Russia jails extra Jehovah’s Witnesses, prompting requires ‘sturdy measures’


(RNS) — Regardless of a court docket ruling by Russian judges in October that appeared to endorse leniency for Jehovah’s Witnesses arrested after their religion was labeled “extremist,” a current rash of sentences towards members of the religion group has prompted concern amongst human rights advocates that the federal government is constant its earlier crackdown towards the denomination.

Greater than 80 Jehovah’s Witnesses are actually in confinement in Russia, some awaiting trial and a few imprisoned after being convicted.

“USCIRF had hoped {that a} … 2021 resolution by the Russian Supreme Courtroom banning the prosecution of Jehovah’s Witness group prayer signaled a shift in official coverage in direction of the group, however that is clearly not the case,” mentioned U.S. Fee on Worldwide Spiritual Freedom commissioner Khizr Khan in an announcement to Faith Information Service.

“The Russian authorities’s persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has gained renewed momentum within the final week,” Khan mentioned.

On Thursday (Jan. 20), a court docket in Seversk sentenced Yevgeniy Korotun, a Jehovah’s Witness who had been detained since July 2020, to seven years and Andrey Kolesnichenko to 4. Their convictions occurred a day after Aleksey Yershov, a 68-year-old member of the non secular group, was sentenced to 3 years in a penal colony.

Korotun, in response to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was charged on the idea of hidden recordings of him conversing in regards to the Bible. The non secular group mentioned Kolesnichenko was recorded by somebody who acted within the Bible and turned the recording over to authorities.

Andrey Kolesnichenko. Photograph courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Yershov, additionally accused based mostly on recordings, was charged for “extremist” actions, together with praying, singing non secular songs and collaborating in worship providers.

“That’s the largest variety of Jehovah’s Witnesses behind bars for the reason that Russian Supreme Courtroom banned as ‘extremist’ the entire Jehovah’s Witness group in Russia,” mentioned Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division, in an interview Thursday from Moscow, referring to the handfuls of imprisoned members of the religion group.

“The truth that there are literally folks behind bars for doing nothing greater than worshipping or supporting worship is — it needs to be unthinkable in our occasions. And but it’s taking place and but it continues.”

RELATED: Three Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to 6 or extra years in Russian jail for his or her religion

In Russia, conviction of a cost involving “grievous bodily hurt” has a most jail sentence of eight years; kidnapping has a most of 5 years; and a rape conviction results in a sentence of three to 6 years.

“The escalating discriminatory assault towards Jehovah’s Witnesses is placing an enormous burden on a rising variety of households to assist themselves with out the assistance of their husbands and fathers, who have been typically the household’s main supply of earnings,” mentioned Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in an announcement.

“We hope that quickly the callous persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia will finish — households will now not be needlessly separated — and so they can worship freely of their house nation as they do in over 200 different lands.”

The Worldwide Memorial Society, a judicial watchdog group whose affiliated heart revealed an inventory of political prisoners, together with Jehovah’s Witnesses, was closed by Russian courts in late December, in response to The Washington Submit. The crackdown on the group, generally known as Memorial, was condemned by USCIRF, which known as it “an irreplaceable useful resource for monitoring extreme persecution, together with non secular freedom circumstances in Eurasia.”

Rachel Denber. Courtesy photo

Rachel Denber. Courtesy photograph

Requested on Thursday how the closure would have an effect on the scenario with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Denber mentioned: “It’s actually not excellent news for them.”

In December, a dozen members of the Worldwide Spiritual Freedom or Perception Alliance, together with the US, issued a joint assertion declaring their “grave concern” about “the elevated repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses in quite a few international locations.”

At a digital information convention on Wednesday the place the non secular freedom group Open Doorways introduced its 2022 World Watch Checklist, Rashad Hussain, the brand new U.S. ambassador-at-large for non secular freedom, mentioned in a prerecorded video, “The alliance has spoken out forcefully towards repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, Christians and different non secular minorities in danger in Afghanistan, and of different oppressed non secular minorities in a number of different international locations.”

He added, “Robust diplomatic and political measures typically observe these statements.”

In 2019 Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed human rights advocates that assertions that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been categorized as being a part of a damaging or terrorist group have been “full nonsense.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians too. I don’t fairly perceive why they’re persecuted,” Putin mentioned. “So this needs to be regarded into. This should be carried out.”

However since that point, Denber mentioned, “That didn’t go wherever.”

RELATED: First Jehovah’s Witness lady sentenced in Russia after religion declared ‘extremist’


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