Two employees of state-owned Russian TV channel Russia-1, entering Estonia on French and Italian Schengen visas, used hidden cameras to gather material they then used to ridicule and demonise Jehovah's Witnesses. The Estonian Ministry of the Interior reacted by issuing a five-year entry ban, the ISS writes in its annual review.
As the ISS writes in its review, trying to influence society by means of harassing different minorities is an integral part of the Kremlin's playbook. Jehovah's Witnesses are "persecuted and outlawed in Russia," the service writes, and many of them have made their way to Europe to be able to freely practice their faith.
The Russian state media occasionally make efforts to come up with an explanation for this fact. This typically includes reports where members of this religious minority are taunted, ridiculed and demonised.
To collect material for such a report, Russia-1 reporters Yelena Yerofeyeva and Pavel Kostrikov entered Estonia last year coming in from Finland. The two entered the Schengen Area on French and Italian visas, the ISS writes.
Yerofeyeva and Kostrikov then entered a gathering of Jehovah's Witnesses in Tallinn without telling them who they are, and what they are planning to do. The material they gained at this gathering as well as at another, similar one in Finland was then used for Russia-1's news programme, Vesti, and aired on 29 November 2018.
The program ridiculed the group, to which the Estonian Ministry of the Interior reacted by imposing a five-year entry ban for the entire Schengen Area on both Yerofeyeva and Kostrikov.
Their acts "have the characteristics of religious discrimination against persons," the ISS writes, which "may develop into incitement of hatred as defined in Section 151 of the Estonian Penal Code" and gives Estonian authorities reason to keep them out of the country to prevent conflict and crime.
Jehovah's Witnesses as a religious group already suffered from repression in Soviet times. That the Kremlin continues to harass this minority represents a continuation of Soviet policy in today's Russia, namely one under "which the media carries out hostile influence operations under precise instructions from the authorities, with the aim of creating divisions between different social groups and inciting conflict," the ISS writes.
Editor: Dario Cavegn