Persecution of believers continues in the Russian Federation
Russian security forces jointly conducted mass searches and detentions among the followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The special operation took place in Moscow and in more than 20 other regions of the country, media reported.
In accordance with the statement of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, these actions were carried out due to suspicions about the organization in Moscow of the activities of the “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia” and its structural branches.
The representative of the “European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses” Yaroslav Sivulsky denied this information and said about the ongoing persecution of the movement.
According to the website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, since the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on recognizing the organization as extremist, the number of accused believers has exceeded 400 people. More than half of them are in pre-trial detention centers, some languish there for years. Searches took place in more than a thousand families.
Several followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses received real sentences – from two to 6 years in prison, others were sentenced to suspended sentences and fined. Over 300 believers are included in the official list of extremists and terrorists, so they cannot work, receive a pension or use a bank account.
Yuri Tabak: “The repressive actions of the authorities will cause even more resistance from Jehovah’s Witnesses”
Religious scholar, expert of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights Yuri Tabak, in an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America, found it difficult to name the reason for the new persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country. As it seems to him, this is just some kind of “madness”.
“If there are any logical prerequisites for such persecution, it boils down to the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church wants to protect itself from competition from the rather popular movement of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he added. – It’s like an apparent reason, which can be talked about. Although it is clear that it is impossible to find documentary evidence here, because usually such things are not recorded anywhere “.
From the very beginning, the decision to persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses was not at all reasonable, Yuri Tabak stated. Because, in his opinion, there is absolutely no reason to call them extremists. “The fact that they allegedly have extremist literature is complete nonsense,” he says. “And most importantly, they never planned anything like extremism, and certainly didn’t commit anything”.
At the same time, the relationship between the authorities and believers resembles a vicious circle, the religious scholar noted. It seems to him that from the very beginning it was obvious that the more Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested and imprisoned, the more they would resist: “These are passionate believers. In spite of everything, like the first Christians, they will gather, pray secretly and nothing will stop them. Repressive actions by the authorities will cause even more resistance from Jehovah’s Witnesses “.
Moreover, they do not pose any threat to the authorities, they are not going to change the regime, go to rallies or oppose Putin, stressed Yuri Tabak. Therefore, what is happening simply does not lend itself to logical explanation, he summed up.
Anatoly Pchelintsev: “The Russian Constitution in terms of freedom of conscience is inactive”
In turn, the honorary lawyer of Russia, Doctor of Law, editor-in-chief of the journal Religion and Law Anatoly Pchelintsev believes that the new wave of repressions against Jehovah’s Witnesses is caused by the fact that the end of the year is approaching and law enforcement agencies need to take stock of their work. At the same time, the lawyer emphasized that this is purely his personal point of view..
“For the siloviki, statistics of crimes solved, including those of an extremist nature, are still important,” said the interlocutor of the Voice of America. – And the statistics are lame due to the pandemic and quarantine. Therefore, they have now become more active. So, most likely, the next surge in repression is caused solely by the desire of the power structures to distinguish themselves and show off indicators. Moreover, Jehovah’s Witnesses are peaceful, calm people, they can be taken easily and easily “.
In a word, I explain only by such exclusively pragmatic goals, summed up Anatoly Pchelintsev. In his opinion, if the departments do not demonstrate the necessary indicators, they will have to be reduced..
“The same“ Center “E” is a huge ramified structure on the scale of the state, ”he pointed out. – In each subject there are enough “fiery fighters” against extremism, they receive good salaries, and they want to receive a bonus on New Year’s Eve, and someone – an early title in order to go for promotion. And so, if you think about it: who did they prevent, “Jehovah’s Witnesses”? They exist all over the world, and they are not touched anywhere, except for some odious regimes in the Middle East “.
The Russian Constitution is inactive in terms of freedom of conscience, the lawyer believes: “Yes, the authorities can say that we have large confessions, and believers freely come to pray. But there are also representatives of religious minorities. We are talking about millions of people who are experiencing tremendous difficulties in the performance of religious services and are being oppressed by the authorities. And I don’t know who benefits from it “.
It seems that everything is being done on purpose to make the situation in the country as bad as possible, concluded Anatoly Pchelintsev.
Jarrod Lopes, a representative of the head office of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, in an e-mail to the correspondent of the Russian Service of the Voice of America, said that at the moment to receive information from Russia and confirm reports of the detention of a number of leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses movement in Russia hard. The organization is now collecting information about what happened in Russia.
Nuri Turkel: “There are numerous reports that members of the organization "Jehovah witnesses" are tortured “
Anush Avetisyan: What is the position of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom on the situation in Russia?
Nuri Turkel, Representative of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom: The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (the Commission) believes that Russia is one of the world’s worst violators of citizens’ religious freedoms. The situation in the country is getting worse every year. Since 2017, the Commission has recommended that the US Department of State give Russia the status of a country of particular concern for many violations of the rights of religious minorities, especially Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses. “
There are approximately 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. According to the latest data, 46 people are in prison or are kept in a pre-trial detention center, 26 – under house arrest. Since the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned in 2017, the Russian authorities have conducted 1,197 searches of the private property of believers and accused 406 of them of criminal activity..
There are numerous reports that members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are tortured by police officers during interrogations and arrests. In September 2019, the US Department of State banned two high-ranking officers from Surgut who, according to unofficial information, tortured seven representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut during interrogation, which included beatings, suffocation and the use of electric shocks.
Vladimir Putin Pledges To Look Into The Persecution Of Jehovah’s Witnesses In Russia | TIME
Over the past year, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been treated even more harshly. For example, on June 4, a resident of the Russian-occupied Crimea was sentenced to six years in prison, and on June 9, another member of the organization was sentenced to 6.5 years – this is the most severe punishment against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia..
Anush Avetisyan: Why is this particular religious group persecuted in Russia? How Russia Gets Persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Nuri Turkel: In April 2017, the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses were declared extremist and banned throughout Russia. They were given this status allegedly based on the facts that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow believers to donate blood, but in fact, this group has long been persecuted even before the existence of this problem..
The Soviet authorities spent decades blaming Jehovah’s Witnesses for all their sins, calling them a threat to society and a possible fifth column representing the interests of the West. Russia has never abstracted from this propaganda and the official media continue to demonize this group..
Another reason for the hostility towards them is the refusal to perform military service on religious grounds. The authorities publicly accuse this group of “disrespecting the state” that “undermines any sense of citizenship” and as a result “contributes to the violation of national and state security.”.
Anush Avetisyan: How the international community can help protect the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to freedom of religion?
Nuri Turkel: It will be an important step if the US State Department grants Russia the status of a country of particular concern. This will give more publicity to the problem in the international arena and will allow the adoption of measures such as economic and targeted sanctions. The international community should also condemn Russia and continue to advocate for the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “
Chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom Gyle Manchin advocates for the rights of imprisoned Dennis Christensen as part of a project for the rights of prisoners of religion who are prisoners of conscience. Dennis Christensen is a Danish citizen who moved to Russia in 1995 for personal reasons. He did not go there by order or invitation of any organization, he never served as a missionary representing “Jehovah’s Witnesses. “
On May 25, 2017, Christensen was arrested during a peaceful religious meeting in Oryol. Heavily armed police and Federal Security Service officers conducted raids. Christensen was accused of “organizing extremist activities” and on February 6, 2019, was sentenced to 6 years in prison. On June 23, 2020, the Lgovskiy District Court (Kursk Region) allowed Christensen’s early release. However, a few days later, he was placed in a punishment cell for alleged “violations” of the regime, such as sleeping longer than he was allowed to or eating at the wrong time. He was called a “malicious violator” of the regime, and he is still in custody..
Since 2012 – producer and correspondent for the Russian Service "Voices of America" in Washington. Graduate of the Faculty of Journalism of the North Caucasus Federal University. Focus on social issues, women’s rights, politics and culture
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