The co-rapporteurs of the PACE Monitoring Committee for the Russian Federation, Theodora Bakoyannis (Greece, EPP/CD) and Liliane Maury Pasquier (Switzerland, SOC), have expressed their serious concern regarding recent developments in relation to the respect for human rights in the Russian Federation.
“The recent decision of the Supreme Court to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in the Russian Federation an extremist organisation, and to close it down, together with the 395 Local Religious Organisations used by Witnesses, raises serious concerns regarding freedom of religion in Russia and is another example of the legislation against extremism being abused to curtail freedom of expression and assembly” said the co-rapporteurs. They noted that, as a result of these developments, Jehovah’s Witnesses can now be prosecuted for “extremist activity” merely for attending religious services and practising their faith.
In its last information note of October 2016 on the functioning of democratic institutions in the Russian Federation, the Monitoring Committee echoed the Venice Commission’s previous concerns regarding Russian Federation’s so-called extremism law and deplored in particular the abuse and arbitrary application of the law due to its lack of clarity in the definition of extremist activities. In addition, it should be emphasised that the European Court of Human Rights has previously ruled in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to worship without unlawful interference from the Russian authorities.
The co-rapporteures also expressed concern at the reports of abductions, unlawful detentions, torture, beatings and killings of men in the Chechen Republic based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. “There is a general climate of fear that is being reinforced by local authorities’ homophobic discourse” stated the rapporteurs. They urged the authorities to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into these allegations and to ensure that all those perpetrating such acts are held accountable. They also called for urgent measures to protect the life, liberty and security of gay and bisexual people throughout Russia.