Putin disavows crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses, giving hope to detained

webrns-russia-witnesses2-010919Source: Religion News Service

BY Marc Bennetts

MOSCOW (RNS) — Before he was arrested in April, Anatoly Vilitkevich often went door to door in his hometown, proselytizing and passing out literature inviting strangers to join his church. On April 10, masked police officers armed with automatic weapons arrested the 32-year-old handyman at the apartment he shares with his wife, Alyona, in Ufa, in central Russia. They advised him to bring warm clothes.

“They said he wouldn’t be coming home again,” said Alyona Vilitkevich. His sole crime under Russian law was doing what Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for the world over.

But lately Vilitkevich’s family has cause for hope. Last month, while meeting with human rights defenders, Russian President Vladimir Putin called assertions that Jehovah’s Witnesses had been classified as members of a terrorist, or even destructive, organization “complete nonsense.”

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