Spokane-area Jehovah’s Witnesses are mailing letters to Russian government officials, including President Vladimir Putin, in protest of an attempt to label the Russian arm of their church an extremist organization.
“This is not the first time we’ve engaged in letter writing campaigns,” said Doug Hardy, a spokesman for Spokane-area Witnesses.
Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a case with the Supreme Court to declare the administrative center for Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization on March 15.
The filing was reported on the court’s website, but did not give further details or say when the matter might be heard.
“We’re very concerned about what will happen to our fellow Witnesses in Russia,” Hardy said.
A statement from the religion’s Russian branch said a declaration that Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremists would “entail disastrous consequences for freedom of religion in Russia.” The church estimates it has about 175,000 followers in Russia.
If the designation is approved the government could seize property owned by the the Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to a news release from the church.
The church asked the more than 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world to mail letters to various leaders in Russian government protesting the declaration. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses website the church undertook a similar global letter writing campaign 20 years ago, also aimed at Russian government officials.
The Russian supreme court is expected to rule on the claim April 5, according to a Jehovah’s Witnesses news release. The church is asking that all letters be sent by Saturday.
In the Spokane Coeur d’Alene area Hardy estimates that there are 2,000 Jehovah Witnesses. He believes most of them will send letters.
“There could be several thousand letters coming just from the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area,” he said.
Spokane-area Jehovah’s Witnesses held a regional convention in Spokane last summer.
In Russia the Jehovah’s Witnesses have come under increasing pressure in recent years, including a ban on distributing literature deemed to violate Russia’s anti-extremism laws.
In February, investigators conducted an inspection of the religion’s headquarters in St. Petersburg.
Hardy said the Jehovah’s Witnesses have long fought for freedom of religion, both in the United States and abroad.
“We just want to be able to exercise our freedom of religion as we have in every place in the world,” Hardy said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.