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Editor's choiceIn Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most persecuted religion, with 127 prisoners...

In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most persecuted religion, with 127 prisoners as of January 1, 2024

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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 January 1, 2024, 127 Jehovah’s Witnesses were in prison in Russia for practising their faith in private homes, according to the last update of the database of religious prisoners of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

Some statistics since the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017

  • More than 790 Jehovah’s Witnesses from 19 to 85 years have been criminally charged or have been under investigation for the practice of their faith; among them, 205 were over 60 years old (more than 25%)
  • Over 2000 homes have been raided by the FSB and local police
  • 521 believers have appeared on the national extremist/terrorist watch list (Rosfinmonitoring), 72 of them being included in this list during the sole year of 2023.

Some statistics in 2023

  • 183 homes were raided
  • 43 men and women were detained, including 15 sent to pretrial detention centers
  • 147 men and women were criminally charged and sentenced
  • 47 were sentenced to prison
  • 33 were sentenced for 6 years or more

Last sentences in 2023: from 6 1/2 to 7 ½ years in prison

On 22 December 2023, the judge of the Cheremushkinsky District Court respectively sentenced Aleksandr Rumyantsev, Sean Pike and Eduard Sviridov to 7.5 years, 7 years and 6.5 years for singing religious songs and prayers.

At the end of the summer of 2021, a series of searches took place in the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow, as a result of which three of them ended up in a pre-trial detention center. The criminal case was investigated during 15 months. Then it was considered in court for 13 months. As a result, by the time of the verdict, they had already spent 2 years and 4 months in a pre-trial detention center.

They all denied the accusation of extremism.

A report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance expressed concern that “anti-extremist legislation [of the Russian Federation] is being used against certain religious minorities, in particular against Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

European Court of Human Rights

On 31 January 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) considered seven complaints by Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia related to incidents having occurred from 2010 to 2014, before the ban.

In all of them, the court sided with the Witnesses and ordered them to pay compensation in the amount of 345,773 euros and another 5,000 euros as legal costs. This was the second decision of the ECHR in the last two years in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.

In June 2022, the ECHR declared that it was unlawful for Russia to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017. The total amount of compensation under this decision exceeds 63 million euros. So far, the decisions of the ECHR have had no impact on the practice of the Russian law enforcement system. The Russian authorities have not paid compensation to acquitted believers, and continue to sentence them to long prison terms

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