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Russia Justice Ministry seeks to classify Jehovah's Witnesses as extremist group

[JURIST] The Russian Ministry of Justice filed a suit in the Russian Supreme Court [official websites] Friday seeking to classify Jehovah's Witnesses as an extremist group [press release]. The suit claims that the religious group is closer to a cult than a legitimate religious group and is a danger to Russian families. The leadership of the Jehovah's Witnesses have decried the claim amid worries of reduced freedom of religion in Russia and have stated that, "[e]xtremism is deeply alien to the Bible-based beliefs and morality of Jehovah's Witnesses. Persecution of the faithful for peaceful anti-extremism legislation is built on frank fraud, incompetent individual 'experts' and, as a result, a miscarriage of justice."

Russia's human rights and religious freedom record has been the subject of widespread international criticism. Last month the Russian Supreme Court annulled the 2.5 year prison sentence of Ildar Dadin, who was the first person to be convicted under a relatively new anti-protest law [JURIST report]. Earlier in February the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay more than 63,000 euros for arresting Alexander Navalny multiple times [JURIST report] between March 2012 and February 2014. The court held that Russia repeatedly and unjustifiably violated Navalny's right to freedom of peaceful assembly under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In January the US sanctioned [JURIST report] five Russian officials for human rights abuses in association with the death of a lawyer in prison. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced [JURIST report] in November that Russia would leave the International Criminal Court (ICC), expressing disdain over the ICC's investigation into potential human rights abuses by Russian forces in South Ossetia in 2008. In May 2015 Russian President Vladmir Putin signed a law [JURIST report] that allows for foreign "undesirable" NGOs or firms to be sanctioned and banned from operating in the country, drawing criticism from human rights groups.

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