Turkmenistan: Two years in prison for two Jehovah’s Witnesses objecting to military service

– JW Int’l Headquarters (09.08.2020) – On 6 August, a Turkmen court sentenced siblings Eldor, 21, and Sanjarbek, 25, Saburov to two years in prison for their conscientious objection to military service. The court refused the  brothers’ request to appeal. This is the second time both were convicted for their Christian beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

What do international experts think?

Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch, Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division

“Authorities in Turkmenistan should immediately withdraw the criminal charges against Eldor and Sanjarbek Saburov. The government should, in line with recommendations by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, offer alternative civilian service to people who for reasons of conscience cannot serve in the military. They should also release the other Jehovah’s Witnesses in custody for exercising their right to freedom of conscience.” denberr@hrw.org

Dr. Edward Lemon, Kennan Institute Fellow, expert on Central Asian affairs

“Turkmenistan is a closed state with one of the poorest human rights records in the world. Like other countries in Central Asia, Turkmenistan has a conscription-based military. Each year, teams of soldiers roam the streets forcibly press-ganging young people into serving in the military, a practice known as oblava. The law obligates each male citizen between 18 and 27 years of age to serve unless they have justifiable reasons not to. Conscientious objection is not viewed as a justifiable reason and those who avoid military service can be jailed for two years. Prison conditions are inhumane and torture is widely used in the justice system.” elemen@dmgs.org

Willy Fautre, Human Rights Without Frontiers, director

“Human Rights Without Frontiers is appalled by the Turkmen court’s decision to sentence two peaceful Jehovah’s Witnesses to two years of imprisonment simply for objecting to military service on the ground of their religious beliefs. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has already issued 13 decisions in favor of 15 other Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to prison for the same reason in the last few years. Human Rights Without Frontiers calls upon the authorities of Turkmenistan to urgently bring its legislation on this issue in line with international standards and in the meantime to adopt a moratorium on the sentencing of conscientious objectors. w.fautre@hrwf.org

UN Human Rights Committee (HRC)

Of the 13 decisions in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Turkmenistan, the most recent is CCPR/C/126/D/2302/2013, dated November 5, 2019. More information on previous UN HRC decisions is available upon request.

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)

  • ECHR has punished other lands, such as Armenia, for not having ACS
  • Bayatyan v. Armenia (2011) (see §124-128), the ECHR ruled that Armenia violated article 9 of the convention (ICCPR)
  • The ICCPR (which incidentally Turkmenistan ratified) protects the right of conscientious objectors to refuse to perform military service
  • As a result of the ECHR ruling, Armenia is now among countries like Taiwan that are models for how ACS benefits the State as well as the conscientious objectors


Saburov Brothers’ Case History

In 2016, Sanjarbek respectfully refused to be drafted into the army. Subsequently, he was convicted and sentenced to two years of probation.

The following year Eldor also refused to participate in military service. He was sentenced to two years of correctional labor with 20 percent of his wages garnished by the State.

According to Turkmen law, conscientious objectors can be criminally charged a second time if they continue to refuse military service. In April 2020, the military recruiting office again summoned the brothers to enlist. Both refused to be drafted. They were criminally prosecuted, which resulted in their imprisonment.

Beyond the emotional toll, imprisonment will cause acute hardship for their parents. Their father suffers from chronic back pain, which impairs his ability to work. The brothers support the family by growing cotton. Since both brothers are imprisoned, their parents will no longer have the financial support they need. Instead, the parents will now have to care for their sons’ needs in prison.

The Saburov brothers are willing to contribute to society and would be please to perform alternative civilian service (ACS). However, Turkmenistan does not offer ACS,only futile imprisonment.

Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, states: “It’s a travesty for these young men to be imprisoned simply for their Christian beliefs. Including the Saburov brothers, there are ten young Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison in Turkmenistan for conscientious objection. Earlier this year, Turkmenistan marked the 25th anniversary of its permanent international neutrality. Yet, Turkmen authorities continue to severely punish its citizens for taking a neutral stand. International human rights bodies have repeatedly called on Turkmen leaders to stop imprisoning conscientious objectors and provide them an alternative to compulsory military service. We hope soon Turkmenistan will amend it’s law to meet international standards and end the needless imprisonment of peaceful young men.”

Russia: Special bimonthly FORB digest (16-31.07.2020)

31.07.20 – Two separate criminal charges were filed against a Sakhalin-based believer based on the same subpart of the legal code

 Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/23.html

Two criminal cases were brought against Vyacheslav Ivanov from the town of Nevelsk under the same part of the “extremist” article (part 2 of article 282.2). Two large law enforcement agencies use serious resources to prosecute a civilian for believing in God and talking about the Bible.

Continue reading…


31.07.20 – Jehovah’s Witnesses repeatedly tried for same offenses

Link to full text in Russian: https://www.zaprava.ru/na-saxaline-v-otnoshenii-svidetelya-iegovy-fsb-i-mvd-zaveli-ugolovnoe-delo-po-odnoj-i-toj-zhe-state/

Two criminal cases on one and the same extremism article (part 2 of article 282.2 of the CC of RF—participation in an extremist association) were opened against a resident of the city of Nevelska (Sakhalin), Viacheslav Ivanov.

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 29.07.20 – Largest raid on Jehovah’s Witnesses leads to police brutality

Link to full text in Russian: https://theins.ru/news/svidetel-iegovy-iz-voronezha-rasskazal-o-pytkah-i-izdevatelstvah-vo-vremya-doprosa

A Jehovah’s Witness from Voronezh, Alexander Korol, described torture and abuse on the part of personnel of the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] during interrogation. This is reported on the website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.

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29.07.20 – A raid on Solikamsk believers. After the interrogations, three men were placed in a detention facility

 Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/22.html

On July 28, 2020, law enforcers searched three addresses in Solikamsk. Five citizens of Russia, including women, were taken to the Investigative Committee building. After the interrogations, two believers were detained, as well as the husband of a local woman who does not share his wife’s religious views. The news is being supplemented.

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29.07.20 – “They placed a bag over my head, strangled and beat me.” A Voronezh believer tells about being tortured after being detained

Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/21.html

Aleksandr Korol, 29, who was detained during a mass raid on Jehovah’s Witnesses on July 13, was tortured during interrogation, demanding to identify his fellow believers: he was strangled with a plastic bag and beaten.

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28.07.20 – Jehovah’s Witness fined instead of imprisoned

 Link to full text in Russian: https://www.ivanovonews.ru/news/1034040/

In the city of Furmanov of Ivanovo oblast, a sentence was pronounced on an adherent of the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is considered in Russia to be extremist. The believer was accused of organizing a forbidden religious association.

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28.07.20 – Yevgeny Spirin from Furmanov is sentenced to a heavy fine for peaceful meetings with fellow believers.

 Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/20.html

On July 28, 2020, the Furmanov City Court sentenced 34-year-old Yevgeniy Spirin a fine of 700,000 rubles, ruling that conversations with fellow-worshippers about God constitute extremism.

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28.07.20 – Jehovah’s Witness in Russia convicted of extremism, concern over crackdown

 A court in Russia has convicted and fined a Jehovah’s Witnesses follower amid growing global concern over a campaign of persecution in the country against adherents of the religion.

Continue reading…


27.07.20 – About three billion rubles donated annually for construction of Orthodox churches in Moscow

 Moscow, July 27, Interfax – Sponsors and parishioners donate about three billion rubles ($43 million) every year for the construction of Orthodox churches in Moscow, the State Duma deputy, curator of new churches’ building in the capital Vladimir Resin said.

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25.07.20 – Four days after his release from the special punishment cell, the prison administration sent Dennis Christensen back to the special punishment cell again

 Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/18.html

After Christensen’s release from the punishment cell (SHIZO), where he stayed for 15 days on unjustified charges, the administration of the colony brought him there again. The reason was the believer’s refusal to work there, which is detrimental to his health.

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25.07.20 – Law enforcement forces from Surgut searched the home of Igor Petrov for the second time after his refusal to collect the items seized 1.5 years ago

Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/19.html

July 23, 2020 in Surgut was repeated search of the apartment of Igor Petrov, which since February 2019 is under investigation. A year and a half ago, in the course of a large-scale raid, law enforcement officers seized things from the believer.

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16.07.20 – Two believers beaten and ten sent to prison in the largest raid on Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Voronezh

Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/17.html

More than 110 searches were carried out in the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses on July 13, 2020. The homes are located across seven residential communities in the City of Voronezh region. At least two believers reported severe beatings for refusing to provide smartphone passwords.

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09.07.20 – Prosecutor asks for longest term yet for Jehovah’s Witness

On 9 July 2020, the prosecutor demanded sentencing 34-year-old Evgeny Spirin to seven years in a penal colony, concluding without rational basis that religious conversations are extremism. Evgeny does not acknowledge himself to be guilty. On 14 July he will possibly speak out with his final word. Then the Furmanov city court may issue a verdict.

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06.07.20 – Russian protestants seek removal of legal impediment to their activity

Link to full text in Russian: http://www.sclj.ru/news/detail.php?SECTION_ID=524&ELEMENT_ID=8278

The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation has accepted for consideration an appeal filed by lawyers of the Slavic Legal Center in the interests of the religious organization The Word of Life Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) of Dolgoprudnyi.

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02.07.20 – Activist of protestant Initsiativniki, who refuse to cooperate with state, punished

Link to full text in Russian: https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4399449

A magistrate judge in Troitsk (Cheliabinsk oblast) fined the leader of a local religious group of the “International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” 5,000 rubles. He had not informed the regional department of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation about his preaching, the press service of the oblast prosecutor’s office reports.

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Jehovah’s Witness in Russia convicted of extremism, concern over crackdown

– HRWF’s director interviewed by Newsweek

– By Brendan Cole

– Newsweek (28.07.2020) – https://www.newsweek.com/jehovahs-witnesses-russia-persecution-1521023 – A court in Russia has convicted and fined a Jehovah’s Witnesses follower amid growing global concern over a campaign of persecution in the country against adherents of the religion.

Russia’s Supreme Court ruled the religion as an extremist organization in April 2017 and since then, the group has complained that authorities have raided more than 1,000 properties of its followers. There are 372 believers under criminal investigation and 43 people are in prison—including 10 who have been convicted of extremism.

Yevgeniy Spirin, 34, had spent 160 days in pretrial detention and had been under house arrest from July 5, 2019, before his sentence was handed down on Tuesday on charges of organizing the activities of an extremist organization.

The Furmanovsky City Court in the Ivanovo Region convicted Spirin and fined him 500,000 Russian rubles ($6,920). Spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jarrod Lopes, said the conviction was “in complete disregard for the religious freedom enshrined in Russia’s Constitution.”

He said that raids had continued despite government assurances that followers were able to practice their religion at home. “The current state of religious freedom in Russia is reminiscent of Soviet times. It is well documented that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not renounce their faith during Soviet oppression,” Lopes said in a statement to Newsweek.

“Likewise, the persistent threat of arrest and imprisonment since the 2017 ban has not deterred our fellow believers in Russia today.”

Authorities in Russia have long been suspicious of the proselytizing nature of the religion. Executive director of Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF), Willie Fautré says it poses a challenge to the dominance of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“They are perceived as competitors by the extremist groups in the Russian Orthodox Church and also because they have their historical roots outside the country and culture and civilization,” he told Newsweek.

“That’s what those groups want to protect; the Slavic identity and Orthodox culture against the perceived invasion of Western values and religions coming from outside which are perceived as a threat to their Russian identity.”

A report earlier this month by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)—a bipartisan U.S. federal government commission—said that the campaign against the religion had been spearheaded by the Russian activist Alexander Dvorkin, who has fought against movements he deemed as “cults.”

In an interview with Russian state media after the religion’s ban, Dvorkin said he wanted to protect the rights of followers because the faith “maintains strict control over every aspect of its members’ lives,” which the religion rejects.

He also denies that they are Christians because he says they don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, according to NPR. While they do not believe in the Christian tenet of the Trinity, the Jehovah’s Witnesses say they follow the teachings of Christ and consider him the leader of their church.

Fautré said: “The Russian Orthodox Church, or part of it, is backing the crusade of Alexander Dvorkin against any group identifying itself as Christian and that is perceived as a competitor in the market of religion.

“Dvorkin represents a radical nationalist right wing part of the Russian Orthodox Church and he is supported by such groups, but not all. Intellectuals in the Orthodox Church disagree and say it is counterproductive to do what he was doing.

“Some branches of the church would be more open to dialog to that sort of competition of religious movements with historical roots outside the country,” Fautré told Newsweek.

More than 100 raids took place on July 13 in the Voronezh Region in a crackdown that got international attention. The OSCE said that the “repression against members of a peaceful religious minority group is truly shocking.” The raids were also criticized by the European Union and the British government.

One of those raided that day was Aleksandr Bokov, who told Newsweek about the fear he and his wife felt when Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR) officers banged on his door at 6 a.m.

“They ordered my wife and me to lie down on the floor. At the same time, they hit me hard on the ribs and pushed me to the floor. The investigator began to read the search warrant to me. I had to listen to her lying on the floor,” he said in a message sent via the encrypted social media messaging app Telegram.

Bokov said that two officers took him to the kitchen, leaving his wife in another room and he was again ordered to lie on the floor. Officers demanded that he reveal the passwords for his electronic devices.

RUSSIA: Special Bimonthly FORB Digest (01-16.07.2020)

15.07.20 – In the Tomsk Region, there were five searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/16.html
In the morning of 14 July 2020, the Investigation Committee and FSB conducted searches in the town of Seversk. Ten men and women were taken to the security services for interrogation.
Continue reading…
14.07.20- Caution, the doors are about to be kicked in! More and more house searches of believers.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/14.html
The number of searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia continues to increase after the April 2017 Supreme Court decision. By mid-July 2020, more than 1000 home invasions of these law-abiding citizens had already been recorded.
Continue reading…
13.07.20 – In the Moscow region, law enforcers searched the apartment of a 70-year-old woman after her grandson told the military committee about his faith.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/12.html
July 7, 2020 in the city of Likino-Dulevo, Moscow region law enforcement officers invaded the apartment of 20-year-old Kirill Leonov and his grandmother. After the search, Kirill was interrogated for 2 hours at the police department about his faith.
Continue reading…
13.07.20 – In Kaliningrad, the FSB detained at least 12 people for interrogation.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/11.html
On July 11th in Kaliningrad, armed security services conducted a series of searches of believers. At least 12 people were taken to the FSB department in Kaliningrad for interrogation. A criminal case has been initiated against Mikhail Kopytov, 52. Whether anyone remains in custody is still unknown.
Continue reading…
13.07.20 – A wave of searches of believers in the Kemerovo Region. At least one person with disability was detained for 48 hours
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/9.html
On July 12, 2020, FSB officers conducted searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Prokopievsk. Andrei Vlasov, 51, who has a disability, was detained for 2 days and is in an isolation ward in Kemerovo. The news is being updated.
Continue reading…
11.07.20 – Dennis Christensen has been released from a special punishment block after being held there for 15 days.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/8.html
On July 11, 2020, the 15-day arrest period of Dennis Christensen, who was sent to a punishment cell on fabricated charges, came to an end. He is in good spirits. His defense team plans to appeal his fine and hope to achieve commutation of the sanctions imposed on him.
Continue reading…
9.07.20 – The prosecutor’s request includes seven years of corrective penal colony for Yevgeniy Spirin, despite an obvious fabrication of charges.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/7.html
On July 9, 2020, the prosecutor demanded to sentence 34-year-old Yevgeny Spirin to 7 years of colony, baselessly considering religious conversations extremist.
Continue reading…
08.07.20 – Vladimir Alushkin may be placed under arrest for the third time. Cassation Court will review the appeal decision to overturn the sentence.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/5.html
On July 9, 2020, the First Cassation Court of the Saratov Jurisdiction will be holding a hearing to review a complaint from the Prosecutor’s Office. The complaint objects to the Appeals Court’s overturned conviction of Vladimir Alushkin, a worshiper from the city of Penza. Depending on the Cassation Court’s decision, Alushkin may be placed into custody once again.
Continue reading…
06.07.20 – In Krasnodar Region two more local residents prosecuted for their faith. They are accused of preaching.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/4.html
Almost 2 months after the searches in the village of Pavlovskaya, officers of the Federal Security Service of Russia in Krasnodar region initiated criminal proceedings against two more believers: 58-year-old Vladimir Skachidub and 39-year-old Maxim Beltikov.
Continue reading…
02.07.20 – A new wave of searches in the District of Primorye, where 12 cases against worshipers are underway.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/3.html
On July 2, 2020, starting at 8 a.m., searches began in at least six families of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the village of Tavrichanka. Three believers were known to have been taken away for questioning. The searches were authorized by Marina Gerasimova, judge of the Nadezhda district court.
Continue reading…
02.07.20 – What did the prison and prosecutor’s office do to prevent the Danish believer Dennis Christenen from going free?
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/2.html
On June 26, 2020, the Lgov prison authorities illegally placed Dennis Christensen in a cell of a special punishment block (EPKT), typically used for malicious offenders.
Continue reading…

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)


CRIMEA: Jehovah’s Witness Artem Gerasimov: six years in prison

– JW.ORG (04.06.2020) – On 4 June, the Crimean Supreme Court sentenced Artem Gerasimov to six years in prison for his peaceful Christian worship as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was seeking acquittal from his original sentence by the Yalta City Court, which was a fine for 400,000 rubles. Today’s ruling immediately came into force and Artem was taken into custody.


Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, states: “Today’s ruling by the Crimean Supreme Court brings religious persecution to a new level of cruelty. Since the 2017 Russian Supreme Court’s ruling that effectively banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, this is the first time an appeal has resulted in a more severe punishment. This bleak development in Crimea is the latest example of Russia exporting its patently extreme religious intolerance. Human rights advocates across the globe have publicly criticized Russia for its baseless attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses, internationally recognized as peaceful, societally responsible Christians. We hope that senior officials in Russia will soon correct the injustice being doled out in their local courts and that judges in Crimea will follow suit.”


Artem is the second one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be imprisoned in Crimea under Russian law. Artem’s new sentence now matches the sentence of Sergey Filatov, who was likewise convicted on March 5, 2020, but by the Dzhankoysky District Court.


HRWF Comment


Crimea has been de facto under Russian rule since its annexation in 2014 although it is still de jure part of Ukraine.