The Russian Investigative Committee on Tuesday organized large scale raids against Jehovah’s Witnesses nationwide, resulting in many arrests.
The raids took place across 20 regions of the country and targeted both leaders and adherents of the sect. The committee further noted the arrests were part of a mounting legal case against the group.
In 2017, the Russian Supreme Court branded the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist organization,” ordering them to disband and surrender their property to the Russian state. At the time, the group claimed 175,000 members within the Russian Federation.
The Investigative Committee identified several clandestine meeting locations including an apartment in Moscow from which the group worked to convert other residents.
A spokesperson for the Investigative Committee’s Moscow branch, Yulia Ivanova, told the Russian news agency Tass that “According to investigators, a group of individuals aware of the Supreme Court’s decision, which has already come into force, has been administering the organization’s religious unit in northeastern Moscow since June 2019.”
“Clandestine meetings took place in an apartment on Chelyuskinskaya Street, where followers studied religious literature and information from other sources, which promote the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and carried out other activities typical of the organization,” she continued.
Ivanova further noted that, aside from the Investigative Committee, the Russian Security Service (FSB) and the Interior Ministry were conducting raids on the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Since the court ruling in 2017, Russian security forces have staged raids on the Christian faith, arresting its members for “religious extremism” for which they face up to ten years in prison. The legal persecution had reportedly prompted hundreds of the faithful to flee to Finland by 2018.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been critical of the group, which it views as heretical, largely due to its rejection of Trinitarian theology, the mainstream Christian position which teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all part of a triune godhead. Traditional churches, including Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and most Protestants accept the Trinity, which has been the official Christian position since the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself an Orthodox Christian, has referred to the Russian Church as a “unifying force” in Russia and heavily promoted its role in Russian society.
Orthodox Christianity has been the dominant faith in Russia since 987 A.D. when St. Vladimir of Kiev received baptism as part of an alliance with the Roman Emperor Basil II. After his own conversion, Vladimir ordered his people to cast their idols into the Dnieper River and participate in a mass baptism.