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ReligionFORBFive Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to 30 years in prison in all

Five Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to 30 years in prison in all

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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.

As of 18 August 2023, a total of 116 Witnesses were in prison in Russia for practicing their faith in private.

In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled the activity of the “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses” to be extremist and it ordered that the center and all its regional divisions must be liquidated. It ordered that the organization’s property be confiscated in the state’s favor.

Four believers received more than 6 years in a penal colony each on a second appeal

On 5 September, the Amur Regional Court upheld the prison terms of four Jehovah’s Witnesses for meetings with fellow believers. Vladimir Bukin, Valeriy Slashchev and Sergey Yuferov will have to serve a sentence of six years and four months in prison, and Mikhail Burkov – six years and two months. The verdict has entered into force. 

Sergey Yuferov, Mikhail Burkov, Vladimir Bukin and Valery Slashchev.(Credit: Jehovah’s Witnesses Russia)
Sergey Yuferov, Mikhail Burkov, Vladimir Bukin and Valery Slashchev.(Credit: Jehovah’s Witnesses Russia)

Back in October 2022, the Tyndinskiy District Court sentenced the believers to various terms of imprisonment ranging from six years and two months to six years and six months. However, an appeal overturned this decision, and the men were released from the pre-trial detention center, where they had spent two months each. The retrial of the case was completed in June 2023. Judge Valentina Brikova issued a verdict that differed slightly from the first one – from six years and two months to six years and four months in prison. 

In their appeals, the believers noted that “the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation did not ban the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses and did not assess the legitimacy of the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the ways in which they were expressed.”

According to the convicts, it follows that “despite the liquidation of legal entities, [they] still have the right to freely practice the religion of [their] choice, including reading the Bible and discussing it with others, praying to God, singing songs praising God, and talking to other people about their faith.” Believers still insist on their innocence.

Court of Appeal in Krasnoyarsk upheld Aleksandr Filatov’s sentence — 6 years in a penal colony

On 20 July 20, 2023, a panel of judges of the Krasnoyarsk Territory Court, chaired by Tatyana Lukyanova, upheld the verdict against 38-year-old Aleksandr Filatov. The father of two young children has been transferred to the penal colony No. 31 in the village Industrialniy (Krasnoyarsk). 

Alexander Filatov (Credit: Jehovah’s Witnesses Russia)
Alexander Filatov (Credit: Jehovah’s Witnesses Russia)

Filatov was convicted on charges of “organizing the activity of a banned extremist organization”, but in fact for discussing the Bible with his fellow believers. He still maintains being not guilty of extremism. In his appeal, he stated that the court violated his rights guaranteed by Article 28 of the RF Constitution: “I carried out actions underlying within the framework of freedom of religion.” 

The defense pointed out that the court did not apply the explanations of the Plenum of the RF Supreme Court, according to which believers have the right to hold meetings for worship if they do not contain signs of extremism. Aleksandr Filatov stated: “The presence of extremist goals and motives in my actions has not been proven. The verdict does not quote any extremist statements.” 

The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has been going on for more than six years and is gaining momentum, despite the condemnation of the world community. In the Krasnoyarsk Territory alone, 30 believers are facing criminal prosecution for their faith. Almost half of them were already sentenced: five have been sent to a penal colony, four have been given suspended sentences, and three have been fined.

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