SIX JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES RECEIVE PRISON TERMS IN SARATOV
BBC Russian Service, 20 September 2019
The Lenin district court of Saratov issued a sentence to six members of the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. They received from two to three and a half years incarceration. Jehovah's Witnesses are being subjected to prosecution in other regions of Russia also, despite the words of President Vladimir Putin in their defense.
"The court subsumed the actions of all six representatives of the organization on the basis of part 2 of article 282.1 of the CC RF (organizing an extremist community) and assigned two of them a penalty in the form of three and a half years incarceration, one received three years, and another three, two years incarceration," the press service of the court told Interfax.
All six members of the Jehovah's Witnesses (an organization forbidden in Russia) will serve their punishment in a penal colony of general regime. No other details of the case have been disclosed.
The sentence was issued yesterday, 19 September, but it has become known only now. All six defendants had been at liberty before the court's sentence and after its announcement they were taken into custody.
The press secretary of the president of Russia, Dmitry Peskov, did not want to comment on the sentence, saying that he does not know about it.
Prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses
Prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses began after 2017, when the Russian Supreme Court prohibited the activity of the "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia," and ordered that the center and its regional divisions should be liquidated. The Ministry of Justice, which had turned to the court, discovered in the activity of the organization violations of the law "On combating extremist activity."
One of the best known cases of prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses was the sentence by the Zheleznodorozhny court of Orel, which on 6 February of this year sentenced to six years incarceration a Danish citizen, Dennis Christensen.
According to the investigation, Christensen actually was the leader of the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in Orel, although formally he was not a member of it.
In February, it became known that Jehovah's Witnesses arrested in Surgut may have been subjected to torture. This was described by them themselves and by their lawyers. In Surgut an operation was conducted within which members of the organization were searched and taken for interrogation. A criminal case was opened against three of them.
In September, the State Department of the U.S.A. imposed sanctions against two officers of the investigation department for Surgut, Vladimir Ermolaev and Stepan Tkach, citing credible information about their participation in torture or crude, inhumane, or humiliating attitude or treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses. The State Department maintains that investigators "induced asphyxiation," shocked, and beat at least seven members of the religious organization.
Putin promised to sort it out
In December 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly spoke out in support of Jehovah's Witnesses, calling prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses "complete nonsense."
"Jehovah's Witnesses also are Christians, for which they are prosecuted. I also do not understand that very well. Therefore it is necessary simply to analyze it; it is necessary to do this," Putin said at a session of the Committee on Human Rights.
In February, journalists asked his press secretary when instructions would be prepared regarding the results of the council session. "There will be instructions; the issue will be worked out; but we still do not know in what way," Peskov answered at the time. "This topic is difficult, but nevertheless it remains on the agenda."
Responding to a question whether from the point of view of common sense it is possible to consider adherents of Jehovah's Witnesses to be extremists, the Kremlin representative said: "We cannot use the concepts of common sense for governmental purposes; in the first place, we use concepts of legality or illegality." (tr. by PDS, posted 20 September 2019)
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