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Jehovah’s Witnesses Banned in Russia, Labelled “Extremist” Organisation

Russian Supreme Court on Thursday labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” organization and banned the religious group from the country.

“It’s very disappointing to us, because I think it became clear during the hearings that Jehovah’s Witnesses are in no way extremists or any kind of threat to Russia or any other country,” Robert Warren, spokesman for the group said.

The ruling means the group’s Russia headquarters in St. Petersburg and local chapters must shut down, and the country will seize property owned by the group, according to Russian news agencies.

Justice Ministry attorney Svetlana Borisova said in court Thursday that the Witnesses “pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security,” the Interfax news agency reported.

Jehovah’s Witnesses tout more than 170,000 followers in Russia, and has nearly 400 local chapters.

Sergei Cherepanov, a representative with the group quoted by Interfax, said the Jehovah’s Witnesses plan to appeal the decision with the European Court of Human Rights.

“We will do everything possible,” he said.

Prosecutors charged that the group has ripped families apart and spurs hatred.

Jehovah’s Witnesses — who don’t believe in military service, voting or blood transfusions — have refuted that’s the case.

The group has been based in Russia for more than a century, The New York Times reported earlier this month.

They do not take part in the country’s patriotic celebrations for historic events like the end of World War II or the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the newspaper reported.

Thursday’s ruling ended about a week of hearings on the case. A press release issued by the Jehovah’s Witnesses on Wednesday said Russian officials had been targeting the group with “aggressive actions” over the last decade.

Warren, the Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman, said the exact reason why the group is being targeted still isn’t clear.

“We don’t think it can be political, because we are neutral,” he told The News. “We really don’t know. Obviously we want to be able to carry out our worship legally and be afforded our rights.”

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