European Court of Human Rights declares Russia's ban on Jehovah's Witnesses unlawful

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has handed down a landmark judgment condemning Russia's treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) . 

The court this week declared Russia's 2017 ban on Jehovah's Witnesses to be unlawful. It also deemed the ban on their printed publications and website,, illegal.

Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia have experienced imprisonment and the confiscation of their property for many years on the grounds that they are extremists. 

The ECHR found the claim of extremism to be baseless. 

"The applicants' religious activities and the content of their publications appear to have been peaceful in line with their professed doctrine of non-violence," the judgment stated.

The court ordered Russia to suspend all pending criminal proceedings against Jehovah's Witnesses and free those already in prison. 

"[Russia] must take all necessary measures to secure the discontinuation of all pending criminal proceedings against Jehovah's Witnesses . . . and [the] release of all Jehovah's Witnesses who have been deprived of their liberty," the court said. 

The ruling awarded JW 3.4m euros (around $3.7m) in damages and ordered Russia to either return all confiscated property or pay nearly 60 million euros (around $64m) in compensation. 

It also upheld the right of Jehovah's Witnesses to refuse blood transfusions or to join military service on religious grounds.

"The judgment vindicates every one of our brothers and sisters inside and outside of Russia, legally establishing that they are law-abiding citizens who are being wrongly prosecuted and imprisoned," JW said. 

It admitted, however, that it was "unclear" what impact the ECHR's judgments would have inside Russia.