Prosecutor raises requested punishment for five Jehovah's Witnesses


Kavkazskii Uzel, 7 September 2021


In their final word, five Volgograd Jehovah's Witnesses declared their innocence and asked the court to acquit them, attorney Roman Levin reported.


As Kavkazskii Uzel has written, on 10 December the court permitted the Volgograd Jehovah's Witnesses to leave their housees but it left the prohibition on use of the telephone and internet. It is difficult for the defendants to find work while the investigation is going on, the wife of one of them explained. On 16 February, the five Jehovah's Witnesses from Volgograd charged with extremism declared in court that they did not engage in the activity of an organization that a court has banned, the lawyer stated. On 9 March, the prosecution requested for the defendants from 7 to 9 years imprisonment. In the event of real imprisonment, the families of the Volgograd Jehovah's Witnesses will be left without breadwinners, relatives of the defendants stated. The state prosecution requested record prison terms, concludes Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Center for News and Analysis.


Five Volgograd Jehovah's Witnesses—Valery Rogozin, Sergei Melnik, Igor Egosarian, Viacheslav Osipov, and Denis Persunko--are accused of participating in an organization that a court has ruled to be extremist. They insist that they are not involved in the activity of a legal entity that has been banned by a court but they simply profess their own religion. According to the believers' defense attorneys, evidence is being produced in court that has nothing to do with the essence of the accusations nor with the religious views of the defendants, and the religious studies expert analysis has not explained what the accused believers' extremism consists of.


From 31 August to 2 September, the debates of the parties have been going on in the Traktorozavod court of Volgograd in the case of Valery Rogozin, Sergei Melnik, Igor Egozarian, Viacheslav Osipov, and Denis Peresunko, and today the defendants delivered their final word, one of their lawyers, Roman Levin, explained for a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.


"The debates went on for three days. The prosecutor requested the same prison terms as the last time: seven years each for Egozarian and Melnik, nine years each for Rogozin and Peresunko, and nine and a half years for Osipov. I said in the debates that the defendants had not committed a crime and that all their actions were religious worship. The defendants explained that they have not committed crimes and they asked that they be acquitted," the attorney explained.


Believers came to the court in order to support the defendants, but they were not allowed into the courtroom because of coronavirus restrictions," Sergei Melnik's wife, Anna, explained for a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.


"Today 54 person arrived. They were not allowed into the court. Perhaps the wives will still be allowed for the verdict if the guys submit a petition. Because they will immediately be taken into custody from the courtroom. The verdict will be announced on 20 September, but if it isn't finished it will continue on 23 September," Sergei Melnik's wife said.


Citing information received from her husband, she related what the defendants said in their statements. "Denis [Peresunko] called attention in his final word to the fact that he is not any kind of extremist, but on the contrary, he lives in accordance with the Bible and it has made him better. Igor [Egozarian] said that Jehovah's Witnesses (were persecuted) both in Germany and in the Soviet Union, but subsequently they were rehabilitated and recognized as innocent, because that's what they were. Valery [Rogozin] called attention to the laws according to which he cannot be considered guilty, because both the United Nations and the European Union recognize us as innocent. He also called attention to the fact that the Bible helped him to build a happy family. My husband, [Sergei Melnik], said that people got the opportunity to learn about God because the hearing was extremely long. Now it turns out that according to the constitution we have the right to profess our faith, but we are condemned for that because the law of God has been replaced by man's law," Anna Melnik explained. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 September 2021)

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