recruited new members from among the residents of the capital and other subjects to participate in a prohibited religious movement,” officers added.

Now, according to the Moscow Main Directorate of the federal agency, a manhunt is underway for further suspects in the capital and across more than 20 regions of the country, with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Russia’s domestic security agency, the FSB, aiding investigators.

In 2017, membership of the Christian denomination was banned by the Russian Supreme Court after a request from the government. The decision was widely condemned abroad as a perceived infringement of religious freedoms. However, a survey of the general public found that more than three-quarters supported the decision, with some responding that “they go from house to house, harassing people on the streets and calling them on the phone.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously been asked to reconsider the ban on the religious group. At a meeting of the Council for Civil Society Development and Human Rights in 2018, he said that “we must treat all religions equally – that’s a fact. But we also need to consider the country and the society in which we live. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should be counting the representatives of religious communities among the various destructive or even terrorist organizations.”

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