HRWF (25.02.2021) – On 24 February, a Russian court convicted Valentina Baranovskaya (69) and her son Roman Baranovskiy (46), both Jehovah’s Witnesses) and sentenced them to two and six years in prison respectively. Valentina, who will be 70 in April, is the first female to be convicted and imprisoned in Russia since the 2017 Russian Supreme Court ruling that liquidated all of the Witnesses’ legal entities in Russia and Crimea.


Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, says: “Today, Judge Elena Shcherbakova ruthlessly imprisoned a harmless, elderly woman and her son on baseless charges. The ruling was a mockery of the rule of law—both international human rights law as well as Russia’s constitution, which protects religious freedom. Numerous international human rights actors have decried Russia’s discriminatory assault of the Witnesses, which has been reminiscent of Soviet repression. Nevertheless, Russian authorities across the Federation have persisted in imprisoning and at times beating peaceful Jehovah’s Witnesses practicing their Christian beliefs. We hope that Jehovah’s Witnesses will one day be allowed to freely read the Bible and worship in Russia as they do in over 200 other lands.”

Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director of the Europe and Central Asis Division, says: “This is a disgraceful miscarriage of justice. No one should face criminal charges, let alone an active prison sentence, for peaceful involvement in religious activities. Valentina Baranovskaya and her son, Roman Baranovskiy, have done nothing wrong, and they should be immediately freed. Russia’s authorities should stop the campaign of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses.”


Case History

  • April 10, 2019, armed law enforcement raided Valentina and Roman’s home along with three homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Abakan
  • Officers confiscated Bibles, electronic devices, and personal records
  • Hearings began July 8, 2020, at Abakan City Court (Judge, Elena Shcherbakova; State Prosecutor, Svetlana Shestakova)
  • Valentina was diagnosed with a stroke July 20. Hearings subsequently postponed
  • December 14, hearings resumed. Prosecutor cross examines religious scholar, Nikolai Stepanovich Volkov. Volkov describes the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses: “They preach, naturally, the Gospel. […] As a matter of fact, their preaching—there is nothing illegal. […] Morally, these are ordinary, deeply decent people.”

Nationwide Persecution in Russia and Crimea

  • 199 criminal cases, involving 440 believers
  • 52 in prison (the most since 2017 Supreme Court ruling)
  • 27 under house arrest
  • 1,327 homes of Witnesses raided since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that liquidated the Witnesses’ legal entities
  • 39 men and women were convicted in 2020 under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (more than double the 18 convictions in 2019)
  • 72 were imprisoned temporarily or due to conviction in 2020

Source: Office of Public Information, World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Photo : Valentina and Roman Baranovskiy – Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia