2 YEARS 2 MONTHS FORCED LABOR AND 6 MONTHS DEPRIVATION OF FREEDOM FOR READING BIBLE
Valery Moskalenko is at liberty, but with a guilty verdict
Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, 2 September 2019
Two years and two months of forced labor and also half a year of restriction of freedom—such is the sentence issued to Valery Moskalenko by the Zheleznodorozhny district court of Khabarovsk on 2 September 2019. At the same time, the court did not grant the petition for a prison term for the peaceful believer who was convicted of reading the Bible.
In the morning of 2 September 2019, Judge Ivan Belykh announced the sentence that only partially supported the position of the prosecutor's office. The prosecutor called for putting the believer behind bars for three years on the basis of part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the RF (participation in extremist activity). The key episode for the prosecution was an incident that occurred on 21 April 2018 in a conference hall of the Erofei hotel complex. Moskalenko there quoted the words of Jesus Christ from the Sermon on the Mount. A ten-minute audio recording of the reading of this excerpt, with comments, lay at the base of the indictment.
After the announcement of the verdict, the 52-year-old Valery Moskalenko was released from incarceration in the courtroom to the delight of his relatives and friends. He had been in a SIZO for more than a year, since 2 August 2018. Before he was incarcerated he had worked as an assistant driver of locomotives and cared for his sick mother. In accordance with the conditions of the restriction of liberty, he cannot depart beyond the borders of Khabarovsk and must report to the penitentiary inspector once a month.
The believer's defense attorney believes that the conviction for faith in God and quoting the words of Jesus Christ cannot be considered legal and therefore he intends to appeal the verdict.
Besides Valery Moskalenko, another seven believers in Khabarovsk territory are awaiting sentencing for similar "crimes." In this Russian region, as in many others also, law enforcement personnel deny citizens the right to confess the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, which contradicts not only article 28 of the constitution of the Russian Federation but also the position of the government and the president of the RF. (tr. by PDS, posted 2 September 2019)
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