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RUSSIA: Russia’s top court bans prosecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses for group prayer

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

 

 

The Moscow Times (17.11.2021) – https://bit.ly/3wTQ2p3 – 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)

Photo: istockphoto.com

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website





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RUSSIA: Russia sentences three Jehovah’s Witnesses to six years in prison

Russia sentences three Jehovah’s Witnesses to six years in prison

51 Jehovah’s Witnesses are in prison and 34 under house arrest – 246 criminal cases involving 517 believers are open

HRWF with Moscow Times and JW.ORG (30.07.2021) – A Russian district court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced three Jehovah’s Witnesses to six years in prison on extremism charges on Thursday, the religious organization told The Moscow Times in an emailed statement.

 

Alexander Parkov and Arsen Avanesov were sentenced to six and a half years, and Vilen Avanesov to six years in prison. All three had pleaded “not guilty.”

 

In 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Christian denomination extremist and banned all of its activities. Since the designation, 51 followers are currently in prison, 33 have been sentenced to a prison term and 34 remain under house arrest, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia website.

 

Spokesman for the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses Yaroslav Sivulsky called the extremism sentences “groundless.”

 

“Since the Supreme Court did not prohibit professing the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses individually or in community with others, the ban applies exclusively to legal entities, but not to the faith itself,” he said in the statement.

 

Extremist activity includes “propaganda of the exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of a person on the basis of his social, racial, national, religious or linguistic affiliation or attitude to religion” according to the language in the 2017 ruling.

 

The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Russian authorities is groundless, since the Supreme Court did not prohibit professing the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses individually or in community with others. The ban applies exclusively to legal entities, but not to the faith itself.


Rachel Denber
, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, says: “These men should never, ever have had to spend a minute in prison, and yet they’ve been locked up for two years. It is never too late for Russian authorities to stop these arrests, release Jehovah’s witnesses who are behind bars, stop these criminal proceedings, and quash the convictions that have already taken place.” [denberr@hrw.org]

 

Some reactions

 

Sir Andrew Wood, former U.K. ambassador to Russia (1995-2000), says: “Two years plus in pretrial detention before a verdict on Extremism for three Jehovah’s Witnesses is already an injustice. ‘Extremism’ in Russia is an indictment delivered by diktat labelling a number of organisations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has no credible definition. It carries harsh penalties. Persons who remain true to their convictions are especially exposed to its cruelty. Its purpose is repression, not the exercise of justice.” [contact: andrewood40@gmail.com]

 

Tatyana Moskalkova, Ombudsman for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, referring to the growing number of criminal cases against believers, said in her report to the President of Russia: “These events make one think about the existence of a conflict between the constitutional right to profess one’s religion individually or jointly with others and signs of extremist activity, specified in article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. […] Vague criteria for classifying religious materials as extremist are unacceptable, when virtually any federal judge at his own discretion can prohibit any book, image, video or audio recording.”

 

 

Nationwide Persecution (Russia and Crimea)

  • 246 criminal cases, involving 517 believers
  • 51 in prison
  • 34 under house arrest
  • 1,507 homes of Witnesses raided since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that liquidated the Witnesses’ legal entities
  • Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center recognizes Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have been charged with or convicted of extremism for their faith, as political prisoners

Photo: Russia declared the Christian denomination extremist in 2017. Alexander Artemenkov / TASS

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website





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Over 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses charged or convicted in Russia, group says

The Moscow Times (10.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/35oyANr – More than 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been charged or convicted in Russia since the country banned the religious group as an “extremist” organization three years ago, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has said.

 

Since the April 2017 ban by Russia’s Supreme Court, law enforcement officers raided the homes of 1,166 worshippers’ families, the Jehovah’s Witnesses said.

 

Authorities have opened 175 criminal cases into “extremism” against worshippers as of late October 2020, with 148 of them still in progress, the Christian denomination said on its website.

 

More than half of the 400 worshippers spent between several days to three years in detention while awaiting trial. Some 310 have lost their jobs, businesses, pensions and bank accounts as a result of the “extremist” label.

 

Four Jehovah’s Witnesses have died while under investigation.

 

Ten worshippers are serving prison sentences ranging from two to six years, with two others waiting for their two-year prison sentence to enter into force. Among them, Danish citizen Dennis Christensen has remained behind bars the longest following his detention in May 2017. A court in central Russia convicted him almost two years later.

 

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses website, 64 of its members are either in pre-trial detention or under house arrest while 224 are either banned from certain activities or from leaving Russia.

 

“The increase in the number of victims of religious persecution is bewildering amidst repeated statements by the authorities that the April 2017 Supreme Court decision did not prohibit the Jehovah’s Witnesses from practicing their religion in Russia,” the organization said.

 

President Vladimir Putin’s human rights commissioner has suggested that Russia’s extremism legislation was in “conflict” with the country’s constitutional right to practice any religion.

 

Human Rights Watch has called on the Russian authorities to immediately release the detained Jehovah’s Witnesses, drop outstanding charges and expunge all related criminal records.

Photo: The Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group has been banned in Russia as an “extremist” organization since April 2017. Viktor Drachev / TASS.





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Russia lifts house arrest of LGBT activist facing pornography charges

By AFP

 

The Moscow Times (16.03.2020) – https://bit.ly/2J7qTiC – Russia on Monday lifted the house arrest of an LGBT rights activist accused of distributing pornography for posting drawings of vaginas on a body-positive social media page.

 

Yulia Tsvetkova, 26, has been under house arrest since November in the remote Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-on Amur, some 6,000 kilometers (3,800 miles) east of Moscow.

 

Amnesty International said the case was absurd and labeled her a prisoner of conscience.

 

A district court ruled she can now leave her home but must comply with a travel ban, Tsvetkova said.

 

“Today they will take off my bracelet,” she wrote on Facebook after the hearing, calling the ruling an encouraging sign.

 

“The investigation has big plans. But perhaps we had a small victory today,” she said, noting the case had not been closed.

 

Tsvetkova faces up to six years behind bars over the pornography charges. She was previously fined for violating a controversial Russian law against gay propaganda.

 

“She still risks a real prison sentence,” Amnesty International’s Russia director Natalia Zvyagina said in a statement after the ruling, calling for “the lifting of all charges against Yulia and an end to her persecution.”

 

As part of her activism, Tsvetkova hosted lectures for the LGBT community and held classes on sex education, which is prohibited at Russian schools.

 

She has reported receiving death threats from a homophobic group.

 

She told AFP earlier that she had maintained a social media page called “Vagina Monologues” for six months as a “hobby.”

 

She said she believes the authorities are using the pornography charge as a pretext for cracking down on LGBT activists because it is easy to pin on people and carries a long sentence.

 

The prosecution asked for her house arrest to be lifted because she has still not been charged, reported OVD-Info, a website that tracks detentions at political protests.

 

It is unclear when the trial will begin.

 

Her arrest prompted pickets and an online flash-mob where artists posted works of art depicting vaginas.


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