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By JASON LE MIERE, on 4/21/17

Russia’s decision to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country shows the “paranoia” of Vladimir Putin’s government, according to the chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).702017119 univ lsr lg

Russia’s Supreme Court issued a verdict Thursday upholding a claim from the country’s justice ministry last month that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activity violated laws on extremism. The ruling liquidates the group’s headquarters in St. Petersburg and all 395 of its local religious organizations. Russia contains 175,000 members of the church, which first began operating in the country in 1991. Coming after six days of hearings, the decision means the Christian denomination is classified alongside terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group (ISIS).

“It’s very disappointing but frankly not very surprising,” Thomas J. Reese, chair of USCIRF told Newsweek Friday. “Russia has been cracking down on religious groups that are not supportive of the government and it’s just amazing to pick on a small group which is pacifist which doesn’t want to be involved in politics and to classify them as the same is ISIS just shows how absurd these extremism laws are in Russia.”

Reese, whose commission is charged with making recommendations to Congress, the president and the State Department, claimed that Russia’s decision was motivated by Putin’s desire for absolute control within the country, particularly at a time when his government is being attacked from the outside. [...]