The brutal treatment of this small, resolutely non-violent religious group is loathsome testimony to the ruthlessness of Russia’s authoritarian regime
Hardly anyone noticed last week when the Russian supreme court last week suppressed the Jehovah’s Witnesses there and seized all the group’s property. We were all too busy worrying about fascism in France or war in Korea. But it was a very important blow against the principle of freedom of belief. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are mostly regarded as slightly ludicrous in the UK. They have odd beliefs about blood and a slightly unhealthy interest in the end of the world and that’s the end of what most people know, if they know anything.
A more important tenet of their faith is their refusal of military service. They refuse conscription and even non-violent “war work”. This stance led them to be persecuted in almost all the countries that fought the second world war. They were imprisoned in Britain and the US, and persecuted viciously under Hitler: by the end of the war half the Witnesses in Germany were in concentration camps and a quarter of them had died.
Authoritarian regimes loathe minority religions, perhaps because they imagine how the world might be different.