Russian law enforcement detained a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses and conducted searches at 16 different addresses in Moscow on Wednesday as part of a new criminal investigation against the group, state investigators said, Reuters reported.
The Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, said the people had been detained for organizing and taking part in the activities of a banned religious group.
It said they had met in a flat in northern Moscow and studied the teachings of the religion despite being aware of the ban on the group’s activities.
Russia’s Supreme Court branded the Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” organization in 2017 and ordered it to disband. Since then the authorities have detained hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses and convicted dozens on extremism charges.
“The Russian authorities continue to hunt for believers of our religion,” said Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He said that at least 15 families of Jehovah’s Witnesses had awoken to a loud knock at the door on Wednesday morning and that innocent, law-abiding people were later shown on television being led away in handcuffs.
“We hope the law and common sense will prevail and that the religious persecution of our religion’s followers will stop,” said Sivulsky.
The Investigative Committee did not say how many people had been detained in total in a statement on its website.