Christianity

Russian court mulls Jehovah's Witnesses ban

An aerial view of St. Petersburg.

An aerial view of St. Petersburg.  (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)

Russia's Supreme Court began a hearing Wednesday to potentially ban the Jehovah's Witnesses and declare the group an extremist organization in the country.

The Russian government filed a lawsuit on March 16 to outlaw the Christian-based movement. Its headquarters near St. Petersburg already have been placed on the list of extremist groups, the BBC reported.

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Lawyers representing the movement filed a counter suit ahead of Wednesday's hearing. They are asking the court to declare members of the Jehovah's Witnesses as victims of political repression and to deem the ban unlawful.

The court, however, has said it's "ineligible to review this lawsuit" because other organizations are responsible for declaring a person a victim of political repression, according to the Russian Legal Information Agency

There are about 175,000 Jehovah's Witnesses members in Russia.

The Jehovah's Witnesses group, which started in the U.S., was outlawed under in the Soviet Union under Joseph's Stalin's rule in the 1930s. The ban was lifted in 1991, but the group has since faced many legal problems in the country.

The government states that the group violates Russia's anti-extremism laws and creates hatred by handing out pamphlets that contain "extremist literature," according to the Russian Legal Information Agency.