JW World Headquarters (09.06.2020) – The Pskov City Court convicted 61-year-old Gennady Shpakovskiy and sentenced him to six and a half years in prison simply for holding small Christian meetings in his home. This is the longest, harshest sentence handed down to one of Jehovah’s Witnesses since the 2017 Russian Supreme Court ruling that effectively criminalized their activity. Gennady did not serve any time in pretrial detention so he faces the full 6.5 years in prison. Gennady was taken into custody in the courtroom. Gennady will appeal his conviction.
Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, states: “Today, Russia has arbitrarily imprisoned another peaceful believer, disregarding its own constitution and international human rights law. The city court’s ruling is in defiance of repeated demand by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other prominent international actors to stop arresting, detaining, and prosecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses for their peaceful worship. Yet, Russian authorities have persisted, raiding over 120 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses already this year. Undeterred even by COVID-19, Russia unconscionably continues to unconscionably subject peaceful citizens like Gennady to the unsanitary and potentially deadly confines of prison.”
In his final address to the judge, Gennady completely rejected the charge against him for “extremism.” He recalled that during Soviet times millions of citizens were likewise repressed on false charges—among them were Jehovah’s Witnesses who were later rehabilitated by the authorities. “Unfortunately, history repeats itself. Today, the same thing is being done to me and my fellow believers,” stated Gennady.
“The so-called evidence against me is that I merely confess the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including meeting to watch religious videos with believers, singing songs with them, praying to God Jehovah, and discussing my beliefs with others,” said Gennady. He explained that none of these actions are mentioned in Russia’s “Law on Combatting Extremist Activities.”
“Paradoxically,” states defense lawyer Arly Chimirov, “at one of the last hearings, Judge Galina Belik personally emphasized that the practice of religion, joint meetings, and prayers are not a crime, but a right of all Russian citizens enshrined in Article 28 of the Constitution of Russia.”
How did this happen?
- In early 2018, FSB agents wiretapped the Shpakovskiy family’s apartment and monitored their activity for several months. On June 3, 2018, at 12:45 p.m., FSB agents and armed National Guard officers forced open the front door of the Shpakovskiy’s apartment, where a few were present for a peaceful Christian meeting. The FSB and National Guard searched the apartment for six hours.
- The FSB agents confiscated tablets and cell phones and took the Witnesses away for questioning. The interrogators insulted the Witnesses and threatened them with dismissal from work as well as criminal prosecution. Gennady’s interrogation lasted until 10 p.m.
- On March 19, 2019, Gennady was charged with organizing the activities of an “extremist” organization. Five months later, Gennady was also charged with “financing extremist activities.”
- Hearings began November 5, 2019, with Judge Galina Belik presiding (summary of court proceedings)