MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to look into the reported persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Russia officially banned the Christian denomination last year and declared the religious group an extremist organization. Nearly 100 Jehovah’s Witnesses face charges in Russia, and 25 of them are in jail awaiting trial.
Human rights activists raised the plight of Jehovah’s Witnesses last week with Putin, who criticized extremism charges against the religion’s adherents as “nonsense” and promised to look at the ongoing court cases. His remarks were released by the Kremlin on Monday.
Before the ban, the world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed about 170,000 adherents in Russia.
The ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses came amid rising influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christianity has become the de facto official religion.