By Paul Goble
Less than 48 hours after the Russian Supreme Court banned the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, Russian officials in various parts of the country have launched “a wave of force” against that religious community, according to Yaroslav Sivulsky, a member of the denomination’s administrative center in Russia.
He told Vladimir Oyvin of the Portal-Credo religious affairs portal that the Jehovah’s Witnesses “will not be able to conduct our major activities” but that members of the group will “continue to meet in private homes, a serious limitation on [religious] freedom” (portal-credo.ru/site/?act=authority&id=2256).
In St. Petersburg, Sivulsky said, persons unknow threw stones through the windows of the Jehovah’s Witness Congress Hall; and in Russian-occupied Crimea, police broke into meetings of the group to break up the service and then sealed the building so that the Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t use it now.
As for the Administrative Center of which he is a member, the religious leader continued, “it has in essence ceased its customary activity: its account has been frozen and no one is allowed to come to work in its office. We are obeying the court ruling, and we cannot for the time being do anything else.”
He said that each individual member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses must decide whether to continue their efforts to spread the word of the Bible by visiting the homes of others. And many will do so because “practice shows that no court decisions can stop a Christian from fulfilling the tasks set by Jesus Chris or God.”
Anton Chivchalov, a Russian Jehovah’s Witness, said that the Russian decision to ban his denomination and equate it with the Islamic State as extremist was backfiring on the Kremlin. He described this perhaps unexpected turn of events on his Facebook page (facebook.com/achivchalov/posts/206993539790287).
“If there’s one thing that I’m pleased with in the current situation,” he says, “it’s that more and more people begin actively defending us. More and more experts, lawyers, journalists, even prominent Orthodox figures who never defended us, now do. In social networks common people talk about absurdity of the situation and even draw cartoons emphasizing this.”
“Other denominations write appeals to the President in our support. All this was unthinkable even six months ago,” Chivchalov continues.
“And this means that it won’t be possible to jail everyone,” he says. “With the wave of indignation and support now rising, jailing the first 10 people will simply result in the fact that not almost everyone, but plainly everyone will speak out in our defense. Each prison where a Witness sits will have round-the-clock pickets and processions.”
“How will this affect the Kingdom work? You can think for yourself.”