Moscow press conference regarding Jehovah's Witnesses


Rosbalt, 28 March 2019


Rights advocates and lawyers presented a report giving evidence, in their opinion, about illegal actions against adherents of the teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Surgut of the Khanty-Mansi autonomous district. The rights advocates shared their materials with journalists in the Moscow office of Rosbalt.


The executive director of the movement "For Human Rights," Lev Ponomarev, reported that on 15 February in Surgut, about 40 persons were arrested. According to the account of seven of them, they were subjected to tortures in the local department of the Investigative Committee. Traces of them were identified and recorded by experts of the Cheliabinsk Scientific Research Institute of forensic expert analysis of STELS [Severodvinsky tekhnikum elektromontazha i svyazi].


"An investigative brigade went to Surgut for the purposes, apparently, of proving that at that place the work of a forbidden organization was continuing," Ponomarev suggested. He recalled that in April 2017 the Russian Supreme Court ruled the Jehovah's Witnesses to be an extremist organization and banned its legal entities in Russia.


In Surgut, as in many other Russian cities also, adherents of this teaching have continued to gather together and to pray, which, in the opinion of rights advocates, cannot be viewed as the activity of a forbidden organization.


As Ponomarev explained, rights advocates to whom the victims appealed to the commissioner for human rights in the RF, Tatiana Moskalkova, to send an appeal to the chairman of the Investigative Committee of Russia (S.K.R.), Alexander Bastrykin, and the S.K.R. started an investigative inquiry.


"Yesterday on the website of the Investigative Committee, an announcement was 'hung' that the inquiry is continuing, but already preliminary results show that there were no tortures and the traces of torture supposedly appeared after the people were released and were already at home," Ponomarev opined. "That is, the people tortured themselves."


Attorney Egiazar Chernikov reported that his Jehovah's Witnesses clients were questioned, as a rule, in the absence of attorneys. "My client Artem Kim registered back on 16 February in the first aid station a brain injury and chest, facial, and shoulder bruises, and so forth," the attorney explained. "In a photograph taken on 23 February, the age of the physical injuries approximates 7 or 8 days."


A representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, Yaroslav Sivulsky, reported that at the present time, 169 believers have the status of defendants or suspects. Of these, 27 persons are in a SIZO, 28 are under house arrest, and 60 are under a signed pledge not to depart [travel restriction]. Among those who are in custory, two are citizens of countries of the E.U., including the Dane Dennis Christensen, who was sentenced to six years.


The rights advocates and lawyers expressed a demand for the Investigative Committee of Russia to open a criminal case regarding tortures in Surgut and to examine it carefully. This case is also being considered in the European Court of Human Rights, whose decision is expected in the summer.


We recall that the president of Russia earlier spoke about persecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses. "Jehovah's Witnesses also are Christians and I do not quite understand what they are persecuted for," Vladimir Putin declared at a session of the Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights in December 2018.


It is noteworthy that the director of the office of the Russian commissioner at the European Court of Human Rights, Andrei Fedorov, presented to the Strasbourg court comments of the authorities of the Russian Federation on the appeal of Jehovah's Witnesses regarding the prohibition of their legal entities. It was there noted, in particular, that the authorities of the Russian Federation emphasize that the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of 20 April 2017 and the appellate determination of the Appeals College of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of 17 July 2017 did not make an assessment of the religious teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses and did not contain a restriction or prohibition of professing individually the aforementioned teaching. And in paragraph 90 it is also explained that the aforementioned decision of the Russian Supreme Court does not infringe the constitutional right of believer citizens to association. (tr. by PDS, posted 28 March 2019)



Radio Liberty, 28 March 2019


Lawyers and rights advocates presented the results of an examination of injuries of Jehovah's Witnesses, who were arrested in Surgut on 15 February. According to a declaration by the detainees they were tortured by police officers in order to get needed evidence. Experts of the NIISE "STELS" confirmed that the physical injuries were received on or about 15-16 February. They "must be evaluated [. . .] as typical of torture and beatings."


In mid-February in Surgut, 15 adherents of the Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested. They were accused of participating in the activity of a religious organization that the Russian Supreme Court in 2017 ruled to be extremist. Seven of the detainees reported tortures in the building of the Investigative Committee in Surgut. They said that during interrogation they refused to incriminate themselves and their fellow believers. The majority of those interrogated were denied their right to avail themselves of article 51 of the Russian constitution: "Nobody is obliged to testify against himself, his spouse, and close relatives. . . ." People who insisted on this right were subjected to tortures, humiliation, and insults. After the departure of the duty lawyer, their arms were bound behind their backs with scotch tape, they were beaten, they were stripped naked, they were doused with water, and electric shocks were applied.


On 27 March, the Investigative Committee (S.K.R.) did not confirm the use of torture with electric shock on the detainees in Surgut. A procedural inquiry was conducted because of the claim, after which the S.K.R. drew the conclusion that prior to a search the suspects put up active resistance, because of which they received "minor bruises and abrasions on their legs." But the other injuries, that is, burn wounds, could not have been received on the day that the investigative actions were conducted and they appeared later. The accusations of torture the S.K.R. called "an attempt to influence the investigation."


"According to some leaks that were in news media earlier, the members of the investigation group said that the detainees, at the instructions of lawyers, tortured themselves," said Lev Ponomarev, the executive director of the Russian national movement "For human rights." "First of all, this is ridiculous. Bastrykin puts himself in a real fix, because this has all been proved already. And if he does not bring order into his department, then one must raise the question of Mr. Bastrykin's dismissal. Either he deliberately excuses the violence of his personnel or he absolutely does not control the activity of his regional structures."


A representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, Yaroslav Sivulsky, thinks that believers could not bear false witness against police in any way and could not put up resistance during a search.


"We know that believers have a concept of sin. And false witness is a grievous sin. Even someone who knows little about Jehovah's Witnesses understands that the collusion with lawyers, which law enforcement hints at, simply is impossible. Jehovah's Witnesses have never put up resistance during an arrest in any city. They all follow the biblical rule 'do not render evil for evil.' In addition, the actions of law enforcement are recorded on video. And from it one sees that there was no resistance of any kind on the part of those being searched."


The corporation Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expert Analysis [NIISE]—STELS conducted a thorough medical examination of six detainees, based on photographs, videos, and medical documents. The photographs were made on 23 February, and in all instances the experts declared that the age of the injuries was at most 7 to 8 days since they had been taken.


Viacheslav Boronos had bruises identified on his legs, which experts concluded were received on 15-16 February. And also several abrasions on the right tibia that are typical for electric shock (electric shock was used at least three times).


"Taking into account that around the electric shocks on the right shin a large area of subcutaneous pinpoint hemorrhages was found, there are grounds to speak of prolonged use of electric shock that produced not only a local reaction (formation of pinpoint burns at contact points) but also a wide ranging reaction corrupting the blood supply throughout the organism," the conclusion says.


Kirill Severinchikov was diagnosed with first and second degree electric burns on the left buttock and also numerous superficial head injuries. Artem Kim also manifested various injuries, including a group of abrasions on his back, which are typical for electric shock (at least 12 uses of electric shock). Kim's lawyer explained that the detainee was released after interrogation only on the next day, that is, 16 February. Then Kim went to first aid where he received a certificate about the presence of a head injury, concussion, chest injury, and so forth. In the lawyer's opinion, this shows that Kim could not have caused these injuries to himself as the S.K.R. maintains.


The attorney for Egiazar Chernikov described what happened to believers during interrogation: "Tortures were conducted in the so-called 'far room.' A person was placed at the wall on his knees, with arms raised, and then a plastic bag was placed on his head and the bag was bound around the neck with scotch tape to restrict oxygen supply. The arms were tied behind the back with scotch tape and then the person was thrown to the floor and his legs also were bound. Then they beat, insulted, and shouted at the detainee. I can quote from the words of my clients what was shouted by the police: 'You will give such evidence to the investigator! Do you understand?' 'You will not appeal to article 51 any more. Do you understand?' Some still cannot talk about this without tears. One of them said that he inhaled the bag down his throat and thought he would die. At that moment the person was doused with water and zapped with the electric shocker. The people writhed in pain. They say that during the zap with the electric shocker, all their insides seem to turn over. At the same time, three officers from above continued to beat them and demand confessions. All of this was done until people started to suffocate completely. One can say that these executioners were very well organized and they were quite experienced in the use of torture. They said themselves: 'We have not broken such terrorists.'"


This is far from the first time in history that Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted. In Russia these believers were persecuted in the soviet period, but in 1999 there was an inquiry and they were registered. The distinguished Russian attorney Anatoly Pchelintsev explained that he was a member of the expert commission of the Ministry of Justice that conducted an examination of this religious organization.


"I and the other members of the expert council traveled to religious organizations and observed worship services and studied practice and literature. And members of the expert council came to the conclusion that this is a law-abiding religious organization, which poses no danger to society."


In Pchelintsev's opinion, persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses is now connected with the particular work of law enforcement agencies: "Today the quality of law enforcement agencies is determined by formal indicators. For example, how many cases are investigated. Special value among law enforcement personnel is placed on the investigation of terrorist crimes and crimes of an extremist nature. But who is grabbed here if not Jehovah's Witnesses? They are pacifists; they never put up resistance. And one can make statistics by them. You see, this is how law enforcement personnel justify their salary. I myself am a former investigator, but what is now happening in the law enforcement system makes my hair stand on end. There never was anything like it. From my point of view, personnel of investigative agencies have behaved in this situation like stoned street punks.


Back in 2017, when the Supreme Court banned the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, lawyers and rights advocates tried to explain to the court that this will lead to repressions against believers. They warned the court that there may soon appear in the country 170 thousand prisoners of conscience.


"Nevertheless, the court made the decision to liquidate the legal entities," attorney Viktor Zhenkov says. "And today on the basis of this court decision, simple believers are being persecuted. They all have one and the same wording in their documents. It says there that the court prohibited legal entities, but you have continued to read the Bible together. Therefore you are thereby 'continuing the activity of the administrative center' of the organization."


According to data of law enforcement agencies, on the whole throughout Russia after the ban of the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, more than 400 searches have already been conducted, 70 criminal cases have been opened, and 169 believers have the status of defendants or suspects. In these two years, 82 persons have spent time in custody, of whom 27 still remain in a SIZO, 28 persons are under house arrest, and 60 are under a signed pledge not to depart. Religious persecutions have seized 36 regions of the Russian Federation. (tr. by PDS, posted 29 March 2019)

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