LAWYER: DOCTORS DISCOVER SIGNS OF TORTURE OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES IN SURGUT
BBC Russian Service, 27 February 2019
Medical personnel in Surgut identified on several Jehovah's Witnesses (an organization that is forbidden in Russia) injuries from alleged tortures during interrogations in a local investigation department, lawyer Dmitry Kolobov, who represents the interests of one of the victims, told BBC. The defense maintains that the detainees were zapped with electric shock and choked.
That detained Jehovah's Witnesses could have been subjected to tortures was learned last week. This was described by Jehovists themselves and their defense attorneys.
According to lawyer Kolobov's information, at least seven persons were subjected to abuses. As the lawyer maintains, this happened on 15 February in the building of the Investigative Committee on Ostrovsky Street. On that day, a large scale special operation was conducted, during which searches were made in the homes of Jehovah's Witnesses, after which they were arrested and transported to the investigation department.
As the lawyer and Jehovists themselves maintain, the suspects' hands were bound behind their backs with scotch tape, they were stripped naked, choked, beaten, doused with water, and then an electric shock device was used on them.
The greater portion of the detainees was soon released, but three adherents of the religious movement were held in custody. A criminal case, based on part 2 of article 282 of the Criminal Code of the RF ("arranging the activity of an extremist organization and participation in it"), was opened against them and another 19 persons.
The directorate of the Investigative Committee for KhMAO-Yugra reported back on 22 February that it had begun an examination of reports about tortures and it questioned both the detainees and investigators. The agency has still not reported the results of the examination.
In addition, after the incident attorney Kolobov filed in the Investigative Committee of Russia (S.K.R.) an appeal for disqualification of the investigation group. The case also has been taken up by the commissioner for human rights in Yugra, Natalia Strebkova. On 25 February she met with victims and also with the chief of the Surgut department of the S.K.R., Vladimir Ermolaev.
"I confess to you that what these people described at the meeting, these horrible details, all of this shocked me," Strebkova declared in an interview with Znak.com, adding that she will deliver all materials from the meeting to the S.K.R. and the prosecutor's office.
After the detained Jehovists were released from the directorate, they went to doctors for documenting their wounds. But originally the medical personnel did not find traces of torture with an electric shock device. Kolobov explained that this was because the victims were zapped with the electric shock through their clothing and therefore doctors were unable to determine the topical effect of electric shock.
In conversation with BBC, Kolobov explained that he was refused in response to the request for disqualification of investigators. However, he said, he possesses medical documents that identify "three or four cases confirming injury from electric shock." "Hematomas are more precisely identified. Everything is in full swing and developing," Kolobov said.
The lawyer noted that Ombudsman Strebkova actively helped in the collection of documents, after whose intervention doctors began providing papers more willingly.
The decision to refuse the request for disqualification of the investigation group, Kolobov noted, was made personally by the head of the Surgut investigation department, Vladimir Ermolaev. "I will appeal this presently. I believe that a person subject to self-disqualification cannot himself make procedural decisions" Kolobov said.
BBC requested the agency for comment on the lawyer's statement and is awaiting a response.
In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled the activity of the "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses" to be extremist and ordered that the center itself and all of its regional divisions should be liquidated. The Ministry of Justice was the initiator of the trial; it had discovered during an unscheduled inspection of the organization violations of the law "On combating extremist activity."
In December of this year [sic—last?, tr.] at a session of the Council on Human Rights, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised that he would study the situation of the prohibition of the organization along with the chairman of the Supreme Court, Viacheslav Lebedev.
"We can, and even must at such a moment, be much more liberal toward representatives of various religious sects," Putin said. "Of course, this is complete nonsense and it is necessary to deal with this attentively."
Despite Putin's words, persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses is continuing in Russia. In early February, a 46-year-old Dane, Dennis Christensen, was sentenced to six years in a penal colony. He was arrested as a participant in the Orel congregation of Jehovists, which was ruled to be extremist in 2016. (tr. by PDS, posted 28 February 2019)
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