Twenty-nine Jehovah’s Witnesses are political prisoners, Memorial Says

08.08.2018

Memorial Human Rights Centre calls for their immediate release.

Recent years have seen a campaign of persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. This campaign became more widespread after the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled, on 20 April 2017, that the administrative centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia was an extremist organisation. The campaign intensified further in April 2018 when dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested in a number of Russian regions. Many of those arrested have since been remanded in custody as prosecutions have got underway.

Almost all of the defendants in these cases have been charged with offences under Article 282.2, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (organisation of the activity of a religious organisation closed for carrying out extremist activity, punishable by up to 10 years’ deprivation of liberty) and a further nine Jehovah’s Witnesses have been charged under Article 282.2, Section 2, of the Russian Criminal Code (taking part in the activity of a religious organisation closed for carrying out extremist activity, punishable by up to six years’ deprivation of liberty).

In addition, we know of two prosecutions in Kabardino-Balkaria for offences under Article 282, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (inciting hatred and enmity, and also violating the dignity of a group of people, on grounds of religion, punishable by up to five years’ deprivation of liberty); and of three further cases in which, in addition to charges under Article 282.2, Section 1, the suspects have been charged with offences under Article 282.3, Section 1 (financing extremist activity, punishable by up to eight years’ deprivation of liberty).

We note that those who have spoken out against this campaign of persecution of a religious faith are the delegation of the European Union to the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and Russian and foreign human rights defenders.

Memorial Human Rights Centre categorically adds its voice to this criticism. We demand that all charges be dropped against Jehovah’s Witnesses who are being prosecuted for their religious faith.

The ruling by the Russian Supreme Court of 20 April 2017, designating the Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organisation and banning their activities in the country, cites not a single instance of Jehovah’s Witnesses committing violations of public order or acts of aggression or violence, nor any evidence that their peaceful religious activity threatens the security of the Russian Federation and necessitates measures of suppression. The sole activity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses declared by the Court to be extremist was the dissemination of religious literature previously banned by Russian courts. However, these bans were imposed exclusively on the grounds that, allegedly, Jehovah’s Witnesses incited religious discord and disparaged other religions on the basis of their conviction of the rightness of their own faith — something which is evidently a natural characteristic of any religion (one of the expert assessments on which the ban was based criticised the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their belief that they are chosen by God and for their belief in the Apocalypse).

At present we know of 39 Jehovah’s Witnesses who are being prosecuted (see the list, which is regularly updated, on our website here). Of these, at least 23 have been remanded in custody and at least six are under house arrest. In addition, we know of at least ten Jehovah’s Witnesses who are on bail. Our list is most likely incomplete and further names will be added.

Memorial Human Rights Centre considers all those Jehovah’s Witnesses who are on remand or under house arrest to be political prisoners and calls for their immediate release. We also demand that criminal charges against those Jehovah’s Witnesses on bail pending trial be dropped.

Memorial Human Rights Centre will continue to monitor the unlawful prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious groups that have been unjustifiably banned.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions.

For more information about this case, see here.

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