State Department supports Jehovah's Witnesses in torture claim


TASS, 10 September 2019


The United States imposed sanctions with regard to two employees of the regional Investigative Committee (SKR) in Surgut, accusing them of participating in tortures and violations of the rights of adherents of the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses (considered extremist and banned in the RF). This is said in a statement distributed on Tuesday by the press service of the State Department.


The director of the regional investigation department, Vladimir Ermolaev, and the senior investigator of the department, Stepan Tkach, were included in the sanctions list. "The State Department has credible information that Ermolaev and Tkach participated in tortures and/or cruel, inhumane, or demeaning treatment of members of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Surgut, Russia," the document of the American foreign policy department affirms. Both Russians, and also their closest relatives, are prohibited from entry into the territory of the U.S.A.


"Russia must cease the unjust campaign against Jehovah's Witnesses and immediately release the more than 200 persons who at the present time are in detention for the fact that they exercised their right to freedom of religious confession," the State Department believes. The U.S.A. also urged "bringing to accountability officials who participated in the violations, including those with regard to members of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Surgut."


Detention in Surgut


In mid-February in Surgut, three members of the Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested, and a criminal case was opened against them based on part 2 of article 282 of the Criminal Code of the RF (Arranging the activity of an extremist organization). Surgut became the second city of the autonomous district where, in February, security personnel discovered a cell of Jehovists. On 7 February, in Uray, the activity of yet another local cell of the organization was halted.


Followers of the Jehovah's Witnesses reported on their website that on 15 February, after searches, their devotees were taken to the building of the department of the Investigative Committee where allegedly their arms were bound with scotch tape, and they were beaten, stripped, doused with water, and tortured with an electric shocker. Several persons received wounds and appealed to the oversight agencies, the report says. The report about torture was denied in the regional SKR.


In late March, the European Court of Human Rights informed the Russian Ministry of Justice about its refusal to satisfy a request from one of the members of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization, Sergei Loginov, for taking urgent measures in the case, inasmuch as during the criminal investigation he allegedly was subjected to torture on the part of representatives of Russian investigative agencies. Within the context of responding to the related appeal, the E.C.H.R. suggested to Russian authorities that they conduct an independent medical examination of the plaintiff with the goal of confirming or refuting the claims he made.


The Ministry of Justice and the Federal Penitentiary Service conducted a medical examination of the plaintiff, with the participation of independent specialists, which did not confirm the fact of the use of torture. The agency explained that after a review of evidence provided and the legal argumentation, the E.C.H.R. did not see reasonable grounds for granting Loginov's petition. (tr. by PDS, posted 11 September 2019)

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