MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities have added over 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses to a register of extremists and terrorists, the organization said in a statement Friday.
The latest move in a crackdown on the religious group effectively cuts the believers off from the country’s financial system, as being on list leads to one’s bank accounts being frozen and to severe restrictions on any financial transactions.
Russia officially banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017 and declared the group an extremist organization. The Kremlin has actively used vaguely worded extremism laws to crack down on opposition activists and religious minorities.
Since then, hundreds of members have been subjected to raids, arrests and prosecution. Twenty-four members of the organization have been convicted, nine of whom have been sentenced to prison, and more than 300 people are currently under criminal investigation.
Most of the blacklisted believers have not been convicted yet but are under investigation, the Jehovah’s Witnesses said.
Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses world headquarters in the United States, said Friday that Russian authorities are “vilifying Jehovah’s Witnesses, crippling them from caring for their basic needs.”
“Clearly, Russia has effectively reinstated its darkest period of history by relentlessly persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses, as did its intolerant Soviet predecessors,” Lopes said.
The register, available on the website of Rosfinmonitoring, Russia’s financial intelligence agency, currently contains more than 9,500 names. It doesn’t state a person’s affiliation with an organization. The Associated Press was able to identify at least two dozens Jehovah’s Witnesses on the list.
Rosfinmonitoring officials would neither confirm nor deny blacklisting Jehovah’s Witnesses to The Associated Press, saying that they add people to the register based on the information law enforcement provides them with.
The crackdown on members of the group continues despite a promise by Russian President Vladimir Putin to look into “this complete nonsense.”
“Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too, so I don’t quite understand why persecute them,” Putin said at a meeting with the Presidential Council for Human Rights in 2018.