Wee-ending 19 November 2021
The Russian legislation on extremism has been used, among other things, to prosecute Jehovah’s Witnesses and to outlaw organisations supporting Aleksei Navalny. This week Fedor Telin, former lawyer for one of Navalny’s regional organisations left Russia for fear of being prosecuted under extremist legislation. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has acted to ban criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses for taking part in joint worship, despite their organisations being designated ‘extremist’ in 2017, dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses jailed and hundreds currently under investigation. As of 18 October 2021, the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves stated there were 65 Witnesses in pretrial detention or sentenced to prison, 30 under house arrest, and 248 not allowed to leave their hometown, with at least 436 Witnesses currently being prosecuted on charges of organizing, participating in, or financing the activity of an ‘extremist’ organization. It is not clear how the ruling of the Supreme Court will affect ongoing or future prosecutions of Jehovah’s Witnesses. On 15 November 2021 the United States added Russia to a blacklist of countries singled out for ‘egregious violations of religious freedom.’
Website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses: Russian authorities continue their aggressive attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses by conducting a campaign of terror reminiscent of the Soviet era. As of October 18, 2021, there are 65 Witnesses who are in pretrial detention or sentenced to prison, 30 who are under house arrest, and 248 who are not allowed to leave their hometown. All have been charged with organizing, participating in, or financing the activity of an “extremist” organization. At least 436 Witnesses are currently under investigation, ranging in age from 20 to 91 years old. Officials attempt to justify their actions by citing the April 2017 ban on the Witnesses’ legal entities and misapplying Article 282 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (RFCC) concerning extremist activity. In reality, they are prosecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses for peaceful worship. If convicted, some of those who have been arrested face prison terms of up to ten years.
RFE/RL, 19 November 2021: The former lawyer of a regional organization for jailed opposition activist Aleksei Navalny has left Russia amid an ongoing crackdown on the defunct organizations associated with the Kremlin critic that were labeled as extremist earlier this year. Fyodor Telin worked as a lawyer for Navalny’s network of regional campaign groups until Navalny’s team disbanded them in April after a Moscow prosecutor went to court to have them branded extremist. A court later accepted the prosecutor’s appeal and labeled the national network extremist, effectively outlawing it.
The Moscow Times, 17 November 2021: Russia’s Supreme Court has banned the criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses for joint worship, potentially putting an end to the law enforcement practice of jailing believers for prayer sessions. The ruling could also affect the 152 convictions that have not yet entered into force or are being appealed, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia organization said in a statement on its website Tuesday.
The Moscow Times, 17 November 2021: The United States on Monday added Russia to a blacklist of countries singled out for “egregious violations of religious freedom,” a move that comes as ties dip to their lowest ebb since the Cold War. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was designating Russia, as well as China and eight other states, as countries of concern “for having engaged in or tolerated ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.’”