Мнение со стороны

Heiner Bielefeldt: "If Jehovah's Witnesses are extremists, then we are all extremists"

European Union

"During the years when I served as UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, I often came into contact with Jehovah's Witnesses in different countries during fact-finding missions, because Jehovah's Witnesses are one of the communities that is most threatened, while society as a whole ignores their situation. Therefore, it is especially important that we learn about the tragedy that is now unfolding there.

If we talk about legislation on extremism, everyone agrees that it is important to fight extremist tendencies, but the concept of "extremism" remains completely blurred. Which creates a kind of access for the authorities, a loophole, an excuse to do what they want. And Jehovah's Witnesses are the perfect scapegoat.

After all, many people regard them with suspicion: Jehovah's Witnesses are active, engaged in missionary work. Not everyone likes it — even if they do it exclusively for peaceful purposes — but they exercise their right to freedom of religion and belief.

If Jehovah's Witnesses are extremists, then we are all extremists.

This is an example of legislation so vague that it gives the authorities carte blanche to prosecute anyone.

All this creates an atmosphere of fear, threat, and, of course, contradicts the letter and spirit of human rights. So the people of Russia and the entire international community should pay close attention to what is happening there.

This affects all Russians, because the more space is taken away from minorities, the more democracy itself is at risk.

Either we have a space where freedom of religion or belief can be exercised without imposition, intimidation and absurd threats in the name of fighting extremism, or this space will shrink more and more. And we have already seen this in many countries. If the state makes a religious community a target, a scapegoat, it reduces the scope for all. Therefore, it is in the interest of all religious communities to have space for the free expression of their faith. Including the majority, because the freedom to talk about one's faith is freedom of religion. At the end of the day, it serves the interests of the majority, even if they don't understand it."

Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, Professor at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Since 2010, he has served as UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.