"WE MUST UNCOVER THE TRUTH"
Head of Council on Human Rights questions believers who were tortured in Surgut
Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, 15 August 2019
On 14 August 2019, Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Council on Development of Civil Society and Human Rights under the president of Russia, met in Surgut (Khanty-Mansi autonomous oblast [KhMAO]) with local Jehovah's Witnesses, who officially spoke about tortures applied to them on 15 February 2019 by personnel of the Investigative Committee of Russia (S.K.R.).
The meeting occurred in a conference hall of the A. Pushkin Central City Library. In addition to rights advocates, the meeting was attended by the director of the SKR in KhMAO, the first deputy prosecutor of KhMAO, the deputy chairman of the MVD for KhMAO, the vice-governor of KhMAO, and the mayor of Surgut. Chiefs of law enforcement agencies were not able to explain why, despite weighty evidence, hitherto a criminal case on the occurrence of torture has not been opened. On the part of believers, 28 persons were present, victims along with members of their families, who have helped them to cope with the psychological consequences of the experience. In addition, believers described the pressure to which they were subjected by law enforcers: mothers feared the removal of their children, wives feared that they will not see their husbands, husbands feared their wives will be placed in cells and raped, etc. After the opening of the criminal case, they cannot live normally: some have been threatened with dismissal from work; some are afraid to let their children out-of-doors; some tremble with fear, when they see police; some cannot sleep in constant expectation of another morning search; children ask their parents, whether the soldiers will return. (The latter point applies equally to hundreds of believers and family members throughout the country.) The believers also had the opportunity to describe, holding Bibles, the nature of their religious convictions.
Natalia Fedina, the wife of one of the defendants, expressed a common idea: "It is a paradoxical situation: on the one hand, my husband was put into a SIZO and a criminal case was opened against 19 persons, but not against one of the victims; on the other hand, seven men are sitting here who were tortured, and there's not a single criminal case!"
After the meeting, Mikhail Fedotov said: "My view is that we must uncover the truth. By no means do I agree beforehand with any of the sides of this incident, but it is quite obvious that torture is absolutely impermissible, and reports about torture must be verified thoroughly, comprehensively, and exhaustively. We cannot permit such evil to exist in our land. . . . The president has a very negative attitude toward the occurrence of the use of torture,. We recall his words that it is an absolutely impermissible practice." (tr. by PDS, posted 16 August 2019)
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