Russian customs officials have unlawfully seized a total of 10.5 million books and brochures intended for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia since March.
The Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia say the texts, including Bibles, share a message of comfort and hope but have been classified as “extremist.”
Among the seized books are nearly 4,000 copies of the Holy Scriptures and 1,881 Bibles in Ossetian, which is on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages. These are the only complete Bibles available in the Ossetian language.
At the root of these discriminatory actions is the arbitrary interpretation of the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity.
The UN Human Rights Committee noted in their “Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of the Russian Federation: “The Committee remains concerned . . . that the vague and open-ended definition of “extremist activity” in the Federal Law on Combating Extremist Activity does not require any element of violence or hatred and that no clear and precise criteria on how materials may be classified as extremist are provided in the law. The Committee expresses concern at numerous reports that the law is increasingly used to curtail freedom of expression, including political dissent, and freedom of religion, targeting, inter alia, Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Committee reiterates its previous recommendations . . . that the State party should revise without undue delay the Federal Law on Combating Extremist Activity with a view to clarifying the vague and open-ended definition of “extremist activity”, ensuring that the definition requires an element of violence or hatred, and establishing clear and precise criteria on how materials may be classified as extremist. It should take all necessary measures to prevent the arbitrary use of the law and revise the Federal List of Extremist Materials.”
Also included in seizures was a 17-ton consignment of 4-page invitations to the “Imitate Jesus” convention, held during summer and now useless. More than 80 tons of Bible-based literature and Bibles still being held at the border.