Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Is Far From the Only Oppression the Group Faces Around the World

Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses pray at a regional congress at Traktar Stadium in Minsk, Belarus, July 25, 2015. Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are still reeling from a decision by the country’s Supreme Court last month to ban all activity of the Christian denomination under an anti-extremism law. But, while that decision has garnered much attention and condemnation around the world, Russia is far from the only country guilty of oppressing the U.S.-founded religion.

Related: After ban, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia harassed by police during religious services

Jehovah's Witnesses began in Pennsylvania toward the end of the 19th century and now count 8.3 million members around the globe. The group headquartered in upstate New York is perhaps best known for going door-to-door to spread their message. as well as refusing military service and blood transfusions. Their stance on blood transfusions was cited by Russia's justice ministry as evidence that they constituted an extremist organization. However. their position has also been credited with encouraging doctors to come up with less risky alternatives to using blood.

Still, their beliefs remain controversial in many parts of the world. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report last month detailing various abuses committed against almost all religions all over the globe. Numerous abuses involve Jehovah’s Witnesses:

Eritrea

The plight of Jehovah’s Witnesses is particularly serious in Eritrea. The African country officially recognizes just four religious groups—the Coptic Orthodox Church of Eritrea, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea—all other groups must register. Many minority faith groups are persecuted, including Jehovah’s Witnesses. A decree from the then- and current-President Isaias Afwerki in 1994 revoked Jehovah’s Witnesses’ citizenship due to their refusal to take part in national service or participate politically. Three Jehovah’s Witnesses remain imprisoned from that time, as part of a total of 54 Jehovah’s Witnesses currently imprisoned without trial.

Tajikistan

A decade before Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Central Asian country of Tajikistan did the same thing. With, at the time, a congregation of just 600 in the country of around 8.5 million, Tajikistan’s Culture Ministry in 2007 decreed the group’s activity “illegal” and, again largely citing their refusal to partake in military service, issued a nationwide ban.

Turkmenistan

Also deemed a “Country of Particular Concern” by USCIRF, Turkmenistan, has what Human Rights Watch has called an “atrocious” record when it comes to human rights. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been singled out for some of the worst treatment. Members of the group have been fired from their jobs and even evicted from their homes, according to human rights organization Forum 18. Jehovah’s Witnesses have also reported being imprisoned without charge and tortured.

Kyrgyzstan

In unquestionably the most bizarre form of oppression carried out against Jehovah’s Witnesses, a mother and daughter spent 31 months under house arrest, until their release in October 2015, for alleged witchcraft. Their precise crime was said to be conjuring snakes from eggs and stealing a woman’s life savings, according to Forum 18. Jehovah’s Witnesses allege that the punishment was retribution for their failed applications to register their faith with the state.

Uzbekistan

Central Asia’s most populous country regularly disrupts Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings and, as with those of other religious groups in the country, particularly Muslims, often punishes those in attendance for possessing religious literature.

Azerbaijan

In Azerbaijan, where all religious groups must register with the government, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been subject to raids, arrests, fines and having religious texts confiscated. In 2015, two Jehovah’s Witnesses were jailed for almost a year for sharing the Bible’s message with their neighbors.  Jehovah’s Witnesses have also been jailed for refusing to perform military service.

Kazakhstan

Neighboring Russia, constitutionally secular Kazakhstan has repeatedly fined Jehovah’s Witnesses for sharing their faith with others, either verbally or through religious texts, and even inviting people to meetings. Just this week, a Jehovah's Witness was sentenced to five years in prison, accused of propagating ideas that "disrupt interreligious and interethnic concord."

 

Belarus

Jehovah’s Witnesses in this former Soviet country have been threatened with liquidation for holding religious meetings without permission and distributing religious texts. Last year, a Jehovah’s Witness was fined for refusing to perform military service, even though he offered to perform civilian service.

Egypt

Despite there being an estimated 1,500 in the country, Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with the Bahá’í faith, has been banned in Egypt since 1960. Members of the religious group remain prohibited from having places of worship, even if in recent years they have been permitted to meet with fewer than 30 people in private homes, according to the USCIRF report.