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The Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russia, and Us

Alexander Kalistratov, the leader of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation, leaves a court building in the Siberian town of Gorno-Altaysk, December 16, 2010. (Alexandr Tyryshkin/Reuters)

“OSCE” stands for “Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.” (That hyphen is a little strange, but it used to be standard in English, and it persists in some cases.) The United States has a mission to the OSCE. I think Americans can be proud of our people there.

Last Thursday, our chargé d’affaires, Michele Siders, said this:

The United States remains appalled by the Russian government’s decision in July 2017 to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a peaceful religious group, as “extremist.” On May 3, a St. Petersburg court upheld the confiscation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ headquarters on the basis that the religious group has been banned as “extremist.” In a move that harkens back to Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Russian government will seize the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ property.

For the full statement, go here.

That statement ends,

. . . we renew our call on Russia to immediately release all those imprisoned simply for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. According to Memorial [the leading rights organization in Russia] there were 103 prisoners of conscience in the Russian Federation. We urge Russia to release prisoners of conscience unfairly held in pre-trial detention and drop any ongoing criminal investigations into their activities. We call on Russia to halt the seizure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters property, and abide by its international obligations and OSCE commitments to respect freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief for all.

Is the United States a “normal” or an “exceptional” country? This is an ongoing debate, but, apparently, our mission at the OSCE is determined to stand for something (and something good).

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