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On January 16, 2017, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia will again seek to counter the decade-long tightening of restrictionsPutin signs Yarovaya bill r on their religious freedom. They will ask the Moscow City Court to rule that a warning against their national headquarters be rescinded as unlawful and unfounded. The warning, issued on March 2, 2016, by Deputy Prosecutor General V. Ya. Grin, threatens to liquidate the Witnesses’ national headquarters if new evidence is discovered of “extremism” that has taken place within a year.

The Hunt for Extremism

Russia’s prosecutors are misapplying the Federal Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity as the basis for charges of extremism against Jehovah’s Witnesses. After the law was modified in 2006, the definition of extremism no longer required appeals to violent acts, only “incitement of . . . religious discord.” This loose definition allows authorities to portray anything that contradicts the teachings of traditional religions or promotes another belief as inciting religious enmity. Gregory Allen, a lawyer assisting the defense of the Witnesses’ religious freedom in Russia, stated: “Russian authorities use this elastic definition to label as ‘extremist’ any religious beliefs they don’t consider orthodox.”

Russia’s Decade-Long Attack on Religious Freedom Intensifies