Article 19 of the Russian Constitution reads: “Any form of restriction of the rights of citizens on the basis of social, racial, ethnic, linguistic or religious affiliation is prohibited”. The recent ban on the activities of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation is precisely the case of restriction of the rights of citizens based on their religious beliefs and is a clear case of discrimination.
Declaring a peaceful religious organization (in fact, a serious Christian denomination that has millions of followers worldwide and hundreds of thousands of followers in the Russian Federation alone) is a grave violation of the right to freedom of conscience. Declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization entails not only the liquidation of a legal entity (the Administrative Center itself), but is also a formal recognition of all the followers of this denomination as violators of the law.
On April 19, 2017, the International Court of Justice in Hague ordered Russia to abolish the ban of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, which also had been previously declared “an organization banned by the Russian Federation”. The Court found the prohibition of the Mejlis to be discriminatory and demanded that the Russian Federation revoke this decision by way of an interim measure for the period of consideration of this legal claim made by Ukrainian government against Russia.
Credo of the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” is that “an indispensable condition for observing the rights of everyone is to recognize a non-discriminatory attitude in ensuring all of these rights”. It is obvious that the rights of both Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Crimean Tatar people were violated by the legal prohibitions of the respective organizations and both bans are discriminatory. ADC “Memorial” considers prohibition of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be a violation of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the norms of international law, which guarantee freedom of conscience and protection against discrimination.
The authorities of the Russian Federation should not await decisions of high international courts demanding abolition of discriminatory rulings: it is necessary to immediately abandon the practice of discriminatory persecution of peoples and religions.