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NewsRUSSIA: Aleksei Yershov is already the second Jehovah’s Witness to be sent...

RUSSIA: Aleksei Yershov is already the second Jehovah’s Witness to be sent behind bars in 2022

68-year-old Jehovah's Witness Alexei Ershov guilty of participating in "extremist activities" (Part 2 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to three years in a penal colony.

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Willy Fautre
Willy Fautrehttps://www.hrwf.eu
Willy Fautré, former chargé de mission at the Cabinet of the Belgian Ministry of Education and at the Belgian Parliament. He is the director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), an NGO based in Brussels that he founded in December 1988. His organization defends human rights in general with a special focus on ethnic and religious minorities, freedom of expression, women’s rights and LGBT people. HRWF is independent from any political movement and any religion. Fautré has carried out fact-finding missions on human rights in more than 25 countries, including in perilous regions such as in Iraq, in Sandinist Nicaragua or in Maoist held territories of Nepal. He is a lecturer in universities in the field of human rights. He has published many articles in university journals about relations between state and religions. He is a member of the Press Club in Brussels. He is a human rights advocate at the UN, the European Parliament and the OSCE.

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68-year-old Jehovah's Witness Alexei Ershov guilty of participating in "extremist activities" (Part 2 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to three years in a penal colony.

A court in Seversk sentenced this 68-year old Jehovah’s Witness to three years in a penal colony. A week ago, Maksim Nikolayevich Beltikov was sentenced to two years in prison

On 19 January 2022, Judge of the Seversky City Court of the Tomsk Region Yalchin Badalov found 68-year-old Jehovah’s Witness Alexei Ershov guilty of participating in “extremist activities” (Part 2 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to three years in a penal colony. The convict was taken into custody in the courtroom, reports the correspondent of the Portal “Credo.Press” with reference to sources among Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The prosecutor’s office had asked the court to reclassify him under Part 1 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organization of the activities of an extremist organization) and sentenced Ershov to five years in prison but he was not followed by the court.

Yershov case history

In July 2020, the regional investigative committee announced the initiation of criminal proceedings against a group of persons who organized the activities of the banned local community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, knowing about its ban. Then Ershov and other believers’ houses were searched.

In March 2021, Ershov and three other Jehovah’s Witnesses were summoned for questioning and notified that they had received the status of suspects after a woman named Klira Klisheva collaborating with the FSB services had put video recordings of Jehovah’s Witnesses at their disposal. For about a year, she had pretended to be interested in the Bible but was obviously infiltrating their community.

Ershov, in particular, was accused of “taking part in a conspiratorial meeting in the form of a collective religious service, <…> consisting of reproduction of audio and video recordings and <…> consistently performed songs from a special collection of religious teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and prayers to God Jehovah”.

The trial began in July 2021.

When Klira Klisheva was asked why she determined that Jehovah’s Witnesses were extremists, she answered in court: “Because they pronounce the name of God – Yahweh.” Such testimony of this witness is based on the accusations against five more believers from Seversk.

In his closing statements to the court (link), Aleksei defended himself and other Jehovah’s Witnesses by frequently quoting from Russian religious scholar Sergei Ivanenko’s book, “About people who never part with the Bible.” Aleksey concluded: “The facts in this book show that Witnesses do not resort to violence, work conscientiously, pay taxes honestly, and generally have strong, close-knit families. Living in accordance with biblical principles, they are reliable workers, good neighbors, caring parents. They do not impose their views on anyone. To listen to their preaching or not is a matter of conscience and free choice of each person.”

Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses states: “There now over 80 Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison in Russia. This is the highest number since the Russian Supreme Court liquidated the Witnesses’ legal entities in 2017. It’s patently absurd that a peaceful Christian family man like Aleksei would be accused of extremist activity. It’s yet another miscarriage of justice on the part of the Russian courts that began with local authorities unjustly raiding homes of Witnesses. For those who have not seen video footage of such raids, visualize officers with face masks, fully armed and outfitted for combat, gang-raiding homes of peaceful Jehovah’s Witnesses. The officers often break down the doors while people are sleeping, sometimes torturing and beating one of the believers while their families in earshot are forced to listen to the screaming. Now, who are the extremists in that scenario? Any reasonable person would agree, it’s not the Jehovah’s Witnesses. We hope that soon this systematic discriminatory assault on Jehovah’s Witnesses will end so they can worship freely in Russia as they do in over 200 other lands.”

In November 2021, the same court sentenced 80-year-old Elena Savelyeva, a teacher with forty years of experience, to four years probation – also for talking about the Bible. In total, since May 2018, seven criminal cases have been initiated against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the sole Tomsk region.

Additional background on the case can be found here.

This case is further evidence that local authorities continue to disregard Russia’s Supreme Court Plenum back in October 2021 that outlined that individual or collective worship should not in itself be viewed as participation in the activities of a banned religious organization.

What happened since the Supreme Court Plenum?

  • Five Jehovah’s Witnesses (including Aleksei) sentenced to prison colonies (sentences from 2.5-5 years)
  • 11 have received suspended prison sentences ranging from 2.5-6 years (the oldest being 80-year old Yelena Savelyeva)
  • Five have been fined between 300,000-500,000 rubles

The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recognized all 396 religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia as extremist in April 2017. Soon after, law enforcement agencies began criminal prosecution of believers of this denomination in almost all regions of the country, including in the annexed territory of Crimea.

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