The Russian Federation Constitution declares: “Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with others any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to them.”

Adopted in 1993 under Boris Yeltsin, this constitution looks increasingly tattered as President Vladimir Putin tramples the rights it guarantees. Now, the Russian authorities have taken another regressive step, muffling religious freedom.

On April 20, the Russian Supreme Court declared Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that rejects violence, an extremist group and banned it from operating on Russian territory, throwing the status of 170,000 members in 395 branches in doubt.

Putin’s style of authoritarianism is intolerant, and insists on loyalty. The Witnesses believe in the superiority of their religion and eschew subservience to the state. They refuse military service, do not vote and view God as the only true leader. This may be one reason they are in the Kremlin’s sights.

The Witnesses will appeal, but if the order enters into force, those who continue to practice their faith could be subject to fines and imprisonment and the organization’s property confiscated. The Russian Justice Ministry earlier put the Witnesses on a list of extremists, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State, based on a 2002 law the Kremlin often uses to bludgeon critics.

By limiting religious freedom, Russia turns its back on international norms and agreements, makes a mockery of the 1993 constitution, and not for the first time – the constitution guaranteed a free press that no longer exists.