About 45 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced to heavy prison terms since 1 January
HRWF (22.12.2022) – In the first three weeks of December, three trials involving 11 Jehovah’s Witnesses have resulted in a total number of 67 years and 7 months to be served in prison.
Blagoveshchensk City Court of the Amur Region (21 December 2022)
Sergey Panteleymonovich AFANASIYEV, 58 years (6 years and 6 months)
Sergey KARDAKOV, 38 years (6 months and 4 months)
Anton Yurievich OLSHEVSKIY, 35 years (6 years and 3 months)
Adam Mihaylovich SVARICHEVSKY, 59 years (6 years and 3 months)
Sergey Nikolaevich YERMILOV, 55 years (6 years and 3 months)
Birobidzhan District Court of the EAO (19 December 2022)
Sergey SHULYARENKO, 38 years (7 years)
Valeriy KRIEGER, 55 years (7 years)
Alam ALIYEV, 59 years (6 years and 6 months)
Dmitriy ZAGULIN, 49 years (3 years and 6 months)
Armenian City Court of the Republic of Crimea
Aleksandr Viktorovich LITVINYUK, 62 years (6 years)
Aleksandr Fedorovich DUBOVENKO, 49 years (6 years)
Four Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to prison for up to seven years (By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers)
European Times (21.12.2022) – On 19 December 2022, Judge Yana Vladimirova at the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region passed harsh sentences to four Jehovah’s Witnesses for supposedly organizing and financing extremist activities while they were in fact merely exercising their right to freedom of religion and assembly.
The investigation and trial lasted an unprecedented four years and a half. The litigation lasted over two years. The prosecutor requested a punishment of four to nine years in prison in a colony.
Operation “Judgment Day”
On 17 May 2018, a large-scale operation under the code name “Judgment Day” was conducted in Birobidzhan with the participation of 150 security forces. More than 20 families of Jehovah’s Witnesses were victims of the raid (e.g, Newsweek; Kyiv Post).
During this crackdown, Alam Aliyev was arrested and spent eight days in a pre-trial detention center. Later on, three more believers appeared in Aliyev’s case: Valery Krieger, Sergey Shulyarenko and Dmitry Zagulin. They were accused of holding joint worship services, which the investigation considered to be the organization of the activities of an extremist organization and its financing.
In total, 23 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region have already been persecuted for the practice of their beliefs. Among them are the wife of Alam Aliyev—Svetlana Monis, the wife of Valery Krieger—Nataliya Krieger and the wife of Dmitriy Zagulin—Tatyana Zagulina.
The European Court of Human Rights, in its judgment of 7 June 2022, condemned the repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, stating: “The European Court reiterates that only religious expressions and actions that contain or call for violence, hate or discrimination can serve as a basis for suppressing them as ‘extremist’ […] The courts did not identify a single word, deed or action of the applicants, whose motive would be violence, hatred or discrimination against others, or which would have a connotation of violence, hatred or discrimination” (§ 271).
Since the 2017 Supreme Court ban, Russian authorities have raided 1874 homes of Witnesses, including 200 this year
- Mass raids in 2022 (10 or more homes)
- Dec 18, Crimea, 16 homes
- Oct 6, Primorye Territory, 12 homes
- Sept 28, Crimea, 11 homes
- Sept 8, Chelyabinsk Region, 13 homes
- Aug 11, Rostov Region, 10 homes
- July 13, Yaroslavl Region, 16 homes
- Feb 13, Krasnodar Region, 13 homes
Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, states: “There are over 110 Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison in Russia. It’s unthinkable that peaceful Christian men like Alam, Dmitriy, Sergey, and Valeriy would be accused of extremist activity and given harsh, lengthy prison sentences usually reserved for violent criminals.(*)
Russian authorities have continued to use a substantial amount of State personnel and resources to conduct mass home raids and imprison Jehovah’s Witnesses simply for the practice of their beliefs.
The escalating discriminatory assault against Jehovah’s Witnesses is putting a huge burden on a growing number of wives and children to support themselves without the help of their husbands and fathers who were often the family’s primary source of income. Innocent children have had their fathers ruthlessly taken away from them at the most critical point in their physical and emotional development. It’s hard to believe such gross injustices would happen at all, and even more inconceivable that the systematic persecution—at times including beatings and torture—has continued for more than five years.
(*) In comparison, according to Article 111 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, grievous bodily harm draws a maximum of 8 years sentence; Article 126 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, kidnapping leads to up to 5 years in prison; Article 131 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, rape is punishable with 3 to 6 years in prison.
Five Jehovah’s Witnesses to serve over six years in prison
HRWF (21.12.2022) – On 21 December, two days after the trial at the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region, another Russian court sentenced five more Jehovah’s Witnesses to over six years in prison. They were immediately taken into custody from the courtroom for so-called crimes of extremist activity that included reading the Bible, praying to Jehovah God, singing Christian songs, and discussing the Bible with others.
One of the men, Sergey Yermilov, said in court: “I believe that accusing me of extremist activities is either a gross error of the investigation, or a deliberate distortion of facts in order to discredit Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (Excerpt from closing statements Nov 24—link to full text)
The sentences were imposed by the same court (Blagoveshchensk City Court of the Amur Region) that in June 2021 imposed the then record-breaking sentence of 8 years on Aleksey Berchuk.
- 2017,FSB began covert surveillance operations against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Blagoveshchensk.
- July 20, 2018,local authorities searched seven homes of Witnesses.
- October 2019,FSB opened criminal case against Olshevkiy and Yermilov.
- November 2019,Yermilov’s bank accounts were blocked for claims of financing terrorism.
- May 2020,Olshevskiy and Yermilov submitted separate petitions to the investigator to dismiss the criminal case based on the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s findings weeks earlier, which declared that Russia had violated international law in detaining 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses (link). Olshevskiy and Yermilov petitions were subsequently re
- September 2020-March 2021,charges are brought against Afanasiyev, Kardakov, and Svarichevskiy.
- September 2021,charges against all five men combined into one criminal case.
- October 2021,criminal trial
See also December 2022 letter from the Council of Europe’s Secretary General to the Russian MFA (link)
Photo 1: Valery Krieger, Alam Aliyev, Dmitry Zagulin and Sergey Shulyarenko sentenced on 19 December 2022 (Credit: Jehovah’s Witnesses)
Photo 2: Left to right: Sergey Afanasiyev, Anton Olshevskiy, Adam Svarichevskiy, Sergey Yermilov (Credits: Jehovah’s Witnesses)