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ReligionFORBRussia - Three Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to 78, 74 and 27 months...

Russia – Three Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to 78, 74 and 27 months in prison

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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.

Gevorg Yeritsyan, a Jehovah’s Witness sentenced to 6 years and 2 months in prison at the end of June, declared in court  at the end of his trial:

Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced persecution at different times and in different countries. But what’s interesting is that after the persecution they were always exonerated. This was the case for Witnesses persecuted in Nazi Germany (link) and under the Soviet Union.”

After the end of the Soviet rule in 1991 the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) in Russia was officially registered. JW were rehabilitated and deemed victims of unjustified repression against believers after Boris Yeltsin’s decree in 1996.” (Religion During the Russian Ukrainian Conflict, 2019, p. 226)

The court decision

On June 26, Nikolay Egorov, judge of the Novocherkassk City Court of the Rostov Region, sentenced three Jehovah’s Witnesses (two men; one woman) to prison for up to 6.5 years.

Judge Egorov ignored evidence that included a statement by Russia’s own Foreign Ministry:

“Members of a liquidated organization may worship independently, including as part of religious groups that do not require registration.” The two men already spent more than 22 months in pretrial detention, while the woman over 16 months.

  • Garegin Khachaturyan: 6.5 years
  • Gevorg Yeritsyan: 6 years and 2 months
  • Lyubov Galitsyna: 2 years and 3 months

“Although the Supreme Court liquidated the legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in April 2017, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has clearly stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses are free to continue to worship individually or with others”, said Jarrod Lopes, a spokesperson for world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“The 2017 decision is being shamelessly abused by local authorities to strip Jehovah’s Witnesses of their constitutional right to peacefully worship. This court-sanctioned religious discrimination is a cold heartless attack on Witness families, where spouses are separated for years and innocent children, like those of Garegin and Gevorg, have their fathers taken from them at a very critical time when they need their father’s love, guidance, and support more than ever. 

We hope soon the authorities will likewise see the value of devout Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russian society, release those in prison, and allow them to freely worship with their families as well as to return to promoting the morals and neighborly love that will further unite and beautify their communities.”

Case History

  • August 11, 2022. At 6 a.m., armed security forces raided 10 homes of Witnesses in Novocherkassk (Rostov region), including the village of Hrushevskaya. Officers confiscated Bibles, electronic devices, money, and bank cards. All were taken for interrogation. Garegin Khachaturyan and Gevorg Yeritsyan were court-ordered to pretrial detention
  • August 16. Returning from vacation, Lyubov Galitsyna discovered she had been summoned for interrogation and immediately reported. Anticipating a possible arrest, she took essentials and medicines with her
  • August 17. Novocherkassk City Court ordered Galitsyna to pretrial detention. Some 30 fellow believers risked their freedom to come to the court to support her
  • January 18, 2023. She appealed for release from pretrial detention. She reminded the court that she never had any intention to hide or flee, citing that she quickly reported when called for interrogation. She also explained that her diabetes and hypertension have worsened while in detention. The court denied her appeal
  • August 2, 2023. Her leg grew numb. She requested exam and seeked release from detention
  • September 20, 2023. Criminal trial began
  • December 25, 2023. She was released and placed under house arrest. While in pretrial detention, she received over 4,000 letters of support from friends
  • February 19, 2024. Surveillance video of meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses was examined. Experts testified that they heard nothing that could be construed as extremist
  • March 22, 2024. Sergey Astapov, Doctor of Philosophy, Head of the Department of Philosophy of Religion and Religious Studies of the Institute of Philosophy and Socio-Political Sciences (Southern Federal University), testified the Witnesses are law-abiding citizens and asserted that there can be no extremist calls from Jehovah’s Witnesses simply for devoutly following Biblical doctrines. (link to Astapov’s academic bio)
  • May 14, 2024. The defense asked the court to consider the statement by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted above (link to more information), as well as the European Court of Human Rights decision (LRO Taganrog and others v. the Russian Federation) that declared the 2017 ban unjustified and unlawful (link to summary of decision)
  • June 26, 2024. All three were convicted and sentenced. The men returned to their respective detention centers. Lyubov Galitsyna’s sentence was considered satisfied due to her time in pretrial detention and under house arrest

Biographies of the convicts

  • Garegin Khachaturyan: 56 years old
    • Born in Azerbaijan
    • 1994, became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses
    • 1995, moved to Russia
    • 2008, married Ksenia. They have a son named Timothy
  • Gevorg Yeritsyan: 37 years old
    • 2010, married Melina
    • 2013, became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have two minor children
  • Lyubov Galitsyna: 68 years old
    • 1997, became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses
    • Has grandchildren from her two adult children
    • Widowed in 2015

Persecution in numbers | Russia and Crimea

  • 2,102 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses raided since 2017 ban
  • 811 men and women criminally charged for their belief in God
  • 134 men and women in prison as of today; a total of 427 have spent some time behind bars since 2017
  • 506 men and women have been added to Russia’s federal list of extremists/terrorists

See 128 documented cases in HRWF Database of FORB Prisoners

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