Jehovah's Witness loses appeal in Rostov


Kavkazskii Uzel, 1 March 2021


The verdict on Rostov Jehovah's Witness Ruslan Alyev, who was sentenced to a suspended two-and-a-half-year sentence for participation in an extremist organization, was left unchanged.


As Kavkazskii Uzel has written, on 17 December 2020 Ruslan Alyev was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, suspended, and the court found him to be a member of an extremist organization. The Jehovah's Witness did not agree with the verdict.


Ruslan Alyev is one of 16 Jehovah's Witnesses in Rostov oblast against whom criminal cases were opened on the basis of a judicial decision based on a lawsuit of the Ministry of Justice for liquidation of all structural subdivisions of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. According to a report prepared by Kavkazskii Uzel, "Jehovah's Witnesses—extremists or victims of lawlessness," Rostov oblast leads among regions of the south of Russia in number of criminally prosecuted believers.


Today in Rostov oblast court, consideration of an appeal by 36-year-old Ruslan Alyev and his attorney, which was begun on 15 February, continued, a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent relates. Today the three-member panel of judges was replaced, and the trial actually began over again. Alyev's wife Kristina came to support him.


Alyev's attorney, Roman Kakasiev, declared that he considers the verdict to be illegal and without foundation and that the conclusions of the court of first instance are not compatible with the circumstances of the case. He said that he considers the existence of a crime to be unproven.


Kakasiev noted that in accordance with the position of a plenum of the Supreme Court, actions by a member of an extremist organization must be illegal. But there is no evidence that Alyev distributed extremist literature or committed other actions specified in the law "On combating extremist activity," the attorney declared.


The court did not assess the legality of the religious teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses and did not prohibit it, Kakasiev pointed out. He said that Alyev was actually convicted of conducting religious rituals: he read the Bible and sang songs along with fellow believers. "The meetings of believers were presented as a forbidden religious organization and religious rituals were presented as extremist activity. Traditional rituals and violation of public interests were not distinguished," the attorney said.


Alyev's attorney also noted that in the verdict the judge cited the testimony of a witness for the prosecution, Andrei Okhrimuchuk. This testimony was appropriated from another case against Rostov Jehovah's Witnesses, Kakasiev said. For this the panel of judges listened to an audio recording of two sessions.


Kakasiev asked that Alyev be acquitted with the right to rehabilitation.


Ruslan Alyev explained that he began professing the religious teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses long ago, before his residence in Rostov-on-Don. He cited the 28th article of the Russian constitution, which guarantees the right "to profess any religion individually or jointly with others."


The legal entity "Jehovah's Witnesses. Central" consisted of up to 15 persons before April 2017 and its meetings were conducted twice a year, at which economic issues were discussed, while the indictment spoke about regular meetings with discussion of the Bible, Alyev noted.


The believer indicated that no documents with his name as a founder of the legal entity exist in the materials of the case. Alyev also cited the response, dated 20 February, from a department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to a relative of a Jehovah's Witness defendant to the effect that "members of a liquidated organization may independently conduct religious activity, including as members of religious groups that do not require registration."


Alyev also requested that he be given a verdict of acquittal.


Prosecutor Aleksei Chebrikov, who participated in Alyev's trial earlier, asked for the verdict to be left without change. He considered it proven that Alyev, "knowing with certainty about the ban on the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses and its member organizations, in the period from 22 July 2018 to 20 May 2019 deliberately and consciously, using measures of precaution and maintaining the principle of secrecy, participated in the activity of a forbidden religious organization, including the conduct of conversations for promoting and participating in events." According to the prosecution, Alyev participated "in collective religious meetings by means of the internet, during which the book 'Sacred Scripture: New World Translation' was studied," Chebrikov noted. In addition, the court agreed with the investigation's assertion that Alyev, along with another believer, "for whom a separate proceeding has been conducted," met in the Rio shopping center with a local resident "Andrei" (a pseudonym of a secret witness from Alyev's case—K.U. note) to promote Jehovah's Witnesses' activity. The prosecutor was supported by another prosecutor, Irina Napalkova.


In his final statement, Alyev again emphasized that he is a deeply religious man and "in his life he tried to strictly observe all of God's commandments and to live on the basis of high moral standards." "Seeing extremism in the place where it cannot be is possible only for a deliberately motivated person," he exclaimed.


In the end, the court left Alyev's punishment in force, removing from the verdict only the evidence of prosecution witness Andrei Okhrimchuk.


"Observing the campaign that has developed in our country for persecuting Jehovah's Witnesses, I did not expect the verdict to be overturned. It is a matter of principle. In court I quote the Bible and I speak about my faith within the framework of the law. I did the same thing earlier. And it was the reason for opening a criminal case. Sure there is the possibility of increasing the sentence, but I will never admit that . . . it's a crime," Alyev told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent. He said that the decision about further appeal of the sentence will be made later, after consulting with the attorney.


Today another panel of judges began consideration of an appeal against the sentence of Semen Baibak, who also requested that he be acquitted. The session was postponed to 29 March. (tr. by PDS, posted 3 March 2021)

Another trial of Jehovah's Witness nears conclusion,
December 15, 2020
Court sentences for mere membership in Jehovah's Witnesses congregation
December 17, 2020

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