- Jul 2011
Russia’s Crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses Begins With a ForeignerThe men who stormed into the hall were armed with handguns and clad in masks and bullet proof vests, as if prepared for a shootout. Inside, several dozen worshipers, many of whom were children or elderly, were in the midst of a Bible reading.
The raid, led by the police and Federal Security Services (FSB) officers last May in Oryol, targeted the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination known for its strict interpretation of the Bible. A month earlier, a Supreme Court decision had declared it an extremist group, putting it on par with violent terrorist organizations like Islamic State.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses in recent years had increasingly come under the authorities’ spotlight. Analysts told The Moscow Times that the group had been swept up in Russia’s drive to reign in minority religious groups that rival the Orthodox Church and oppose President Vladimir Putin’s militaristic brand of patriotism.
But the crackdown on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, analysts said, did not take off in earnest until the raid in Oryol. It marked the first arrest following the Supreme Court ruling, notably of a Danish citizen, Dennis Christensen, who had been leading the Bible reading that late spring evening.