The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) conducted a raid on a Jehovah’s Witnesses office in the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, as reported by Russian state media on Monday. This action aligns with Russia's longstanding stance against the religious group, which it branded as an "extremist organization" in 2017.
According to Zvezda, the broadcaster of the Russian Defense Ministry, the FSB, in conjunction with military counterintelligence, identified the location as being used for promoting extremist ideology. This terminology has been commonly used by Russian authorities to describe the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses since the 2017 ruling by Russia’s top court.
Mariupol, a strategic port city, fell under Russian control in the spring of 2022, and the FSB has since established a local branch in the Donetsk region, which includes Mariupol.
In a video shared on Zvezda’s Telegram channel, uniformed officers are seen confiscating stacks of books from an undisclosed building. The footage displays booklets with titles such as “Will There Be Peace Without War?” — indicative of the Jehovah’s Witnesses' known advocacy for non-violence.
The FSB claims to have confiscated over 20,000 copies of “extremist literature” during the operation. Further, Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported the discovery of documents allegedly linking the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the financing of Ukrainian militants. The agency added that an investigation was ongoing to identify individuals involved in the financing of what they termed “Ukrainian neo-Nazis.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses is a U.S.-based Christian evangelical movement founded in the late 19th century, known for its pacifist teachings and stance against participation in military activities. The group has faced increasing persecution in Russia over the past few years, with numerous followers receiving jail sentences under the charge of extremism.
This raid in Mariupol marks another instance of the FSB's crackdown on religious groups it deems extremist, reflecting ongoing tensions and the complex interplay of religion, politics, and conflict in the region.