Russia Orders Disbanding of Jehovah's Witnesses
Government will seize group's Kingdom Halls
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 18, 2017 1:59 AM CDT
Members of Jehovah's Witnesses react in a courtroom after judge's decision in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, April 20, 2017.   (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
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(Newser) – "Religious freedom in Russia is over," a spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses lamented Monday after the country's highest court rejected an appeal against an order banning the group. The ruling means that the religious organization will be forced to close almost 400 local chapters and hand all its "Kingdom Halls" to the Russian government, the BBC reports. There are believed to be around 175,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. The group was outlawed under Josef Stalin—who sent many Witnesses to Siberia—but the ban was lifted after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Russia's justice ministry, supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, had called for the ban, calling the group extremists who stirred up hatred against other religions, Newsweek reports. The organization says attacks on its followers have soared since the April ban order. "It's a very sad situation for our country. As you could see today, there were no real facts of any extremism on part of Jehovah's Witnesses," a spokesman said. "It's all about bad literature and intolerance." They plan to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, though the BBC predicts that Moscow will ignore any ruling in favor of the group.

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