Jehovah’s Witnesses break the law forbidding “extremism” when its members refuse blood transfusions, Russia’s Justice Ministry said Thursday at a Supreme Court hearing on the question of banning the religious group in the country. The ministry added that if the organization is outlawed, its members could be prosecuted individually for extremism.
The Justice Ministry last month suspended the organization’s headquarters in St. Petersburg, alleging that its activities “violate Russia’s law on combating extremism." The country’s Supreme Court Wednesday began hearing a case that could outlaw the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has 175,000 members and 395 branches across the country, as an extremist organization.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible prohibits the ingesting of blood and so refuse to allow blood transfusions or donations. At a session of the Supreme Court Thursday, a spokesperson for the Justice Ministry argued that the stance meant the organization violated the anti-extremism law that was passed following Russia’s second war in Chechnya in 1999 and 2000 and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
“Checks have found that the organization is in breach of the law on resistance to extremism,” she said, according to Russian news agency TASS. “In particular, the organization’s religious literature forbids blood transfusion for its members in defiance of the doctors’ recommendation.”
The group had been warned in March 2016 that it could be banned if further evidence of alleged extremism was found in the following 12 months.
“The religious organization Jehovah’s Witnesses has been repeatedly warned by courts of law, but it has taken no required measures to eliminate the violations,” the Justice Ministry spokeswoman said.
A representative for the ministry asserted that the Jehovah’s Witnesses promoted the idea of their exceptionalism and supremacy over other religions, which similarly violated anti-extremism legislation.
The Supreme Court dismissed a counterclaim from the Jehovah’s Witnesses that its members were victims of repression.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have strongly denied the accusations against it, arguing that “extremism is profoundly alien to the Bible-based beliefs and morality” of members of the faith.
The federal United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said Wednesday that the Justice Ministry’s move “reflects the Russian government’s tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country’s political stability.”