MANILA - Members of the Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) have asked Russian President Vladimir Putin's adviser to intervene in the alleged "campaign of terror" against the sect following the arrest of at least 17 members.
The wives of the 17 detained JWs, in an open letter to Putin aide Mikhail Fedotov, said dozens more of their fellow believers have been placed under house arrest, while others have been dismissed from their work.
The group said law enforcers also seized passports, Bibles and computers from the homes of some of their 175,000 members.
"If the Russian government does not quickly put an end to this growing campaign of terror, the administration will be faced with a nation-wide human rights catastrophe," read their open letter.
The Russian Supreme Court in April 2017 ordered the seizing of JW's administrative center and other properties. The decision came after the justice ministry said it found signs of extremist activity within the Christian group.
The decision, did not ban the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and only involved legal entities, the wives of the jailed JWs said.
They also noted that both the justice ministry and the Russian Federation Government officially stated that "the court’s decision would not result in any violations of the rights of citizens to freedom of worship."
"We cannot stop believing in God. It is a right that every individual has from birth. The Russian Federation is a multi-confessional state, and we, as citizens of Russia, have the right to expect that our rights will be respected by the state," the group said.
"We are not asking for any special privileges. We are asking for just one thing—please, defend our rights."
Religious life in Russia is dominated by the Orthodox Church, which exerts considerable political influence and enjoys Putin's support. Orthodox scholars view Jehovah’s Witnesses as a "totalitarian sect."
Prior to the court ruling against JWs, Russian authorities put several of the group’s publications on a list of banned extremist literature and prosecutors have long cast it as an organization that destroys families, fosters hatred, and threatens lives.
The group, a US-based Christian denomination known for its door-to-door preaching and rejection of military service and blood transfusions, says this description is false.
With a report from Reuters