RUSSIA: Vasiliy Meleshko is the 22nd Jehovah’s Witness sentenced to prison in 2021
By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers
The European Times (14.08.2021) – https://bit.ly/3xM62s3 – On 11 August, 60-year-old Vasiliy Meleshko was sentenced to three years in prison after only one day of hearings at the Abinskiy District Court of Krasnodar Territory. Vasiliy was handcuffed in the courtroom and taken to pretrial detention center No. 3 for Krasnodar Territory.
Vasiliy is among 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses charged in Krasnodar, including 6 in prison or pretrial detention (5 male; 1 female).
Convicted, Sentenced to Prison in 2021
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 years and 3 months – 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)
11.08.2021: Vasiliy Meleshko, 3 years
Reactions to Meleshko Verdict
Sir Andrew Wood, former U.K. ambassador to Russia (1995-2000), says: “Sentencing a man after one day’s hearing for discussing established religious teaching and issues to three years in prison amounts to extremism in itself. The Abinskiy District Court must obviously have decided on its verdict in advance.” [contact: firstname.lastname@example.org]
Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, says: “It’s astounding that a court anywhere would send a person to prison for doing nothing more than peacefully practicing their religion. The sentence against Meleshko, and those against all Jehovah’s Witnesses similarly convicted for extremism in recent years should be vacated, and they should all be freed without delay.” [contact:email@example.com]
Amnesty International, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, states: “Amnesty International is aware of numerous cases of unlawful criminal prosecution and jailing of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and is utterly concerned by the ever-spreading campaign of repressions against them. We reiterate our call on Russian authorities to put an end to this shameful campaign and release all Jehovah’s Witnesses deprived of their liberty solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. ” [contact: firstname.lastname@example.org]
Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, says: “It is a mockery of the rule of law to hold a one-day trial and imprison a peaceful older man simply for his Christian beliefs. Rights experts and international bodies continue to implore Russia to halt the persecution. Jehovah’s Witnesses want nothing more than to freely worship in their home country as their fellow believers do in over 200 other lands.”
Meleshko Case History
- April 7, 2021, three armed officers raid home of Vasiliy and his wife, Zoya. Officers confiscate a laptop, mobile phones, Bibles, and the couple’s personal savings, claiming these were donations to support extremist activity. Also confiscated was an unsent letter to Alexander Ivshin also from Krasnodar, who was convicted and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in February 2021
- April 12, Vasiliy officially charged under Art. 282.2 (2) for participating in “religious teaching classes, sermons” and because he “gave and listened to lectures based on religious literature … entered into conversations and religious discussions with other participants, participated in a collective discussion of religious books
- August 10, criminal trial begins and goes through all stages. Judge Mikhail Ostashevsk announced verdict the following day
Link to images of Meleshko. Please use credit line: Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Detailed timeline here.
Nationwide Persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses (Russia and Crimea)
- 257 criminal cases, involving 531 believers
- 51 in prison
- 33 under house arrest
- 1,523 homes of Witnesses raided since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that liquidated the Witnesses’ legal entities
Photo: Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses