Forum18 (25.05.2018) – http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2381 – Officers launched 28 raids on Jehovah’s Witness homes in May, often forcing entry, threatening occupants with weapons and seizing literature and other items. Under criminal investigation are 7 Jehovah’s Witnesses in pre-trial detention, 1 under house arrest and at least 11 under travel restrictions. Two others are already on trial. (Excerpts hereafter)
Aleksandr Solovyov and his wife Anna had just returned from a trip abroad when law enforcement agents detained them at Perm-2 railway station on the evening of 22 May. Friends who had come to meet them said that officers put Solovyov in handcuffs and took him and his wife away in separate cars, the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported on 24 May.
Anna Solovyova has since been released, but Aleksandr is being held in a temporary detention centre while a judge decides on further restrictive measures. It is as yet unclear whether he will be placed in pre-trial detention or which court will rule on the matter. Under which part of Criminal Code Article 282.2 (“Organisation of” or “participation in” “the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity”) he is being investigated is also unknown.
Investigators searched the Solovyovs’ home overnight on 22/23 May and seized the deeds to the flat, electronic devices, computer drives, their wifi router, photographs, and their collection of Bibles.
Before the nationwide ban on Jehovah’s Witness activity and the consequent liquidation of local communities, Aleksandr Solovyov chaired the Perm Jehovah’s Witness congregation, according to federal tax records. Anna Solovyova does not appear on the list of founding members.
As of 24 May, Solovyov was being held at the Temporary Detention Centre, ulitsa Uralskaya, 90, Perm, 614017.
Orenburg Region: Mass raids
Investigative Committee operatives, FSB security service agents, and armed riot police carried out 18 house searches in Orenburg, Buzuluk, Perevolotsky, and Sol-Iletsk, also on 17 May.
They took 15 people away for questioning, three of whom were then sent to a temporary detention centre, according to statements by the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses on 17 May and 21 May.
Of these three, Judge Igor Ismaylov of Industrial District Court ruled on 19 May that one – Vladislav Kolbanov – should be placed under house arrest, while the other two –Aleksandr Suvorov and Vladimir Kochnyov – should be kept in pre-trial detention until 14 July.
Orenburg Region Investigative Committee reported that a further six people are under travel restrictions.
Forum 18 understands Suvorov and Kochnyov’s prison address to be:
ulitsa Naberezhnaya, 7
Investigation Prison No. 1
The Investigative Committee said in a press statement on 22 May that nine people in Orenburg Region have been formally charged under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 (“Organisation of the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity”), Article 282.2, Part 2 (“Participation in” such an organisation), and Criminal Code Article 282.3, Part 1 (“Financing of extremist activity”).
The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses thinks that Kochnyov and Suvorov (both from Orenburg) have been charged under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1. Kolbanov (also from Orenburg), Boris Andreyev (from Perevolotsky), and Anatoly Vichkitov (from Sol-Iletsk) are also among those charged, although it remains unclear with which alleged offences.
Before the liquidation of the Administrative Centre, Orenburg and Buzuluk had registered Jehovah’s Witness communities, while Perevolotsky and Sol-Iletsk did not. According to federal tax records, Suvorov previously chaired the Central Orenburg Jehovah’s Witness community, and Kochnyov was among its founding members.
The raids on 17 May took place “as a result of carefully planned and organised operational and investigative actions”, according to the Investigative Committee statement, and had the aim of “seizing documents and items relevant to the criminal case, as well as identifying other persons involved in unlawful activities”.
In raiding the historically pacifist Jehovah’s Witnesses, police “anti-extremism” officers, the Economic Security and Anti-Corruption Administration, and the Orenburg Region FSB security service were also involved. The raids on pacifists also included what was described as “armed support” from National Guard special forces troops.
Investigators allege that the suspects, knowing of the 2017 ban on Jehovah’s Witness activity, “organised the activity of a structural subdivision of Jehovah’s Witnesses by calling and holding meetings, organising the recruitment of new members, and communicating the contents of religious literature to meeting participants”.
The investigation is continuing, with “necessary investigative and operational-search measures underway in order to collect and consolidate a base of evidence”, according to the statement.
Telephones at Orenburg Region Investigative Committee went unanswered when Forum 18 called on 24 May to ask why officials thought armed force was necessary against pacifists.
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