51 Jehovah’s Witnesses are in prison and 34 under house arrest – 246 criminal cases involving 517 believers are open
HRWF with Moscow Times and JW.ORG (30.07.2021) – A Russian district court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced three Jehovah’s Witnesses to six years in prison on extremism charges on Thursday, the religious organization told The Moscow Times in an emailed statement.
Alexander Parkov and Arsen Avanesov were sentenced to six and a half years, and Vilen Avanesov to six years in prison. All three had pleaded “not guilty.”
In 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Christian denomination extremist and banned all of its activities. Since the designation, 51 followers are currently in prison, 33 have been sentenced to a prison term and 34 remain under house arrest, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia website.
Spokesman for the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses Yaroslav Sivulsky called the extremism sentences “groundless.”
“Since the Supreme Court did not prohibit professing the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses individually or in community with others, the ban applies exclusively to legal entities, but not to the faith itself,” he said in the statement.
Extremist activity includes “propaganda of the exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of a person on the basis of his social, racial, national, religious or linguistic affiliation or attitude to religion” according to the language in the 2017 ruling.
The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Russian authorities is groundless, since the Supreme Court did not prohibit professing the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses individually or in community with others. The ban applies exclusively to legal entities, but not to the faith itself.
Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, says: “These men should never, ever have had to spend a minute in prison, and yet they’ve been locked up for two years. It is never too late for Russian authorities to stop these arrests, release Jehovah’s witnesses who are behind bars, stop these criminal proceedings, and quash the convictions that have already taken place.” [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sir Andrew Wood, former U.K. ambassador to Russia (1995-2000), says: “Two years plus in pretrial detention before a verdict on Extremism for three Jehovah’s Witnesses is already an injustice. ‘Extremism’ in Russia is an indictment delivered by diktat labelling a number of organisations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has no credible definition. It carries harsh penalties. Persons who remain true to their convictions are especially exposed to its cruelty. Its purpose is repression, not the exercise of justice.” [contact: email@example.com]
Tatyana Moskalkova, Ombudsman for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, referring to the growing number of criminal cases against believers, said in her report to the President of Russia: “These events make one think about the existence of a conflict between the constitutional right to profess one’s religion individually or jointly with others and signs of extremist activity, specified in article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. […] Vague criteria for classifying religious materials as extremist are unacceptable, when virtually any federal judge at his own discretion can prohibit any book, image, video or audio recording.”
Nationwide Persecution (Russia and Crimea)
- 246 criminal cases, involving 517 believers
- 51 in prison
- 34 under house arrest
- 1,507 homes of Witnesses raided since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that liquidated the Witnesses’ legal entities
- Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center recognizes Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have been charged with or convicted of extremism for their faith, as political prisoners
Photo: Russia declared the Christian denomination extremist in 2017. Alexander Artemenkov / TASS