Another trial of Jehovah's Witness nears conclusion


Kavkazskii Uzel, 15 December 2020


The prosecution requested a three year suspended sentence and a year of restricted liberty for Ruslan Alyev, a Rostov Jehovah's Witness, who is accused of participating in an extremist organization. The defense asked for his acquittal.


As Kavkazskii Uzel has written, two Rostov Jehovah's Witnesses—Ruslan Alyev and Semen Baibak—were arrested on 10 June 2019 and since then have been under house arrest. In September 2020, in a Rostov-on-Don court notes of conversations of Ruslan Alyev with fellow believers, which were made by agents, were heard, and also notes of worship services were examined. In the opinion of the lawyer, there is no extremism in the actions of the believers who assemble and conduct services. During questioning in court on 4 December, Alyev declared that there was no extremism in his actions, and he did not participate in activity of any forbidden organizations.


The investigation considers that Ruslan Alyev was a member of an association with respect to which a court has made a decision for its prohibition. Semen Baibak was charged with arranging extremist activity, but later an article was added to his case regarding the financing of an extremist organization. Both believers do not admit guilt and they consider the actions with which they are charged are exercising the constitutional right to freedom of religious confession. Another nine Rostov Jehovah's Witnesses are in custody.


On 14 December, the debates in the Ruslan Alyev case were conducted in the Lenin district court of Rostov-on-Don, according to an audio recording of the session, a copy of which Kavkazskii Uzel has at its disposal.


Prosecutor Aleksei Chebrikov declared that "the state's prosecution does not have any doubt about the defendant's participation in the actions with which he is charged," the prosecutor began the debates.


The prosecutor told the court that on 27 September 1999 the local "Central Rostov-on-Don" local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses was registered as a legal entity; it was a structural subdivision of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. But on 20 April 2017, the Administrative Center and religious organizations that were a part of it were banned by the Supreme Court as extremist.


"The decision was left without change by an appellate determination of the Russian Supreme Court, and it took effect. The Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and all member organizations of its structure were included in the "list of organizations with respect to which there exists information about their participation in extremist activity." In addition, the decision of the Supreme Court was officially published in the Rossiiskaia Gazeta, "whereby citizens and the public were informed," the prosecutor said, concluding that Aliev "could not not know" about the court's decision, "since all information was published in freely accessible form."


Alyev, "certainly knowing about the aforementioned circumstances, in the period of time from 22 July 2018 to 20 May 2019 deliberately and consciously participated in the activity of a forbidden religious organization, while using measures of precaution and observing the principle of secrecy, and he conducted conversations for propaganda and joined in events," the state's prosecution concluded.


The prosecutor also repeated from the indictment dates on which Alyev, according to the prosecution, participated "in collective religious meetings by means of the internet, during which the book "Sacred Scripture. New World Translation" was studied. Also at the meetings "situations of communication with agents of law enforcement agencies were monitored."


In addition, the prosecutor maintained, Alyev, along with other believers, "who are subjects in a separate proceeding," met at the Rio shopping center with a local resident "for the purpose of Jehovah's Witnesses propaganda activity."


The state's prosecutor thinks that Alyev's participation in an extremist organization is confirmed "by the details of his telephone conversations and the results of operational search activity," including "recordings of meetings, the results of audio and linguistic expert analyses," and during a search in homes of Alyev and other defendants "forbidden religious literature" was confiscated.


Alyev's guilt "is confirmed by testimonies of specialists and witnesses," particularly that of a secret witness under the pseudonym "Andrei," who "identified Alyev from a photograph after a meeting," and "the defendant's position of not recognizing himself guilty is refuted by the testimonies," he noted.


The prosecutor asked that Alyev be found guilty and, "taking into account the nature and degree of the public danger of the crimes," without aggravating and mitigating circumstances, to give him a three-year suspended prison term, with restriction on liberty for one year and four years of probation.


Defense declares there is no evidence of extremism in Alyev's activity


In his turn, Alyev's lawyer, Roman Kakasiev, declared that, in the opinion of the defense, there is no criminal event.


There are in Alyev's actions no indicators of extremism, the lawyer stated. "The decision of the Russian Supreme Court of 20 April 2017 makes clear that the Administrative Center was liquidated "because of the import into the territory of the R.F. of printed materials that a court has ruled to be extremist, their storage, and their distribution," and no other extremist activities have been found," he read.


Federal law outlines the concept of extremist activity. It is the violent change of the foundations of the constitutional structure, public justification of terrorism, nd aincitement of social, racial, ethnic, or religious strife and other indicators, which are not present in Alyev's activity, Roman Kakasiev stressed. The lawyer called the court's attention to the fact that according to the report of the search, no extremist literature, including on electronic drives, was found in Alyev's apartment.


Only one edition of the book "Sacred Scripture. New World Translation," from 2014, has been forbidden, and a religious studies specialist who was questioned in court explained that from the materials presented it is impossible to determine just which edition was being discussed at the worship services, lawyer Kakasiev said. In the videos and audio recordings of the worship services, "there are no indications of illegality or evidence of extremism," he declared.


Roman Kakasiev pointed out that the Supreme Court liquidated legal entities, but not the religious teaching of Jehovah's Witneesses as such, quoting the decision of the court and article 28 of the Russian constitution guaranteeing to every person "freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession, including the right to profess individually or collectively with others any religion or to profess none."


"Detailed analysis permits one to draw the conclusion that there is not in Alyev's activity any illegal action, much less evidence of extremism," Kakasiev stated. He asked that his client be acquitted because of the lack of a criminal event.


Alyev called charge against him ridiculous


Ruslan Aliev himself called attention to the fact that the prosecution gives an evaluation of religious teaching that was not proscribed in the Supreme Court's decision, and no expert analysis of his religious convictions was conducted. Thirteen points of the concept of extremist activity described in federal law were not cited by witnesses, he said. No evidence was introduced to confirm that the events in video recordings were meetings of a liquidated legal entity at which extremist materials were discussed.


"This is a ridiculous accusation. It is all the same as drawing a sheep with fangs and claws. On paper it works, but there isn't such a thing in life. As I said in testimony earlier, my parents originally belonged to different religious groups. My father was a Muslim and my mother, a Christian. I knew about Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Islam fine. This interested me. I also studied other religions. When, with my parents' permission, I began talking with the Witnesses, I got answers to my questions. At age 19 I became a Jehovah's Witness. I selected my religious views by my choice. . . . There are many people in our city with different beliefs. What is acceptable for us, they may consider to be offensive for representatives of other religions. In order that there be no misunderstanding, I studied various religions. When it is said that I incite strife, this sounds ridiculous. I have spent many years living with people of other religions without conflicts," Alyev said in his final word.


"I do not need legal entities and organizations for faith in God. Eventually I got legally married. Just recently we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. It is said that Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate anything. That's not true. . . . I am happy to serve God and I will serve him all my life," Ruslan Alyev concluded his speech.


"The time under house arrest and the period of the investigation were not the most pleasant episodes of my life. Since the court imposed every restriction prescribed in the Criminal Procedural Code, including prohibiting communication with anybody and use of the internet, there was no possibility for Ruslan to work. We repeatedly spoke about this in courts, but how 'criminals' live doesn't interest anybody. I have to work by myself. Without the help of parents, friends, and fellow believers it would be impossible to deal with the burdens. Nevertheless this has not negatively affected family relations. We live according to biblical principles and therefore our relationship has become even stronger," the believer's wife, Kristina Alyeva, told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent. (tr. by PDS, postede 15 December 2020)

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