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article imageArrests of Jehovah's Witnesses begin in Russia

By Kevin Jess     Mar 12, 2010 in World
Moscow - Since late February more than 50 Jehovah's Witnesses have been arrested and detained. They were publicly protesting in a nation-wide leaflet distribution aimed at informing Russian citizens as to how their religious freedoms are being curtailed.
Twelve million leaflets entitled 'Is history repeating itself? A question for Russians’ (pdf) were handed out beginning February 26 by 150,000 volunteer Jehovah's Witnesses in an effort to let Russians know the truth about the persecution being faced by the religious group that has been labeled by the court as "extremist", reports Forum 18.
It was this past December that Digital Journal reported that Russia's highest court had outlawed religious activities by Jehovah's Witnesses in the Rostov-on-Don region in Russia, seized the group's assets and labeled 34 of its publications as extremist including a children's book of Bible stories, and its signature magazine, The Watchtower.
The effort by Jehovah's Witnesses to move public opinion was prompted by various Russian courts who have continued to ban their literature and the activities of the group.
Since February the Russian government has moved to confiscate property owned by Jehovah's Witnesses, including an estate in northern Moscow, reports RIA Novosti, and now law enforcement officers have closed down and sealed the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Taganrog, Rostov Region, says the group's website.
Grigory Martynov, press secretary for Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, said since the court rulings followers have encountered 10 times the level of state harassment across the country as before the ban.
To Jehovah's Witnesses the actions of the government are eerily reminiscent of the Soviet era.
Vasily Kalin, chairman of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses said in a press release, “Under the Soviet regime Jehovah’s Witnesses first were ostracized from public life and were forced to go underground. Then they were declared to be gloomy sectarians who had chosen for themselves to hide from people. Again we’re seeing a similar picture today regarding the Witnesses. While their property is being confiscated under the pretext of fighting extremism, the property that was previously taken from other religions is being returned.”
According to Asia news, the 4-page leaflet distributed last month was very critical of "the way their communities are being persecuted, labelled extremist and criminal for refusing the military draft."
Only 15 years ago many veteran Jehovah's Witnesses were reportedly given a a special "certificate of rehabilitation", and now those same people with the certificates in their pocket are being charged as "extremists" and forced to practice their religion underground.
There are approximately 160,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.
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