RUSSIA: To be a Jehovah’s Witness is a worse crime than to kidnap or to rape

In comparison
  • According to Article 111 Part 1 of the Russian Federation’s Criminal Code, grievous bodily harm draws a maximum of 8 years sentence. 
  • According to Article 126 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, kidnappingleads to up to 5 years in prison.
  • According to Article 131 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, rapeis punishable with 3 to 6 years in prison.


HRWF (29.06.2024) – On June 2024, the Industrialniy District Court of Khabarovsk (Russia) imposed record prison sentences on three Jehovah’s Witnesses. The sentences noted below all exceed the previous high mark of 8 years since the 2017 ban.

  • Nikolai Polevodov: 8.5 years (for bio, seelink)
  • Vitaliy Zhuk: 8 years, 4 months (for bio, seelink)
  • Stanislav Kim: 8 years, 2 months (for bio, seelink)
  • Additional convictions in this criminal case:
    • Vitaliy’s wife, Tatyana, (link) andSvetlana Sedova (link): 5-year suspended prison sentence
    • Maya Karpushkina: 4-year suspended prison sentence (for bio, seelink)

The three men were immediately taken into custody in the courtroom. For Nikolai and Stanislav, this is the second time they’ve been criminally convicted for their faith.

“It’s patently absurd for the court to hand down such lengthy sentences, especially when you consider eight years in prison is the maximum term in Russia for violent criminals convicted of grievous bodily harm*,” said Jarrod Lopes, a spokesperson for world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Imposing such severe sentences on peaceful devout men is a mockery of the rule of law, flies in the face of international jurisprudence, and betrays Russia’s own constitution. The fictional charges that have led to these record harsh sentences are based solely on prejudice against Jehovah’s Witnesses. We hope Russian officials will soon realize that they have grossly misjudged Jehovah’s Witnesses and that the police and FSB are wasting precious resources hunting down harmless Christian family men and women, raiding their homes, and imprisoning them. Jehovah’s Witnesses want nothing more than to worship peacefully with fellow believers and to contribute to their local communities—both which are impossible to do from inside a prison cell.”

Case history

In November 2018, a criminal case was opened against six Jehovah’s Witnesses after dozens of riot police raided a café, where some 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses had gathered for a friendly party. This was a social event, not a religious gathering. Once inside, the police surrounded the Witnesses, forbidding anyone to leave their seats or use their phones and tablets. All of the Witnesses in the café were interrogated (including minors), fingerprinted, and photographed. Many had their tablets and phones confiscated. The raid and subsequent interrogation lasted 5 hours.

As a result, Mr. Kim, Mr. Polevodov, and Mr. Zhuk were placed in a pretrial detention, where they each spent 2 months. They were then put under house arrest for 6 to 12 months.

The case first went to court in July 2019, but due to insufficient evidence it was returned to the prosecutor’s office. Some four months later the case was sent back to court. Litigation has taken some five years.

“During the entire trial,” Vitaliy Zhuk said, “I never heard what exactly in my words and actions constituted a crime of an extremist nature and what I had to stop doing in order not to be considered a criminal.” Nikolay Polevodov likewise stated: “All the facts considered during this trial clearly prove that I am being persecuted not for actual crimes, but for my religious views. The prosecution, without providing any evidence, is trying to promote the idea that I committed a crime.”

For more information regarding this case and all of the defendants, see this link.

Second-time offenders

This is the second time Stanislav Kim and Nikolai Polevodov were defendants in a criminal case for their faith. (see link) The Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Khabarovsk sentenced them to 2 years of suspended imprisonment “for participation in extremist activities,” namely for discussing the Bible and basic Christian teachings. Those sentences have been satisfied.

Persecution in numbers | Russia and Crimea

  • 2,102 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses raided since 2017 ban
  • 811 men and women criminally charged for their belief in God. Of these:
  • 427 have spent some time behind bars since 2017. Of these: A total of 170 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been convicted and sentenced to prison, including 105 (almost 62%) who received sentences of 5 years or more. Those sentenced to 8 years or more: 9 people

As of today, 134 Jehovah’s Witnesses (men and women) remain in prison.

Source: World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses (USA)


More reading: See REUTERS

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website