The Chair of Russia’s Supreme Court, Vyacheslav Lebedev, argued today that the country’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses is not motivated by religious animus. His statement came several days after an elder in the organization was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of organizing an extremist group.
Lebedev said, “No one is persecuting anyone else for their religion here. An organization was prohibited because, as the Supreme Court has previously indicated, the organization participated in illegal activity. Even if you changed the law, nothing would happen.” Lebedev was likely referring to Russia’s law “On Resisting Extremist Activity,” which resulted in the liquidation of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a legal organization.
In December 2018, Russian president Vladimir Putin indicated that he would speak to Lebedev in an attempt to lessen restrictions on the organization. Since the sentencing of Dennis Christensen, however, Putin’s representatives have distanced themselves from those efforts.