Russia’s Investigative Committee says it has arrested several Jehovah’s Witnesses and carried out raids of their homes across the country as part of a new investigation into the religious group that Moscow has labeled as extremist and banned in the country.
The Investigative Committee’s Moscow office said in a statement on November 24 that officers in more than 20 Russian regions searched homes of the religious group’s members, adding that an unspecified number of “organizers and members of the movement,” had been detained.
The statement added a link to a video showing law enforcement officers breaking the door of an apartment and forcing their way inside.
According to the statement, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been organizing the activities of its national center and affiliates in the northwest part of Moscow since June 2019.
Russia officially banned the directorate of Jehovah’s Witnesses and its branches across the country in April 2017 and deemed it an “extremist organization,” a designation the U.S. State Department has characterized as “wrong.”
For decades the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.
The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, Bible study, rejection of military service, and not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays.
Since the faith was outlawed in Russia, several Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia and the Russia-annexed Ukrainian Black Sea Crimea peninsula.
In September 2019, Washington banned two high-ranking regional officers from Russia’s Investigative Committee from entering the United States over the alleged torture of seven detainees who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses who’ve been charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.