The recent Moscow court decision is significant for three reasons. First, it goes beyond previous repressive steps such as denying official registration to a religious organization. Without registration a religious body has no corporate right to rent buildings or to publish religious literature, but it can still conduct regular, publicly announced worship services in its members' homes. The Jehovah's Witnesses, however, will probably soon become the first national religious organization to have one of its local branches explicitly "banned" under the terms of the 1997 law that re-established state control over religious life. The court decision will not take legal effect until the Witnesses' appeal is decided, but their chances of winning on appeal do not look good.
That ban will deny the Witnesses' right to any form of collective religious activity, such as open worship services even in private homes. It may also breathe new life into the 1997 law, which despite its harsh provisions has been largely moribund in practice. If that law were strictly enforced, any religious organization founded later than the mid-1980s -- when Russia was still under totalitarian atheist rule -- would lose most of its legal rights. That would be the equivalent of suppressing every newspaper or political party founded since the dawn of glasnost. (...)
Moscow Times, Monday, Apr. 5, 2004. Page 8