April 1 marks seventy-two years since the largest deportation of a religious group in the Soviet Union’s history. After the fall of the regime, Jehovah’s Witnesses were rehabilitated and reinstated. The community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moldova warns of the risk of being slandered again. In a press release they say that, instead of learning from history, the administration of the Transnistrian region refuses to re-register the Religious Communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and is making efforts to liquidate them.
Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Soviet Republics, such as Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Ukraine and Estonia, were forcibly deported as part of Operation North. During two days in April 1951, the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses were confiscated and 9,793 people – men, women, elderly and children – were deported under harsh and inhumane conditions to Siberia and scattered to special colonies in the regions of Tomsk, Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk, the press release states.
After the fall of the Soviet regime, Jehovah’s Witnesses officially restored their good reputation, removing the title of “enemies of the people” attributed to them. The peaceful activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Transnistrian region were registered in 1991 and re-registered in 1994. “But now, it seems that some want at any cost to slander the Witnesses again and oppose them. On November 22, 2022, the Tiraspol Court banned and declared as ‘extremist’ eight publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The same pretext was used by Russia to achieve its illegal and discriminatory goal of outlawing of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, on 7 June 2022, in the case of Taganrog Local Religious Organization and others v. Russia (no. 32401/10 and 19 others), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that there was no evidence that the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses are ‘extremist’ or that they ‘had negative effects or caused inter-faith tensions and violence in Russia or elsewhere’,” the press release added.
The community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moldova says that the strategy of the Transnistrian administration is similar to the actions taken by the Russian authorities. International leaders and entities, such as the European Union, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and a group of UN special rapporteurs, have condemned this attack on religious freedom.
Jehovah’s Witnesses note that they are a Christian denomination with more than 8.5 million members worldwide and about 2,500 in the Transnistrian region. Its members are recognized as law-abiding citizens who play an essential role in promoting peace and stability in society.