Russia’s Top Court Bans Prosecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses for Group Prayer



The Moscow Times (17.11.2021) – – Russia’s Supreme Court has banned the criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses for joint worship, potentially putting an end to the law enforcement practice of jailing believers for prayer sessions.


The ruling could also affect the 152 convictions that have not yet entered into force or are being appealed, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia organization said in a statement on its website Tuesday.


Russia outlawed the nonconformist Christian denomination as “extremist” in 2017 and has since subjected thousands of worshippers to police raids, harassment and up to eight years of imprisonment.


Russia’s Supreme Court binds law enforcement authorities to provide concrete evidence for the worshippers’ “criminal intent,” “extremist motives” and “prior collusion” — justifications for criminal prosecution that have been criticized as arbitrary.


The organization said the ruling poses “new challenges” for authorities to open criminal cases, search residences or “detain a person simply because he or she professes the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses or meets with another at a worship service.”


“Investigators will now have to justify the wording often used in indictment papers against Jehovah’s Witnesses,” it said.


The Supreme Court’s plenum ruled that joint prayers among members of banned religious organizations “consisting exclusively in the exercise of their right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, including through individual or joint profession of religion… do not contain elements of extremism.”


The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia noted that the country’s courts are under the obligation to “consider” the Supreme Court ruling when considering appeals.


The group said it “eagerly anticipates” how the Oct. 28 Supreme Court plenum ruling will affect the release of its members currently held in custody.


In its original 2017 “extremist” ruling, the Russian Supreme Court accused the Jehovah’s Witnesses of “propaganda of exclusivity” and signs of violating public safety.


The Soviet Union had exiled thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses, known for door-to-door preaching and an alternative interpretation of the Bible, to Siberia for anti-communist activities and their refusal to serve in the military.

HRWF Comments
In 2021, 34 Jehovah’s Witnesses had been sentenced to a prison term for purely exercising their freedom of worship and assembly, according to HRWF’s research:
10.02.2021: Aleksandr Ivshin, 7.5 years 
24.02.2021: Roman Baranovskiy, 6 years
24.02.2021: Valentina Baranovskaya, 2 years
29.03.2021: Viktor Stashevskiy, 6.5 years 
30.03.2021: Oleg Danilov, 3 years 
06.04.2021: Aleksandr Shcherbina, 3 years
20.05.2021: Rustam Seidkuliev, 2.5 years
28.05.2021: Anastasiya Polyakova 2.5 years – Gaukhar Bektemirova, 2.3 years – Dinara Dyusekeyeva, 2 years.
01.06.2021: Ekaterina Pegasheva, 6.5 years
03.06.2021: Andrei Stupnikov, 6 years 
03.06.2021: Andrei Andreyev, Andrei Ryshkov, Armen Bagratyan, and Alevtina Bagratyan (from 2 to 4.5 years in prison)
30.06.2021: Dmitri Golik (7 years) and Aleksei Berchuk (8 years)
29.07.2021: Alexander Parkov and Arsen Avanesov (6.5 years) and Vilen Avanesov (6 years)
13.08.2021: Vasiliy Meleshko, 3 years
06.09.2021: Dmitry Sergeyevich Terebilov, 3 years
23.09.2021: Valery Rogozin (6.5 years), Viacheslav Osipov and Denis Peresunko (6.3 years), Igor Egozarian and Sergei Melnik (6 years)
11.10.2021: Vladimir Skachidub (4.2 years)
22.10.2021: Igor Shmidt (6 years)
25.10.2021: Rustam Diarov (8 years), Yevgeniy Ivanov (8 years), Sergey Klikunov (8 years) and Olga Ivanova (3.5 years)


Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website