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Russia, Cassation confirms a two years and six months sentence of a Jehovah’s Witness

More than 140 Jehovah’s Witnesses are now in prison for practicing their faith in private

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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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More than 140 Jehovah’s Witnesses are now in prison for practicing their faith in private

HRWF (04.08.2023) – On 27 July 2023, the Fourth General Jurisdiction Court of Cassation upheld the sentence and appeal ruling against Aleksandr Nikolaev, a resident of Kholmskaya – 2 years and 6 months in prison. At the same time, the court cancelled the additional freedom restriction, which is imposed on the convict after serving the main term. 

On 23 December 2021, the Abinsk District Court of the Krasnodar Territory found him guilty of participating in the activities of an extremist organization for reading the Bible and discussing religious issues in private with relatives and friends. The investigation considered it was “a crime against the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the state” and initiated a criminal case on the grounds under Part 2 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

In the cassation complaint, the defense drew attention to significant violations of the norms of the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code that influenced the outcome of the case. Thus, no evidence was presented in court that the convict had committed any unlawful acts or that his behaviour was of a socially dangerous nature. In addition, there was not a single evidence that exercising his right to freedom of religion, Aleksandr Nikolaev had the intent to commit a crime or a motive to incite hatred or enmity. 

Brief history of the case

In April 2021, FSB officers, accompanied by OMON fighters, came with a search to the Nikolaev spouses, who have five children two of whom are adopted. Shortly before, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against Alexander Nikolaev, accusing him of participating in extremist activities for reading the Bible. The believer was placed under house arrest for almost six months. In July 2021, the case went to trial. Two months later, he was sent to a pre-trial detention center. In December of the same year, the court sentenced the believer to 2.5 years in a penal colony. In October 2022, the regional court approved the verdict, adding a number of restrictions to the punishment.

At the time of the entry into force of the verdict, Nikolaev had served more than half of his sentence in a pre-trial detention center. In March 2023, he was placed in a colony. In April 2023, the court denied him parole. At the end of July 2023, the cassation instance upheld the verdict, cancelling only additional restrictions that would have come into force after the believer left the colony.

More than 140 Jehovah’s Witnesses are now behind bars in Russia for practicing their faith in private. See these documented cases in HRWF Database of FORB prisoners.

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