There is an unexpected knock at the door. When you open it, you see a pair of well-dressed individuals, smiling, with a Bible in their hand. Instantly, you recognize them as Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are volunteers, unpaid, and they have chosen to spend a portion of their free time bringing a thought from the Bible to your doorstep. But in Russia, that religious freedom is being placed under intense scrutiny.

Witnesses preach and teach because they follow a simple directive that Christ gave his adherents, recorded at Matthew Chapter 28: To go and make disciples.

Think what you will of their methods, they are there out of concern for their neighbor and out of love for God. They worship peacefully, are wholly neutral in politics, are nonviolent, law-abiding citizens, and they read the Bible in the privacy of their homes. No one would ever accuse them of being violent extremists. No one other than Vladimir Putin that is.

Persecution in Russia

In Russia, they are now being targeted in a high-profile religious persecution case, one with a potential outcome to label them as “extremists.” In ongoing hearings, set to resume this week, the Russian Ministry Of Justice is pushing to liquidate all legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, a decision that would see hundreds of Kingdom Halls – their houses of worship – seized by the government, and individual members arrested and criminally prosecuted for meeting and reading the Bible together, or even for talking to others about their faith.

Russia’s “Federal Law on Extremist Activity” is being misapplied to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The law looks to identify and eliminate subversive actions of individuals belonging to radicalized clusters like Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other militant groups. But in a throwback to the days of World War II, when Jehovah’s Witnesses were targeted, hounded by the KGB, persecuted and thrown into concentration camps, the overzealous outreach of Russia’s repressive efforts to pave the way for absolute patriotism and militarism has resulted in the denomination being targeted – ironically – for their refusal to take up arms in war.

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to join any branch of the military. The Bible says not to kill, and they follow that command literally. In fact, in countries where military service is required, they contentedly serve their time in jail. For example, in South Korea, where young men cannot opt out of the military for “conscientious objection,” nearly 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses are serving two-year prison terms.

Russia sees this as an alarming, potentially dangerous ideology that must be stamped out under the firm heel of Mother Russia’s boot. The Putin-led Federation – which prides itself with guaranteeing religious freedoms while at the same time stifling its populace under the choking doctrines of the Russian Orthodox Church – has gone to absurd lengths to label certain publications of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremist. Publications that only echo scriptures in the Bible that speak of God’s Kingdom, with Christ as King, putting an end to man-made rulerships.

And yet, you will never find a Jehovah’s Witness protesting against the government, nor will you ever find a Witness advocating for civil unrest, inciting civil disobedience, engaging in sit-ins, etc.

They do not vote; they don’t even put bumper stickers on their cars. And even more to point: Despite objections, Jehovah’s Witnesses complied with previous Russian rulings and removed the so-called extremist literature from their Kingdom Halls. Undeterred in their ignorance however, Russian officials were videotaped actually planting the literature, and then drawing up charges based on fabricated evidence. These appalling videos are available on JW.org, under the Newsroom tab. Select ‘By Region’ under ‘Legal Developments’ and choose Russia.

“We certainly hope that Russia’s Supreme Court will uphold the rights of our fellow believers in Russia to freely carry out their peaceful worship,” commented David A.

Semonian, a spokesman at the Witnesses’ world headquarters in Warwick, New Jersey. “Millions of people around the world will be watching carefully to see how the case progresses and if Russia acts to protect its own law-abiding citizens who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Don't miss our page on Facebook!