Russian authorities have detained a man in western Siberia “on suspicion of setting up a cell” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group, considered an “extremist” organization under Russian law, state-run news agency TASS reported on Wednesday.
Police detained the man recently in Seversk, a town in western Siberia’s Tomsk region. Investigators say the man and others affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses “organized meetings in 2017-2020, disseminated ‘extremist’ literature, and recruited new members” to the organization.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the Russian Investigative Committee’s press service said:
Investigators of the Russian Investigative Committee in the Tomsk Region based on the case files of the Federal Security Service and the Internal Affairs Ministry in the Tomsk Region opened a criminal case into … the activities of an extremist organization in the city of Seversk… The alleged organizer of the extremist organization’s activities was detained. He has been charged, the issue of choosing a restriction measure against him is being decided.
“A search of [the man’s] apartment is underway and investigators are questioning the witnesses,” TASS reported Wednesday.
In a similar case last month, a court in Russian-annexed Crimea sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to six years in prison for “organizing an extremist organization, in the latest harsh sentence against the Christian movement,” the Moscow Times reported.
In 2017, Russia officially outlawed the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization. This allows authorities to prosecute its members as “extremists.” Last week in Southern Russia, police detained four Jehovah’s Witnesses on charges of “extremism” that could land them in prison for up to ten years, Breitbart News reported.
Putin’s championing of the Russian Orthodox Church – repressed during the Soviet Union era – has bolstered the power of its leaders, who dismiss the U.S.-based Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian sect as an illegitimate cult.
“The traditional Christian Churches … do not regard the [Jehovah’s Witnesses] movement as a mainstream Christian denomination because it rejects the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which it regards as both irrational and unbiblical,” the BBC reported.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses base their beliefs only on the text of the Bible and ignore ‘mere human speculations or religious creeds.’ They believe that the Bible is the Word of God and consider its 66 books to be divinely inspired and historically accurate,” according to the report. “Although Christian-based, the [Jehovah’s Witnesses] group believes that the traditional Christian Churches have deviated from the true teachings of the Bible, and do not work in full harmony with God.”
“The Putin regime views the [Jehovah’s Witnesses], headquartered in the town of Warwick, New York, as a dangerous foreign sect seeking to undermine Russian values and institutions, allegations they reject,” Breitbart News reported last fall when a regional Russian court sentenced six men to up three and a half years in prison for their involvement with the “extremist” group.
“Christianity was a powerful spiritual unifying force … in the creation of a Russian nation and Russian state,” Putin said of the faith in his annual address to the Russian Federal Assembly in 2014. His regime views any subversion of traditional Christianity as corrosive to Russia’s very foundations.