Over the past five years, hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been rounded up, arrested, and prosecuted in Russia. Many have fled, including Dmitry and Nellia Antzipore, a couple who flew to Mexico last year, flew across the U.S. border to seek asylum, and are now hoping to make a new life in Washington state.
Entered the United States and spent nearly three months in two immigration detention centers; Despite missing her twin sister and her mother in Russia, Nellia welcomes her new independence in the Seattle suburb of Federal Way.
But now there is a new concern: the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I am very concerned about what is happening to my brothers and sisters in that country,” Dmitry said. “We pray for them.”
About 5,000 Witnesses have fled Ukraine for safety, said Jarrod Lobs, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States.
Lopez estimates that there are about 170,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia since the Russian Supreme Court in 2017 declared the Christian sect an extremist group.
Hundreds have been arrested and imprisoned. Their homes and places of worship, known as Kingdom Halls, were raided and the National Headquarters seized. The modern Russian translation of the Bible is banned along with its worldwide Watchtower and Watchtower magazines.
Nellia said he and Dmitry have been on the radar of authorities in the cities where they have lived for a long time. They decided to flee, Nellia said, calling her mother in October and saying the police had a warrant for her arrest.
“Being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia must continue to be at legal risk, invading privacy, confiscating property or being locked up in a number of cases,” said Jason Morton, policy analyst at the U.S. Commission on International Affairs. Religious Freedom is a two-party federal agency that monitors the violation of religious freedom around the world.
Last year, 105 Jehovah’s Witnesses were convicted by Russian courts. The maximum sentences have been increased from six to eight years.
The Russian government has not provided a comprehensive justification for the repression.
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