The Russian state says the group is ‘extremist.’
By Curt Mills, Staff Writer | April 21, 2017, at 8:21 a.m.
The U.S. State Department has condemned the Russian ban on Jehovah's Witnesses.
"The United States is extremely concerned by the Russian government's actions targeting and repressing members of religious minorities, including Jehovah's Witnesses, under the pretense of combating extremism," Acting State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner told U.S. News by email late Thursday night.
[RELATED: Russia Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses]
Earlier Thursday, the Russian Supreme Court called the pacifist religious sect extremist and ordered the shuttering of more than 300 chapters in the country.
"We call on the Russian authorities to ensure that Russia's anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation is not misused to target members of peaceful religious minorities, including the Jehovah's Witnesses," Toner said. "The prosecution of peaceful religious minority groups for 'extremism' creates a climate of fear which itself undermines efforts to combat the threat of radicalization."
Russian prosecutors had argued in court that the group is "a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security."
The Justice Ministry showed pamphlets from the group that it argued posed "a threat to health."
But the U.S. questioned the legal underpinning of such a ban.
"Freedom of religion is critical to a peaceful, inclusive, stable, and thriving society. All religious minorities should be able to enjoy freedom of religion and assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Russian Federation's constitution," Toner said.
The Jehovah's Witnesses say they will appeal, within the appellate division of the Russian Supreme Court, and possibly to the European Court of Human Rights.
Corrected on April 21, 2017: This story has been updated to reflect the Russian court's actions and Toner's response took place on Thursday.