MOSCOW — The Russian Supreme Court on Thursday declared the country’s branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremist,” equating it to the Islamic State.
The religious group is to be disbanded and its assets seized by the government, according to the court’s website.
“This decision can lead to most deplorable consequences for believers of various confessions, as well as for Russia’s public image,” Jehovah’s Witnesses Russia said on its website.
Under Russian law, the ban would not prohibit any of the 170,000 individual believers from following their creed, but congregating and proselytizing would become offenses punishable with up to five years in prison.
The plaintiff, the Russian Justice Ministry, cited the group’s aversion to blood transfusion on religious grounds as reason for the ban.
A number of books and pamphlets by Jehovah’s Witnesses have also been banned in Russia in the past years. Prosecutors claimed the publications foster intolerance.
Eight regional chapters of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned in Russia as “extremist” since 2009.
The Russian list of banned extremist organizations currently contains 59 entries, most of them white supremacist organizations. The Islamic State and Al Qaida are also banned in Russia.