Russia's Supreme Court to consider Jehovah's Witnesses ban

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State news agency RIA Novosti says Russia's Supreme Court has upheld the decision of the city court in Birobidzhan to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses, a decision that comes amid proceedings on a Justice Ministry suit to ban the religious organization in Russian Federation altogether.

The Jehovah's Witnesses were founded in Pittsburgh in the 1870s.

If the Supreme Court upholds this claim, the Witnesses' national headquarters will be shut down.

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On October 12, 2015, a court in the Jewish Autonomous Region ruled to ban a branch of "The Jehovah's Witnesses" in Birobidzhan because of distributing extremist literature by the organization.

The ministry said the Jehovah's Witnesses "violate Russia's law on combating extremism" and their pamphlets incite hatred against other groups.

"In view of the threat posed by the organisation Jehovah's Witnesses, the Justice Ministry asks for declaring it extremist and banning its activity", the Justice Ministry's official said. Jehovah's Witnesses spokesman Ivan Bilenko said the organisation was prepared to press for its rights in any courts.

A suspension order came into effect on that date, preventing the administrative center and all its local religious centres from using state and municipal news media, and from organizing and conducting assemblies, rallies and other public events.

An estimated eight million people worldwide are part of the Christian-based movement, best known for going door to door looking for new converts.

The court however rejected the request. At a session of the Supreme Court Thursday, a spokesperson for the Justice Ministry argued that the stance meant the organization violated the anti-extremism law that was passed following Russia's second war in Chechnya in 1999 and 2000 and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

A full court hearing was scheduled for April 5 and if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the authorities, it will be the first such ruling by a court declaring a registered centralized religious organization to be "extremist".

The Court also refused to let 395 local chapters of Jehovah's Witnesses participate in the hearings.

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