Severe sentences draw renewed attention to Jehovah's Witnesses


Radio Liberty, 26 October 2021


A court in Astrakhan sentenced three adherents of the church of Jehovah's Witnesses to eight years in a penal colony, and another woman believer to three and a half years imprisonment. This was reported by a regional department of the Investigative Committee.


According to the bureau, after the prohibition of the organization in 2017 and before their arrest in June 2020, they "continued to arrange meetings," "used conspiratorial measures, including video conference links," and engaged in distribution of extremist literature.


The case of the four Witnesses has been under consideration of the court in Astrakhan since June. Rustam Diarov, an actor in a puppet theatre; Evgeny Ivanov, a builder; and Sergei Klikunov, a welder, were charged with creating an extremist organization and collecting means for its work. Ivanov's wife, Olga, was charged with participating in the congregation. Diarov, Ivanov, and Klikunov have been in a SIZO since June of last year, and Olga Ivanova has been under house arrest.


"Real deprivation of liberty for the woman and real prison terms up to 8 years for the men are yet another proof of the growing cruelty in the campaign against the Jehovah's Witnesses," declared the director of the SOVA rights advocacy center, Alexander Verkhovsky.


Amnesty International declared that they were shocked by the news about another severe sentence on charges of extremism against four Witnesses in Astrakhan. This is one of the most severe sentences issued to Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia since the Supreme Court in 2017 ruled that the organization is extremist and banned it. Rights advocates have called the Russian authorities to immediately release the Astrakhan Jehovah's Witnesses, who are being prosecuted exclusively for peaceful exercise of the freedom of religion and expression of opinion. ?This wheel of repression against Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia must be stopped immediately," Amnesty International declares.


In December 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a meeting with members of the Council on Human Rights, called declaring Witnesses to be extremists "nonsense."


Despite that, in Russia 257 criminal cases have been opened against Jehovah's Witnesses, 559 believers have been charged, and 70 persons are in confinement, the organization's website calculates. (tr. by PDS, posted 26 October 2021)

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