ARREST OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES IN SOCHI WAS ACT OF INTIMIDATION
by Svetlana Kravchenko
Kavkazskii Uzel, 21 October 2019
The Jehovah's Witnesses* from Sochi do not admit their guilt of participation in an extremist organization and their arrest is an act of intimidation of believers, noted attorney Anton Bogdanov. In the opinion of a representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses,* Yaroslav Sivulsky and the rights advocate Lev Levinson, the security forces who arrest believers are fulfilling instructions from above.
As Kavkazskii Uzel wrote, on 17 October, investigators reported the arrest of two Jehovah's Witnesses* in Sochi. The investigators suppose that a 45-year-old and a 68-year-old, who are residents of Adler, over the course of two years organized meetings and religious performances, drawing new members into an organizations that a court has ruled to be extremist and prohibited in Russia. Searches also were conducted in homes of other believers. After this, they were forced to abandon open meetings.
On 20 April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court satisfied the demands of the Russian Ministry of Justice to liquidate all organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses* in the country as extremist, and on 16 August of the same year the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia* and also all of its local affiliates were placed in the list of forbidden organizations. In Krasnodar territory, as of 30 March 2017, there were 39 local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses* active, according to the article "Jehovah's Witnesses—Extremists or Victims of Lawlessness?" prepared by Kavkazskii Uzel.
"On 21 October the Krasnodar territorial court will consider an appeal of an order by a Sochi judge of the Central district court . . . which on 11 October, late at night, placed in custody, after a search, two Sochi residents, 68-year-old Nikolai Kuzichkin and 45-year-old Viacheslav Popov, until 24 November 2019. The men are suspected of extremism because of their faith. Just what charges may be made against them are unknown. Other Jehovah's Witnesses* are not in custody," Anton Bogdanov, an attorney for the detainees, told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent on 20 October.
In his opinion, "the searches and arrests in Sochi are acts of intimidation of believers."
"My clients are conducting themselves entirely calmly and confidently. . . . These people are not guilty of anything and they do not acknowledge their guilt of participating in an extremist organization. As their attorney, I consider that their accusation is groundless and is an act of intimidation," Bogdanov said.
He said that before their arrest, his clients had no inkling that a criminal case had been opened against them a month earlier.
"It is impossible to quote anything from the criminal case because they did not let us acquaint ourselves with the case. Just that an investigation is going on. The materials presented by the investigator to the court do not contain any specifics or episodes on the basis of which one could judge just what 68-year-old Nikolai Kuzichkin and 45-year-old Viachslav Popov are accused of and just what extremism they committed and how it was expressed," Bogdanov noted.
Sivulsky called the searches in the homes of the Jehovah's Witnesses* a calculated action. The representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, Yaroslav Sivulsky, said that since 2017, more than 600 searches in homes of believers in Russia have been conducted, 40 persons are behind bars, and seven have been convicted.
"The longest term was received by the Danish subject Christensen. . . . The state of his health has deteriorated. He is in a hospital with pneumonia after the start of the cold weather," he explained for a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.
In February 2019 a court sentenced the Danish follower of Jehovah's Witnesses* Dennis Christensen, who was living in Russia, to six years imprisonment.
According to Sivulsky, relatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses detainees in Sochi do not wish to talk with news media, since they are very upset. "The spouse of the 45-year-old man is extremely frightened, as are relatives of the 68-year-old man," he noted.
Sivulsky thinks that the searches in nearly 20 homes of Sochi Jehovah's Witnesses* are an action that was previously designed at the order of someone up above.
On 11 December 2018, at a session of the Council on Human Rights, a transcript of which was published on the Kremlin website, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised "to examine carefully" the classification of the Jehovah's Witnesses* as extremist organizations. Despite this promise, repressions only intensified, the representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, Yaroslav Sivulsky, indicated in May.
Lev Levinson, an expert of the Institute of Human Rights, called the searches and arrests of Jehovah's Witnesses* "lawlessness."
"This lawlessness has continued from the moment of the illegal liquidation of all religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses* and it has specific territorial characteristics. How it is a certain way in one region and a different way in another may be detected in various similar criminal cases. In one region, for one crime they give a suspended sentence and in other regions for the same 'crime' they give real time," he told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.
In his opinion, the reasons for the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses* may lie in the large numbers in the organization, which may constitute competition to other religious denominations, as well as in their anti-militarism.
"Why the organization in Russia is considered extremist while it exists without problems throughout the world, and numbers more than 20 million followers, is an interesting question. Formally it happened this way: local courts in the hinterlands made decisions to the effect that their literature is extremist. All these decisions were absolutely groundless. Official experts issued such baseless, blown out of proportion conclusions of expert analyses. . . . At the same time, Jehovah's Witnesses and their attorneys did not even know about the existence of such decisions, because nobody informed them. Therefore these decisions were not appealed, and Jehovah's Witnesses themselves learned of their existence only after links to them were published on the website of the Ministry of Justice," Levinson noted.
As regards the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses* in Sochi, in his opinion their arrest is due to a desire "to decapitate the organization." "Law enforcement has all their contacts, since they were not forbidden earlier. They had their leaders, meeting places, and lists of Jehovah's Witnesses.* All these people were rather well known, since they operated legally. Now they are pursuing the leaders, trying to decapitate the organization. I would like to note that the Jehovah's Witnesses* always stick together. They provide lawyers and do not abandon those who are arrested. But even the strongest lawyers cannot get justice. . . . A task was placed before security forces and they are carrying it out," Levinson thinks.
*396 organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses were ruled to be extremist and their activity is forbidden in Russia by court decision. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 October 2019)
Another arrest of Jehovah's Witnesses for evangelism
October 17, 2019
Nineteen Jehovah's Witnesses' homes penetrated
October 21, 2019
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