Amendment of law may affect Jehovah's Witnesses


by Oleg Krasnov, Liudmila Maratova

Kavkazskii Uzel, 28 December 2018


The sentence of Jehovah's Witness* Arkady Akopian should be cancelled because of the decriminalization of the article concerning extremism, his attorney declared. Akopian became the first follower of Jehovah's Witnesses* to be convicted of arousing religious strife.


As Kavkazskii Uzel reported, on 27 December a court found Arkady Akopian, an adherent of the teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses* from Prokhladnyi, guilty on the basis of part 1 of article 282 of the Criminal Code of the RF (arousing hatred and enmity) and sentenced him to 120 hours of compulsory labor. Akopian's defense insists on his complete innocence.


On 27 December, the Russian president signed a law amending article 282 of the Criminal Code, and these amendments make the sentence of Akopian baseless even from the position of the prosecution, Anton Omelchenko, the attorney of the defendant, declared. He intends to appeal the sentence in the Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkaria by 29 December. After the mitigation of part 1 of article 282, it is now impossible to convict adherents of the Jehovah's Witnesses* based upon it, agrees a representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses,* Yaroslav Sivulsky.


After the partial decriminalization of article 282, criminal cases based upon it may be opened only in the event of a repeated violation. The only remaining exceptions are crimes posing a serious threat to the foundations of the constitutional order or to the security of the state. The article was mitigated after a number of cases that were opened for reposting on social networks, Pravo reported today. The amendments will have retroactive force: after the law takes effect, sentences that were in effect on the basis of this article will be cancelled and cases that have been opened will be suspended, Interfax reported today.


The case of Arkady Akopian is unique: only six followers of the teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses* have been tried on the basis of part 1 of article 282 of the CC, and only Akopian's case culminated in a conviction, noted Alexander Verkhovsky, the director of the Sova Center for News and Analysis. "The overwhelming majority of criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses* were opened on the basis of article 282.2 (participation in an extremist organization). Akopian was accused of inciting religious hatred," he told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.


At the same time, Arkady Akopian became the first adherent of Jehovah's Witnesses* to be convicted after the total ban of this organization in Russia, Verkhovsky pointed out. This was confirmed also by Yaroslav Sivulsky. "There are now 90 Jehovah's Witnesses* in a SIZO. Not a single case begun after the total ban has reached trial. At the same time, many cases that were considered after regional bans led to sentences," Alexander Verkhovsky said.


Sivulsky thinks that Akopian's sentence will not affect other cases of Jehovah's Witnesses.* He noted that the investigation has managed to persuade the court on only one point of an accusation: mass distribution of forbidden literature.


"In April 2017, back before the liquidation of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses,* searches were conducted in Akopian's home. But law enforcement agents did not manage to find anything forbidden and they went silent for a year. And suddenly the case was revived and there appeared witnesses of a speech by Akopian that insulted Christians and Muslims. Among other things, people suddenly appeared who were inspired by Akopian and who began distributing forbidden publications. In all, five publications were distributed, which was regarded as 'mass distribution.' All this—from beginning to end—was fabricated; there was nothing to it," the representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses* declared.


During punishment, Akopian's freedom of movement is limited


This kind of punishment as corrective labor is considered in legal circles as lenient, noted Evgeny Chernousov, an attorney and retired colonel of the MVD. He explained that the convict is supposed to be given a time for conducting such public work like cleaning up an area. The convict's start of labor and its completion should be noted. In addition, while serving the punishment, the convict may not leave the region of his residence unless it is necessary for doing the public labor, Chernousov told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.


Since Akopian's sentence still has not taken effect, no restrictions have been imposed on him, attorney Anton Omelchenko noted. "Conviction on article 282 of the CC of the RF places a person on the list of extremists, which makes it impossible to use bank accounts for a long time and difficult to get insurance and use a vehicle. This does not affect the retired Akopian, but it is worth defending his good name," he added.


Arkady Akopian himself refused to comment on the court's decision for a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.


*The organization was ruled to be extremist and its activity is prohibited in Russia by court decision.

(tr. by PDS, posted 31 December 2018)

Related article:

Revised law mitigates penalty for extremist publications
December 28, 2018
One Jehovah's Witness' criminal case drags on for a year and a half
December 21, 2018

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