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RUSSIA: Heavy prison terms for 9 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the occupied territory of Crimea

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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.

Nine Jehovah’s Witnesses living in the occupied territory of Crimea are currently serving heavy prison terms of 54 to 72 months for exercising their right to freedom of assembly and worship in private houses:

  • 4 years 1/2: Vladimir Maladyka (60), Vladimir Sakada (51) and Yevgeniy Zhukov (54)
  • 5 years and 3 months: Aleksandr Dubovenko (51) and Aleksandr Litvinyuk (63),
  • 6 years: Sergey Filatov (51), Artem Gerasimov (39) and Igor Shmidt
  • 6 years ½: Viktor Stashevkiy

Releases should not be expected until 2016 in six cases, 2017 in one case and 2018 in two cases.

In Russia the government has not only banned the Witnesses’ legal entities but it has clearly shown its intent to wipe out their peaceful worship.

Since the ban of their religion in April 2017, the authorities have conducted numerous raids on their gatherings throughout the country, resulting in the arrest and imprisonment of scores of Witnesses. The same heavy-handed tactics have also been used against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea.

The first mass raid in Crimea took place on 15 November 2018, in Dzhankoy, when approximately 200 police and special forces officers raided eight private homes in which small groups of Witnesses were meeting together to read and discuss the Bible.

At least 35 armed and masked officers forcibly entered the home of Sergey Filatov, where a group of six Witnesses were gathered. The Witnesses were terrorized by this aggressive action. The intruders pinned a 78-year-old man against the wall, forced him to the ground, handcuffed him, and beat him so badly that he was rushed to the hospital. Two other older men were so traumatized that they were rushed to the hospital with extremely high blood pressure. Tragically, a young woman whose house was also raided suffered a miscarriage.

Following the raid, Sergey Filatov was criminally charged under Article 282.2(1) of the Russian Criminal Code with organizing the activity of an “extremist organization.” On 5 March 2020, the district court in Crimea sentenced him to six years in a general regime prison colony.

In the years following the 2018 raid in Dzhankoy, special forces officers continue to forcibly enter the homes of Witnesses who were suspected of  the ‘extremist activity’ of worshipping. The most recent raid occurred on 22 May 2023. At 6:30 in the morning, more than ten officers, five of whom were armed, entered a home in Feodosia. They ordered the Witnesses to lie on the floor while they searched the home for more than three hours. One of the male Witnesses was detained and taken to Sevastopol for questioning.

As of 21 June 2024, 128 Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving a prison term in Russia and 9 more in occupied Crimea. All have been charged with promoting the activities of an ‘extremist organization.’ See the documented cases in HRWF Database of FORB Prisoners.

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