(NewsReady.com) – Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has become a menace to its neighbors. Less obviously, it’s also a danger to its own citizens. Putin’s regime has been persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses for several years now — for no very obvious reason.
In the early 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia rebuilt itself into an independent state. Part of that process was writing and enacting a new constitution, which took effect in 1993. One clause of that constitution states that Russia is a secular country whose residents are free to follow any religion or none. Unless, apparently, you’re a Jehovah’s Witness.
Around 175,000 people in Russia belong to the denomination, and since 2017, they’ve officially been classed — for no obvious reason — as “extremists.” Russian police have raided up to 1,000 homes belonging to members, and over 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been jailed on terrorism and extremism charges. The British government warned in July that Russia’s actions looked like “an organised campaign of persecution” against the religion.
Dennis Christensen is a Danish Jehovah’s Witness who used to live in Russia. In 2017, he was arrested, convicted of extremism and terrorism, and jailed for five years. He’s now back in Denmark, and says he has “no idea” why the police decided to arrest and prosecute him.
Russian analyst Aleksandr Verkhovsky says the state usually uses the 2002 anti-extremism laws where it sees a group as a threat to state security, but admitted it’s “not so easy to understand” why Putin’s regime is targeting Jehovah’s Witnesses. He speculated that they could be targeted because it’s a well-funded, US-based church that’s opposed to military service.
During WWII, Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted in many countries, including Canada and the US. The worst offender was Nazi Germany. Around 10,000 German members of the church were imprisoned for refusing to be conscripted, including 2,000 sent to concentration camps, of whom over half died.
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