14 Jehovah's Witnesses on trial in small Jewish region


Credo.Press, 12 February 2021


On 12 February, Judge Vladimir Mikhalev of the Birobidzhan district court found the Jehovah's Witness Larisa Artamonova guilty on the basis of part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the R.F. (participation in extremist activity). Citing article 64 of the CC of the RF, the court imposed on her the penalty of a fine of 10,000 rubles to be paid in installments over 4 months, a correspondent of the portal Credo.Press reports, with reference to a source among Russian Jehovah's Witnesses.


In the Jewish autonomous oblast there already have been several guilty verdicts issued for Jehovah's Witnesses, including Evgeny Golik, Anastasia Sycheva, Artur Lokhvitsky, and Igor Tsarev. Larisa Artamonova became the fourteenth woman in modern Russia to be punished on the basis of a criminal article for professing the faith of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The total number of convicted adherents of this religion throughout Russia is 64.


The case against Larisa Artamonova was opened on 25 September 2019. Because of her pledge not to flee, she has been restricted in her rights to travel freely for almost a year and a half. The Artamonova case has been investigated by the investigation department of the Russian Directorate of the F.S.B. for the Jewish autonomous oblast. The cases against at least 12 believers, including Larisa Artamonova, have been conducted by one and the same investigator, D. Yankin. On 3 March 2020, the case reached the Birobidzhan district court, where the hearing lasted almost a year. Larisa Artamonova's criminal case was heard by the same judge who is hearing the cases of Elena Reino-Chernyshova and Yulia Kaganovich.


On the same day, 12 February, another judge of the Birobidzhan district court, Aleksei Ivashchenko, sentenced the Jehovah's Witness Igor Tsarev to a suspended 2.5-year prison term. He was declared guilty of participating in extremist activity (part 2, article 282.2 CC RF). The sentence has not taken effect. Until the sentence takes effect, the believer will be under his own recognizance.


Although there is not a single victim in the case, the prosecutor requested for the believer 4 years in a penal colony. The 46-year-old Igor Tsarev and his wife are raising a school-aged daughter. The believer insists on his innocence and he will appeal the verdict.


The Russian F.S.B. directorate for the Jewish autonomous oblast opened a criminal case against Igor Tsarev on 30 July 2019. The preliminary investigation on his case lasted about five months. At the base of the charge lay video recordings taken by F.S.B. personnel in the course of covert filming of worship services. On 23 December 2019, the case reached the court. Most of the sessions were held behind closed doors at the request of the prosecutor. In his opinion, this was necessary in order to "protect" participants in the trial from the religious convictions of Jehovah's Witnesses. The trial lasted almost 14 months.


There are 14 criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses at various stages of consideration in the Birobidzhan district court.


On 20 April 2017 the Russian Supreme Court, on the basis of a lawsuit of the Russian Ministry of Justice, ruled that all 395 Russian legal entities of the Jehovah' Witnesses were extremist organizations, and it banned their activity. At the same time, the Supreme Court did not ban the religious confession of Jehovah's Witnesses itself, specifically the right of citizens to profess it individually or collectively, which is guaranteed by the Russian constitution. Despite this, in the years following the Supreme Court's decision, law enforcement agencies have repressed dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses in practically all regions of the country, whose guilt comes down to group prayers and the reading of religious literature, which is interpreted as "continuation of the activity of an extremist organization." The convicted Jehovah's Witnesses have been recognized as prisoners of conscience by a number of Russian and international rights advocacy organizations. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 February 2021)

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