The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has signed an executive order, ordering the release of all imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country, local media reports.
The order cancels more than 100 criminal cases that were been opened against Jehovah’s Witnesses, and releases 24 people in prison who were awaiting or on trial, and a similar number under house arrest. The group’s Publications that were on a list of banned literature in Russia have also had the ban lifted.
Putin said on a state television that upon sober reflection and broader consultation involving religious leaders in Russia, human rights activists and members of the judiciary, he’s convinced that Judges who sat on these trials erred and might have ruled based on their personal convictions against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He went ahead to assure Russians that the religious activities of the group would continue to be monitored despite clearing them fit to go ahead with their activities.
A ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses came into full force in Russia after a court dismissed an appeal against the group’s classification as an “extremist” organisation.
The British and American governments were among those raising human rights concerns over the prohibition, which liquidated the group’s administrative centre near St Petersburg and 395 local religious organisations.
Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the ruling, having previously decided in favour of the justice ministry’s characterisation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist organisation” whose members “pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security”.
Judges ordered the closure of the group’s Russian headquarters, local chapters and the seizure of its property by the state.
Putin’s executive power, allowed by the Russian constitution, will see all the court rulings against the group reversed, including the release of liquidated assets.