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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 1st June 2018 > Bible Thumpers

Bible Thumpers

THE KREMLIN IS CRACKING DOWN ON Jehovah’s Witnesses. ARE OTHER RELIGIOUS GROUPS NEXT?
Illustration by Alvaro Dominguez

It WAS JUST AFTER SUNRISE ON APRIL 10 WHEN THE DOORBELL rang at Anatoly and Alyona Vilitkevich’s apartment in Ufa, an industrial city in central Russia. Their early morning visitors: masked police officers armed with automatic weapons. “Open up!” the officers shouted. Inside, the married couple hurried to get dressed and call their lawyer. “There were 10 of them, including plainclothes investigators,” Alyona, 35, tells Newsweek. “One of them was filming everything. They said I wasn’t allowed to use the telephone.”

After searching the apartment, the officers told Anatoly, a 31-year-old handyman, to pack some warm clothes. “They said he wouldn’t be coming home again,” Alyona says. Since the raid, he has been in police custody, and investigators have not permitted his wife to speak to him, she says.

The police’s tactics that morning were the type often used to detain dangerous criminals. But Anatoly isn’t a suspected terrorist, murderer or drug trafficker. Police arrested him because he and Alyona are members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian evangelical movement known for its members’ door-to-door proselytizing. Jehovah’s Witnesses are also committed pacifists who historically have been persecuted by governments all over the world for their refusal to perform military service or salute the flag. Some of the most brutal repression took place in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

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BIBLE THUMPERS: RUSSIA IS CRACKING DOWN ON JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES It was just after sunrise on April 10th when the doorbell rang at Anatoly and Alyona Vilitkevich’s apartment in Ufa, an industrial city in central Russia. Their early morning visitors: masked police officers armed with automatic weapons. The police’s tactics that morning were the type often used to detain dangerous criminals. But Anatoly isn’t a suspected terrorist, murderer or drug trafficker. Police arrested him because he and Alyona are Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian evangelical movement known for its members’ door-to-door proselytizing. Jehovah’s Witnesses are also committed pacifists who historically have been persecuted by governments all over the world for their refusal to perform military service, or salute the flag. Some of the most brutal repression took place in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. And now it’s the Kremlin, with the blessing of the Russian Orthodox Church, that’s ramping up the pressure. The state’s crackdown comes as part of a government-backed drive against minority “foreign” religions.