RUSSIA: New records in 2022 in the campaign of persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses


The European Times NewsThe European Times (29.12.2022) – This year, Russian courts sentenced over 40% more Jehovah’s Witnesses (45) to prison than last year (32). This resulted in a peak of 115 men and women in prison at one time—the most since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that effectively banned the Witnesses’ activities.

“Russia is now marking a new milestone of disgrace,” states Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division. “No one should spend a second being prosecuted, let alone in prison, for the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs. It is never too late to stop these repressive and unlawful practices, to free all people imprisoned for their peaceful religious activity, and to quash the notorious Supreme Court ruling banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (for comments by 11 additional experts from Europe, Russia, and the U.S., see subhead below: What do experts think?)

Persecution has intensified, despite a landmark ruling in June 2022 by the European Court of Human Rights declaring the 2017 ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses as baseless violation of international human rights covenants that should be reversed. The Court directed Russia to halt all pending criminal proceedings against Jehovah’s Witnesses and release those imprisoned. [See p. 85, §11 of judgment (link).] Just weeks ago, the Council of Europe’s Secretary General urged Russia to comply with the ECHR’s judgement, as it is obligated to do, and reverse the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses. [See p. 2 of letter (link).]

Jarrod Lopes, a spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses, stated:

“Since 2017, Russian authorities have placed over 500 Witnesses on the federal list of extremists and terrorists.* Russia is misemploying its anti-extremist legislation to ban, imprison, and at times beat and torture Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s hard to believe this poorly veiled crackdown has continued for over five years. Numerous international experts, officials, and courts at the highest level have acknowledged that Jehovah’s Witnesses are peaceful, law-abiding citizens—anything but extremists—and thus have repeatedly condemned Russia for its unmistakable discrimination-based ban. Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world are eager to see their fellow believers in Russia released from prison so they can be free to raise their children, free to support their communities, and free to worship as they are in over 230 other lands across the globe.”

* Being on the list—which is publicly accessible—stigmatizes them and has prevented many from getting jobs. Other burdensome consequences include having their bank accounts blocked and having difficulty obtaining or renewing insurance policies, selling property, managing investments, receiving inheritances, or even purchasing mobile phone SIM cards.

Russia’s persecution of JW’s in 2022 by the numbers (as of December 23, 2022)

  • 121 convicted for so-called extremist activity and sentenced to various penalties. This figure has steadily increased—18 in 2019; 39 in 2020; and 111 in 2021
  • 45 sentenced to prison to a total of 250 years in prison. This is more than a 40% increase to the 32 sentenced to prison in 2021
    • 35 out of the 45 were sent to prison for six years
  • In September 2022, the number of Witnesses in prison at one time exceeded 100 for the first time since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling. As of Dec. 23, 2022, there was a peak of 115 behind bars
    • 19in prison are over the age of 60
    • Oldest is Boris Andreev, 71, from Primorye Territory. He was 70 when ordered to pretrial detention in October 2022 (link)
    • The most inhumane sentence in 2022 is 7 years for Andrey Vlasov, who is disabled and struggles to manage daily activities without assistance (link to video)
    • A total of 367 believers have spent some time behind bars since May 2017
  • 200 searches of JW homes conducted this year in 39 localities of Russia
    • Over 1,800 homes have been searched since 2017 ban, leading to criminal investigations or charges filed against more than 670 Witnesses
  • Criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses have been filed in 72 regions of Russia by the end of 2022—this is two more than in 2021

Photo: The former Russian branch property of Jehovah’s Witnesses that was confiscated by the Russian government after the ban in 2017. It included 14 buildings on more than 100,000 square meters (1,076,391 sq ft) of land on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. Courtesy: Jehovah’s Witnesses