RUSSIA: JW Dennis Christensen’s release blocked by the Prosecutor

HRWF (03.07.2020) – Danish Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen’s early release has been halted because a prosecutor, Mr. Aleksei Shatunov, has filed to appeal the June 23 ruling allowing his liberation.

 

Dennis Christensen’s alleged “crimes” were participating in discussions about a religious publication, helping organize worshippers to maintain the upkeep of their Kingdom Hall, and persuade people to take part on religious services.

 

In 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court banned all Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations, 395 in all, and confiscated all their properties. The ruling declared Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in St Petersburg an extremist organization, and banned all the activities of the group and its members.

 

Dennis Christensen was the first person to be sentenced to a prison term after the ban.

It appears the prosecutor’s office is using new trumped-up charges against Dennis to appeal the decision that the prosecutor’s office originally supported. It will likely take weeks before a court hearing is scheduled.

 

Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, states: “This is very upsetting news for Dennis, Irina, and the millions around the world who have been following his three-year legal battle in the international media. Dennis has applied for early release four times. The prison administration has persisted in sabotaging Dennis’ parole applications by falsely accusing him of misconduct. This latest move by the prosecutor’s office and prison authorities is nothing short of ruthless.”

 

Dennis has already served more than half of his six-year prison sentence. For over a year, he has been eligible for parole or a mitigation of his sentence. After submitting three applications, all of which were ignored, his fourth request finally went to court. On June 23, 2020, the Lgov District Court ordered the remaining part of his sentence to be replaced with a fine. A prosecutor who took part in the parole hearing, Mr. Artem Kofanov, supported the mitigation of the punishment.

 

Two days later, another prosecutor, Mr. Aleksei Shatunov, asserted that the court ruling was illegal, demanded that it be canceled, and called for a new trial at the same court but with a different judge. Mr. Shatunov based his request on negative reports by the Lgov prison administration that claimed Dennis lacked “a favorable record of work and public life at the correctional facility.”

 

During Dennis’ June 23 parole hearing, prison representatives had attempted to make similar arguments, but the judge determined that these arguments were invalid. The defense lawyer showed the court medical documents confirming that Dennis’ health limitations excluded him from physical labor in the prison. In turn, while testifying, a prison representative admitted that they had no work available that would accommodate Dennis’ physical limitations.

 

While the prosecutor’s office began seeking the appeal of Dennis’ early release, prison authorities filed two reports against him. The first claimed that he was in the dining hall at the wrong time, and the second claimed that he was in the barracks in a T-shirt without a jacket. For these reasons, prison authorities placed Dennis in the EPKT for ten days. According to Russian law, authorities can only take such measures when a prisoner repeatedly commits a serious violation of prison rules, and even then, only after the prisoner receives a medical examination. Since this criteria was never met in Dennis’ case, there was no basis for placing him in the EPKT.

 

Dennis and another prisoner share a cell measuring about three meters (10 ft) by two meters (7 ft). The room lacks proper ventilation and has mold, which further threatens Dennis’ poor health. He suffered from pneumonia just a few months ago and has been diagnosed with a serious spinal cord condition. Dennis’ lawyer revealed that “the administration of the penal colony is aware of this, but has placed him in conditions where he has to sleep on a hard bed, causing excruciating pain.”

 

Dennis told his lawyer that at the time of the alleged violations, there were other prisoners with him but only he was sent to the EPKT. Brother Christensen’s lawyer stated, “This leads us to believe that this was all part of a coordinated plan to prevent Dennis from being released by court order.”

 

Interview opportunities

Dennis’ lawyer, Anton Bogdanov: dbhukukcu@gmail.com; or call +7903-45-43-037

Dennis’ wife, Irina: +7 920 284-92-10 (via Telegram app)

Dennis is the first of over 170 Jehovah’s Witnesses who have spent time in prison or pretrial detention in modern Russia. See link to infographic.

 

Nationwide Persecution (Russia and Crimea)

353 under criminal investigation
35 in prison (10 convicted; 25 pretrial detention)
24 under house arrest
973 homes raided since 2017 Supreme Court ruling (176 raided in 2020—even during the COVID-19 pandemic)

Additional information: Human Rights Watch (https://bit.ly/3dSIzvn) – Amnesty International (https://bit.ly/2D9UTe5)

 




IRAN: Seven Christians face prison, exile, work restrictions and fines

– Article 18 (29.06.2020) – https://articleeighteen.com/news/6263/ – Seven Christian converts in the south-western Iranian city of Bushehr have been given sentences ranging from prison and exile to work restrictions and fines.
The seven, including three married couples, received their verdicts on 21 June at the revolutionary court in Bushehr.
They were given 20 days to appeal, and intend to do so.
The four men – Habib Heydari, Pooriya Peyma, and brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi – each received custodial sentences. Sam and Sasan also face work restrictions and exile after their release.
The three women – Fatemeh Talebi, and sisters Maryam and Marjan Falahi – were fined. Maryam, a nurse, was also given a lifetime ban on working for any national institution, including the hospital she’s worked at for 20 years.
Details of sentences
Sam and Sasan were each sentenced to one year in prison, followed by a two-year exile from Bushehr, which includes a ban on working in their specialist profession – the hospitality sector.
Habib also received a one-year prison sentence, but no exile or work restrictions. Pooriya received a 91-day sentence – the minimum jail time required to ensure the prisoner leaves with a criminal record – and again no exile or work restriction.
Sam and Sasan’s wives, Maryam and Marjan, received fines of 8 million tomans (around $400) and 6 million tomans (around $300) respectively.
Maryam’s additional lifetime ban on employment at any national institution is a severe blow after her two decades of service at the local hospital.
Finally, Pooriya’s wife, Fatemeh, received a 4 million toman fine (around $200) – equivalent to two months’ salary for the average Iranian.
The seven Christians were given their verdicts to read, but not allowed to take them home or to make copies.
They were each convicted of the same charge – “propaganda against the state” – under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, which provides for up to a year in prison for anyone found guilty of engaging in “any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations”.
The Iranian Parliament recently passed amendments to two articles of the Penal Code, including Article 500, but they do not appear to have had any impact in this particular verdict.
The amendments enable judges to label those convicted of “insulting Islam” or “propaganda against Islam” as being members of “sects”. Those convicted of membership of such groups can face flogging or even the death penalty, in addition to imprisonment and fines.
Background
The seven Christians were first arrested on 1 July 2019, alongside Sam and Sasan’s mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh, who is in her sixties and as a result was released later the same day.
The seven detained Christians were released over two weeks later, having each posted bail of 300 million tomans (around $30,000).
During the arrests, officers introducing themselves as agents from the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) stormed the Christians’ homes in a coordinated operation, confiscating Bibles, Christian literature, wooden crosses and pictures carrying Christian symbols, along with laptops, phones, all forms of identity cards, bank cards and other personal belongings.
The agents also searched their work offices and confiscated computer hard drives and security-camera recordings.
They treated them harshly, even though small children were present during the arrests.
The seven Christians were then held in solitary confinement in the MOIS office in Bushehr and denied access to lawyers. They were also coerced to confess to their “crimes” on camera.
Some of their associates were later summoned for interrogation.
The seven initially faced two additional charges – “collusion”, and “membership of a group hostile to the regime” – which could have led to ten-year sentences.
They were acquitted of those charges at a hearing on 30 December 2019, but told that the remaining charge against them was “applicable” because of their possession of Christian literature and other Christian items, which were claimed to be evidence they had evangelised.
The judge even named some of the Christian literature that had been found at their properties, including copies of ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘Getting to Know the Bible’.
A further hearing took place on 20 April, after which the court clerk told them they could expect a verdict within a week, though their lawyer told them it could take months.
Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, commented: “Condemning these people to prison because of their possession of Bibles and Christian symbols is a clear demonstration that Iran’s Foreign Minister and others aren’t telling the truth when they say that ‘no-one is put in prison in Iran simply because of their beliefs’.
“These people have done nothing that could be construed as ‘propaganda against the state’ or ‘acting against national security’, but nevertheless they have been treated so unjustly. The international community must hold Iran to account for this miscarriage of justice, and many others like it.”



Russian human rights organizations filed a report with the UN Human Rights Committee

– Sova-Center (29.06.2020) – https://www.sova-center.ru/en/religion/publications/2020/06/d42595/ Twelve Russian NGOs, including SOVA Center, submitted a brief joint report to the UN Human Rights Committee for preliminary hearings at the upcoming session of the Committee on Russia’s next report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. SOVA Center has authored a section on abuses of anti-extremist policies.

 

A regular session of the UN Human Rights Committee opens on June 29, 2020. In the course of this session, the Committee will give preliminary consideration to the latest report submitted by Russia on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

In accordance with the procedure, during the session, the Committee will also consider alternative reports on the same topic from various public associations including those from Russia (they are all available on the UN website). After reviewing the country’s report and taking the alternative reports into account, the HR Committee will pose questions to the government once the session ends. The report along with Russia’s responses will be given final consideration in 2021.

 

The alternative reports also include a very concise report compiled by twelve Russian NGOs. SOVA Center presented a section on abuses ofanti-extremist policies, in particular as they relate to freedom of conscience.

 

We ask the HR Committee to pose the following questions to the Government of the Russian Federation:

 

  1. Does the Russian Federation plan to revise the definition of extremist activity, found in the law on countering such activity, in order to narrow down and clarify it, as recommended?
  2. What changes in the legislation or in related commentary are planned in order to ensure that statements or other acts that do not constitute a significant public danger are not punished as extremist crimes and offenses? This pertains primarily to the use of the Criminal Code articles that cover justification of terrorism, incitement to extremist activity and continuing the activities (including religious ones) of organizations banned as extremist.

 

The text of the report by the twelve NGOs can be downloaded on the website of the Human Rights Center “Memorial” in Russian and English.

 

On the UN website the report is available in English only.




US: Trump administration doubles down on trans discrimination

US Congress should pass the Equality Act.

 

By Ryan Thoreson

 

HRW (25.06.2020) – https://bit.ly/2ZngsPB – The Trump administration is moving ahead with a rule that would write transgender people out of sex discrimination protections in health care. While advocates fight the rule in court, transgender people will continue to face discriminatory treatment and refusals of care.

 

This comes despite a United States Supreme Court ruling last week that affirmed employment protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, reasoning that gender identity discrimination is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by law.

 

Human Rights Watch has documented the daunting barriers that transgender people face finding healthcare services. Transgender people often are unable to find care, encounter discrimination or refusals in healthcare settings, or simply avoid seeking care because of concerns they will be mistreated.

 

When the administration first proposed the new rule in 2019, Human Rights Watch joined thousands of other organizations and individuals in raising its serious concerns with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Although it received more than 20,000 comments opposing the rule, HHS adopted the regulation, leaving transgender people even more vulnerable to the routine discrimination they already face in healthcare settings.

 

The rollback of healthcare protections is the latest in a long string of Trump administration attacks on transgender people.

 

Since 2017, the administration has withdrawn regulatory protections for transgender children in schools, fought recognition of transgender people under federal employment laws, banned transgender people from serving in the military, rolled back protections for transgender people in prisons, and threatened to cut off funding to schools that let transgender girls participate in sports.

 

The administration’s cruel assault on transgender rights shows no signs of letting up. Just after the healthcare regulation was finalized, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would propose a rule permitting single-sex homeless shelters to turn away transgender people.

 

The Supreme Court’s recent decision pulls the rug from under these anti-transgender regulations by making clear that sex, as prohibited grounds for discrimination, includes gender identity. Instead of waiting for the courts to strike them down, the US Senate should pass the Equality Act, which would expressly protect transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing, federally funded programs, and other domains. As the past week shows, unless lawmakers take action, the administration will continue its campaign to deprive transgender people of their fundamental rights.




Anti-gay law in Gabon passes first step to decriminalization

In a surprise move, less than a year after a new penal code criminalized homosexuality, Gabon’s lower house of parliament voted to reverse the law that bans same sex relations.

 

RFI (24.06.2020) – https://bit.ly/2NIKWpL – The vote on Tuesday passed with 48 MPs voting to take the law off the books, while 24 voted against and 25 abstained from the vote.

 

While hailed by human rights leaders as a positive move, the bill must also pass in the upper house of the Senate before the law is taken off the books. If the Senate does not agree on the same terms, then the two houses must come together to agree on a text. The ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) has majority in the Senate, so it is not a given that the bill will be passed.

 

Homosexuality is against the law in Gabon, and that includes same-sex marriage. People who are caught can be punished with up to six months in prison and fines of up to 7,600 euros.

 

These laws, in addition to societal attitudes, have caused lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) people to be excluded from society as well as caused discrimination and promoted fear.

 

Six African countries have scrapped their bans since 2012, marking a positive trend overall, said Neela Ghoshal, a researcher with Human Rights Watch told Reuters last December.

 

“It’s unfortunate that a lot of African countries have claimed and owned those homophobic, colonial values, but others haven’t,” said Ghoshal.

 

“In general, across the continent, things are moving more in the right direction than in the wrong direction … I’m guessing you’ll see a lot of change in the next 10 years or so.”