Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Five Jehovah’s Witnesses have been detained in Russia and charged with possessing weapons and running an extremist group, investigators said on Wednesday, in the latest case targeting the banned religious movement.

They were arrested in the Kirov region northeast of Moscow, where authorities said they found two grenades and a landmine in their homes. The Russian authorities consider the movement a totalitarian sect and in 2017 the country’s supreme court banned the movement. "They had been conducting meetings and called on others to join their organisation," Yevgenia Vorozhtsova, a spokesperson for regional investigators, told AFP.

She said officials were investigating how the members had obtained the ammunition, but declined to provide further details. Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a member of the European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses, said it was the first time the Russians had accused members of the movement of possessing ammunition.

"We were shocked," he told AFP from the Latvian capital, Riga. "It is both funny and strange. Why mines?"

In a statement on Tuesday, investigators said the members wanted the movement to continue operating in Kirov and nearby towns. Authorities said they had organised clandestine meetings between August 2017 and September 2018 at which they sang hymns and read banned "extremist" literature. They had also collected more than $7,500 in donations. The five have been charged for
running and financing an "extremist organisation".