Staunton, July 17 – Since the Russian Supreme Court ordered the liquidation of Jehovah’s Witnesses communities last spring, members of that denomination in the North Caucasus have been subject to searches, harassment, the cutting off of communal services, abuse of children, firings from work, and worsening relations with their neighbors.
Witnesses fear, the Kavkaz-Uzel portal reports, that if their appeal to overturn that decision goes wrong, their situation will deteriorate even further, with officials feeling free to treat them as outlaws and other people in the region following suit, thus making their lives almost unbearable (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/306172/).
Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the Russian Administrative Center for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, says that the followers of his group in the North Caucasus have suffered as much or more than the 175,000 Witnesses in Russia as a whole. He adds the Presidential Human Rights ombudsman has been informed and is concerned, but all are waiting for the appeal.
“A significant number” of violations of the rights of believers “have taken place in Stavropol and Krasnodar krays,” but there are also reports of violations and related incidents in the republics of the North Caucasus, and in Rostov and Astrakhan oblasts as well. Especially worrisome are cases of police harassment and Witnesses’ being fired from their jobs.
In one city in Krasnoyarsk kray, the head of a pre-school fired a Jehovah’s Witness because, she said, her “organization has been recognized as ‘extremist’” and therefore “she cannot work in this institution,” Sivulsky reports. Similar problems have occurred in other places as well.
Even more frequently, police have challenged people as to whether they are Witnesses and plan to continue missionary activity and meetings. The Witnesses about whom he has information say that they are obeying the law and won’t meet as long as there is a law against it, but they declare that they are believers and will remain so “to the end of their days.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Daghestan report that the authorities haven’t taken dramatic steps against them yet but that they fear that will happen if the court rules against their appeal, something most of them expect. At the same time, Witnesses in that republic say they fear what the population will do if they continue to be called “extremists.”
Konstantin Yelavsky, a representative of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in Sochi, says that things have deteriorated to the point that “we have ceased to meet in kingdom halls for services. Of course, no Witness has ceased to believe: we simply have begun to get together in another way, at home with our friends and fellow believers.” It is a matter of security.
“People have begun to consider us not as people who have a different faith but as what the media says extremists. This has begun to influence attitudes toward our children in school,” where teachers now force Witnesses to celebrate holidays that their faith tells them not to. “Earlier they respected our opinion.” Now, they don’t.
And Konstantin Sedov, a Witness elder in Volgograd oblast, reports that in his region, the police are raiding the homes of witnesses, confiscating literature, and initiating criminal and administrative proceedings. The Witnesses, he says, remain unbowed: “No one can prohibit us from believing in God: we [simply] are assembling in small groups.”