OFWs in Russia hit website ban
Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Russia have expressed sadness and disgust when the Russian Federation blocked the website which serves as their source of comfort and encouragement away from home.
For many years, many OFWs in Russia, who are mostly housekeepers, have been downloading books, magazines and videos from jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), because they tackle issues close to their hearts—family, relationships, health and spirituality.
Since the website is available in more than 700 languages, some 2,000 Filipinos working in Russia can read and listen to their favorite Bible verses and Bible-based literature in their mother tongue, their spiritual food.
Can you imagine their shock when the Russian Federation banned jw.org on July 21 and tagged it as “extremist”? This means that it is a criminal offense to promote it from within the country.
Commenting on the impact of the ban, Yaroslav Sivulsky, a spokesperson for JWs in Russia, said: “We are disappointed that the Russian authorities have taken this unwarranted action. This ban curtails the worship of over 170,000 (JWs) in Russia. But when you consider that some 285,000 people in Russia accessed the website every day, it is clear that even those who are not members of our faith have been deprived of an excellent resource for Bible study.”
Aside from owning and promoting materials with alleged extremist content, individuals in Russia can also be charged criminally if found performing or engaging in activities that are considered “extremist.” Religious people, especially JWs, could face imprisonment and fines merely for attending religious services, reading the Bible and associating with fellow believers.
On July 30, 2014, a local court in Russia sentenced 7 of 16 JWs on trial for attending and organizing their peaceful religious meetings. They were prosecuted merely for carrying out the same religious activity that JWs perform around the world.
Dean Jacek, a spokesperson for JWs in the Philippines, said this verdict sets a dangerous precedent in restricting religious freedom for JWs throughout Russia. “These include those Filipinos who go to Russia and would like to attend our meetings there. They could not freely practice their faith there. It is our desire that this unfair treatment of (JWs) throughout Russia be stopped,” he said.
As a result of the heavy-handed actions of the Russian authorities, JWs have submitted 28 applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to seek redress. Since 22 of these applications involve similar human rights violations, the ECHR is currently reviewing them together.
“We hope that Russia will abide by international standards as expressed in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s resolution 1896, which has called on Russian authorities to ‘refrain from applying the law on extremist activities against all religious communities, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses,’” Jacek said.
In behalf of the families of OFWs in Russia, we appeal to the concerned authorities to allow access to the jw.org website, remove all JW publications from the “List of Extremist Materials” and end the persecution of JWs in Taganrog, Samara and other places in Russia. This would ensure that JWs, including Filipinos of various religious backgrounds, can peacefully travel, work and worship in Russia without any illegal police interference.
(Susan Andes, also known as Susan K., can be heard over Radyo Inquirer dzIQ 990 AM, Monday to Friday, 10:30 a.m.-12 noon. For audio and video live streaming, visit www.ustream.tv/channel/
dziq. For more information, visit www.bantayocw foundation.org. The Bantay OCW Foundation satellite office is located at 3/F 24H City Hotel, 1406 Vito Cruz Extension corner Balagtas Street, Makati City. Tel:  899-2424 Bantay OCW Helpline: 0998-9912629. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org/susank