US slams Russia for ban on Jehovah's Witnesses

US slams Russia for ban on Jehovah's Witnesses
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The State Department on Wednesday slammed the Russian Supreme Court’s decision to ban Jehovah's Witnesses from practicing in the country, which considers them an "extremist" group.

"The Russian Supreme Court’s decision this week against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the latest in a disturbing trend of persecution of religious minorities in Russia," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a statement.

Nauert urged the court to reversed the ban.

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"We urge the Russian authorities to lift the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities in Russia, to reverse the closing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center, and to release any members of religious minorities that continue to be unjustly detained for so-called 'extremist' activities," the statement said.

Nauert also called on the Kremlin "to respect the right of all to exercise the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief." 

Last week, Russia's Supreme Court ruled to uphold a ruling in April that called the Christian group an "extremist" organization.

The religion, which says it has 175,000 members in Russia, intends to appeal the ban that calls for them to disband.

"We plan to appeal this at the European Court of Human Rights as soon as we can," Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a member of the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses, told Reuters.

A European Union spokeswoman told the news wire in a statement the decision has already led to negative consequences such as "criminal prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as police raids on their prayer halls, arson attacks and other forms of harassment."

The leading religion in Russia is the Orthodox Church, which is supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Some Orthodox members believe Jehovah's Witnesses are a "totalitarian sect," Reuters reported.

Russian authorities have painted the group as a dangerous sect that will destroy families.