The U.S. and six other countries Friday issued a joint declaration condemning repression of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the evangelizing Christian denomination that has faced severe state opposition in many of the countries where it operates.
The statement, issued by the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, said the signatories felt “grave concern” over how members of the denomination have been treated. Much of the tension revolves around the faith’s pacifism and refusal to observe symbols of secular government authority such as oaths and national anthems.
“We uphold the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to practice their religion and their beliefs and their ability to adhere to being apolitical and pacifist without fear, harassment, discrimination or persecution,” said the declaration by members of the International Religious Freedom of Belief Alliance. “In countries around the world, governments investigate, detain, arrest and imprison Jehovah’s Witnesses on account of their religious beliefs.”
Harassment, the statement said, included home raids of Jehovah’s Witnesses, prison sentences for proclaiming their faith and discrimination.
Brazil, Denmark, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and the United Kingdom joined the U.S. government in issuing the statement.
The statement did not single out any country for criticism, but Russia has long been of particular concern for the government’s official hostility to the denomination.
The Supreme Court of Russia four years ago labeled the group an “extremist organization,” banned its activities in Russia and ordered its assets confiscated. The denomination says dozens of its members in Russia have been convicted of extremism or are in pretrial detention, and the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses recently estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 of its members have fled Russia since the ban came into force, according to a report in June by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The denomination is banned in seven countries: Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Kyrgyzstan was reportedly also weighing a ban on its activities.