JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES CASE RETURNED TO PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE
SOVA Center for News and Analysis, 27 January 2022
On 20 January 2022, the Pechora city court of the republic of Komi returned to the Pechora district prosecutor's office a case of Jehovah's Witnesses from Pechora who are accused on the basis of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (arranging the activity of an extremist organization or membership in it). Believers report the return to the prosecutor of the case of "all seven" defendants, but the case file at the website of the court mentions nine defendants.
Earlier, on 28 April 2021, the investigation department of the Russian Investigative Committee (R.S.K.) for the republic of Komi reported that the investigation of the case had been completed. The defendants arrested in January 2020 were Gennady Poliakevich and Gennady Skutelets, and in November were Nikolai Anufriev, Eduard Merinkov, Pavel Ogorodov, Viktor Shchannikov, Alexander Vorontsov, Alexander Prilepsky, and Sergei Zabora. Poliakevich spent almost 10 months in a SIZO and two months under house arrest, and Skutelets was under house arrest for a year. The others spent all of the time of the investigation under a signed pledge not to leave.
All of them--except Skutelets, who was charged with participating in the activity of a forbidden congregation on the basis of part 2 of article 282.2 of the C.C.-- were charged on the basis of part 1 of article 282.2 of C.C. for arranging that activity. According to the account of the investigation, from September 2017 to January 2020, acting as a group of persons by prior agreement, they arranged and continued the activity of the banned "Pechora" Jehovah's Witnesses local religious organization. They distributed among themselves the responsibilities and leadership roles, determined the actions of members, conducted recruitment of new persons, organized the collection of money and its dispatch to a higher-placed organization, and conducted through the internet religious meetings "in which they raised up sermons and prayers and singing and showed and discussed religious video films and literature," and in all of this they used conspiratorial methods.
The Jehovah's Witnesses report that the Pechora city court discovered violations in the indictment. Thus the text of the indictment does not contain information about extremist activities of the defendants and about their plans to continue the activity of a banned religious organization, but merely about the intention to profess a religion. The indictment describes in detail actions that are directly connected with profession of a religious confession. The court cited the ruling of the Supreme Court of 28 October 2021, which says that individual or group profession of religion and the conduct of worship services or other religious rituals and ceremonies in and of themselves do not constitute the elements of the crime specified in part 2 of article 282.2 of the C.C., if they do not contain indicators of extremism.
The accusation of Jehovah's Witnesses as involved in the activity of an extremist organization is connected with the fact that in April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court made the decision about finding the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and 395 local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses to be extremist. We consider that this decision, which resulted in widespread prosecutions of believers on the basis of article 282.2 of the C.C., did not have legal bases and we regard it as a manifestation of religious discrimination. (tr. by PDS, posted 27 January 2022)
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