VOLGOGRAD JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES DECLARE THEIR INNOCENCE
Kavkazskii Uzel, 16 February 2021
Five Jehovah's Witnesses from Volgograd accused of extremism declared in court that they did not participate in the activity of an organization banned by a court, and they refused to give further testimony, their lawyer reported.
As Kavkazskii Uzel reported, on 10 December a court permitted the Volgograd Jehovah's Witnesses to leave their home, but it left in force a prohibition on their use of a telephone and the internet. It is difficult for the defendants to find work so long as the investigation is ongoing, the spouse of one of them explained.
Five Volgograd Jehovah's Witnesses—Valery Rogozin, Sergei Melnik, Igor Egozarian, Viacheslav Osipov, and Denis Peresunko—are charged with participating in an organization that a court has ruled to be extremist. They insist that they did not participate in the activity of a legal entity that a court has banned, but they simply profess their own religion. According to the account of the believers' defense attorney, evidence is being declared in the trial that has nothing to do with the essence of the charges nor with the religious views of the defendants, and a religious studies expert analysis did not make clear what the extremism the believers are accused of consists of.
Today in the court session, five Jehovah's Witnesses declared that they are innocent and then they refused to give testimony, the attorney of one of the defendants, Roman Levin, told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.
"They declared that they did not do that of which they are accused . . . . They never were members of a local religious organization and they never were employees of the administrative center of a forbidden organization. They said that they are believers and they do not understand what they are being tried for. And they refuse to answer questions on the basis of article 51," (The Russian constitution says that "nobody is required to testify against himself"—Kavkaz.Uzel note) he said.
The attorney also described how in court Rogozin petitioned for the exclusion of the court-commissioned psycho-linguistic religious studies expert analysis as inadmissible evidence. "There is a direct prohibition of the plenum of the Russian Supreme Court against placing questions with the kind of interpretation that was originally posed by the investigator. Even in his questions it is assumed that the Jehovah's Witnesses have signs of a forbidden extremist organization. The expert confuses concepts: first he calls the organization religious, then he suddenly associates (the believers) with the banned religious organization 'Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses.' While he does not explain by what indications he establishes this. This juridical fact . . . exceeds the competence of the expert," Levin explained.
However, the court refused to grant this petition, he noted.
It is planned that on 20 February the court will read out the materials of the case from the side of the defense—character references for the defendants. And on 1 March the debates of the sides will occur, the lawyer noted.
Levin also pointed out that because of the coronavirus pandemic, visitors are not admitted into the court sessions.
Roman Melnik's wife, Anna, described for a
correspondent how she came to the courthouse today but was not
the session. "They cited the fact that the governor's order is in
until 31 March: only participants in the trial are admitted into
the court. I
was waiting downstairs" (for the conclusion of the session), she
(tr. by PDS, posted 16 February 2021)
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