Jehovah's Witnesses under investigation for 'extremism' in Russia

By agency reporter
September 19, 2018

Since January 2018, law enforcement agencies have been raiding Jehovah's Witness homes across Russia, often involving armed riot police or National Guard troops. These raids are usually led by the Investigative Committee, but the FSB security service and anti-extremism police have also participated.

Consequently, 69 Jehovah's Witnesses are under criminal investigation or on trial as of 13 September 2018.

Of these, 65 are under investigation as a direct result of the Supreme Court's 20 April 2017 decision (upheld on 17 July 2017) to outlaw the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre and its subdivisions as 'extremist' and ban all their activities nationwide.

A further four Jehovah's Witnesses were charged with extremism-related offences before the ban came into force. Three of these are already on trial – it is unknown when the fourth will appear in court.

After extensive searches of their properties and confiscation of personal belongings, Jehovah's Witnesses are usually taken to a police station or FSB or Investigative Committee office for questioning. Interrogations can last many hours, and sometimes continue through the night. Officers may then release them or hold them at a temporary detention centre for 48 hours. After 48 hours, individuals may be released under travel restrictions or investigators request a court to approve longer-term restrictive measures – house arrest or pre-trial detention.

Travel restrictions may be applied indefinitely, but investigators must renew them every two weeks – when summoned, a suspect or accused person must attend the relevant law enforcement agency to sign another undertaking not to leave the town or district.

A judge may place an individual under house arrest for an initial period of two months, towards the end of which investigators must go back to court to seek an extension. Under house arrest, a person may not leave his or her home (unless under special dispensation to go to hospital or, in some cases, to work), receive visitors, send or receive post, use the telephone, or use the internet.

A judge may also place an individual in pre-trial detention also for an initial period of two months, towards the end of which investigators must go back to court to seek an extension.

Individuals may appeal to a higher court to have these restrictive measures lifted or reduced. A new law signed by President Vladimir Putin on 3 July 2018 stipulates that one day in pre-trial detention now counts as one and half days in a correctional colony after sentencing (this will be applied retroactively). Previously, custodial sentences were reduced by exactly the length of time a person had served in pre-trial custody.

Investigators have opened criminal cases against these Jehovah's Witnesses under Article 282.2, Part 1 ("Organisation of the activities of a banned extremist organisation") or Part 2 ("Participation in the activities of a banned extremist organisation"), and in a few instances under Article 282.3, Part 1 ("Financing of extremist activity"). If convicted, they could receive lengthy prison sentences or heavy fines. It is unknown when any of their cases will come to court.

A total of 69 Jehovah's Witnesses have been charged or named as suspects or are currently on trial for extremism-related offences as of 13 September 2018. The majority of these people – 16 women and 49 men – are under investigation for "continuing the activities" of the banned Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre and its local communities.

As of 13 September 2018, 25 people are in detention (24 men, one woman), nine people are under house arrest (all men), and 30 people (13 women, 17 men) are under travel restrictions. One woman has been placed under specific restrictive conditions. Only four people (one woman, three men) are currently thought to be under no restrictions as the cases against them proceed.

* Forum 18 is named after Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the similar Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It works for freedom of religion or belief for all on the basis of these articles. 


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