A Russian Court has declared Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” organisation and banned them from the country, according to Russian media reports.
“The Supreme Court has ruled to sustain the claim of Russia’s ministry of justice and deem the ‘Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia’ organisation extremist, eliminate it and ban its activity in Russia,” said judge Yuri Ivanenko.
The Supreme Court ordered the religious group to suspend their activities at their main St Petersburg site immediately. The religious group has also had its property seized, reports Sputnik news organisation.
A lawyer for the justice ministry, Svetlana Borisova, told the court that adherents “pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security”.
It came hours after the justice ministry applied for an order to shut down the group’s national headquarters near St Petersburg and 395 local chapters, news groups said.
Russian authorities have put several Jehovah’s Witness publications on a list of banned extremist literature.
Prosecutors have long cast it as an organisation that destroys families, fosters hatred and threatens lives, a description the organisation says is false.
Lawyers for the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they would appeal the court’s decision, which has not yet come into effect, and could take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“We will do everything possible,” Sergei Cherepanov, a Jehovah’s Witnesses representative, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have received heavy criticism from mainstream Christianity, members of the medical community, ex-members and others regarding their beliefs and practices.
The religion has been informally indicted for doctrinal inconsistency and reversals, failed predictions, mis-translation of the Bible, cruel treatment of former members and autocratic and coercive leadership.
The religion has also been criticised for their rejection of blood transfusions, particularly in life-threatening medical situations, and claims that they have failed to report cases of sexual abuse to the authorities.