The recent ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses is proof of the country’s blatant violation of basic religious freedom.
Religious freedom is one of those things that we barely notice until it is abused.
For instance, it is easy to take it for granted that we, in certain parts of Nigeria, can freely practice or display our religious beliefs without being arrested or getting into trouble for it.
Sadly, this is not the case everywhere as the estimated 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia can testify to this.
Before this, the unfair treatment of this group can be traced back to 2004. That year, the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city was banned by a Moscow court.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only ones whose right to religious freedom have been severely abused.
Under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, the persecution of Muslims, Protestant and Catholic churches have flourished.
According to a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Tatars, an indigenous Muslim ethnic group have also been treated unfairly by the government.
Newsweek reports that these Muslims were moved to Crimea, an area that was annexed in 2014. They are still being persecuted there, according to Robert van Voren, a Dutch human rights activist and political scientist.
Voren, along with other activists has accused Russian authorities of ‘imprisoning Crimean Tatars in psychiatric hospitals, according to The Guardian.
Emil Kurbedinov, a prominent Crimean lawyer, has described the living conditions of these people.
In her words, “Some are placed in isolation and are denied their basic needs, such as access to a toilet. Others are housed with multiple people suffering from severe mental health conditions.
“The activists are interrogated about their alleged involvement in ‘extremism’ and their views of the government. They are also deprived of the right to speak with their family or meet their lawyer on a one-to-one basis without a guard being present. All of this violates international law.”
Right now, the only religious group that is untouched is the Orthodox church. Reportedly, their numbers have increased from 30% to over 70% since 1991.
These cases of outright violation of religious freedom, worsened by the recent ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, has caused the USCIRF to label Russia as a “country of particular concern.”
Tom Reese, chair of religious freedom commission, said, “Through a cynical use of an extremely flawed set of anti-extremism laws, Russia has banned for the first time in its history a centrally administered religion…
“The Russian government’s premeditated attack demonstrated that it does not consider itself bound by internationally recognized norms or conventions.”
“Russia represents a unique case among the countries in this report — it is the sole state to have not only continually intensified its repression of religious freedom since USCIRF commenced monitoring it but also to have expanded its repressive policies to the territory of a neighbouring state, by means of military invasion and occupation.”
Eventually, the USCIRF declared Russia as the number one country in its 2017 list of worst religious freedom violators.
Can we all agree that Russia deserves this title?
Link: Jehovah’s Witness: How Russia continues to abuse religious freedom