[JURIST] The Russian Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] began hearings on Wednesday on a request [RAPSI report] to outlaw the Jehovah's Witnesses religious group. The Russian Ministry of Justice [official website, in Russian] has named the group on a list of extremist organizations. The ministry argues that Jehovah's Witnesses' common practice of passing out pamphlets incites hatred against other groups and violates anti-extremist legislation. On Wednesday the Supreme Court dismissed [RAPSI report] a countersuit filed by Jehovah's Witnesses against the ministry seeking to declare its actions unlawful and to recognize the members of the organization as victims of political oppression. Three UN human rights experts have urged [UN report] Russia to stop the lawsuit, calling it a threat "to individual freedom in general in the Russian Federation."
Russia's human rights and religious freedom record has been the subject of widespread international criticism. In February 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.