OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 147: Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Doctors’ Alliance and the BARS case

4 April 2020

OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday OVD-Info sends out a mailing with the latest news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.

Photo: Adam Nieścioruk, Unsplash

Hi! The authorities are not keen on independent doctors and are prosecuting Jehovah’s Witness, while the charges in the BARS case have been softened. 

The BARS case. A military court has lessened the charges against defendants in the case against the Baltic Vanguard of Russian Resistance (BARS) – from being a terrorist organisation to being extremist one. Charges of extremism against Nikolai Sentsov were also dropped, as were charges of unlawful ownership of weapons against the other defendants.

  • Why do I need to know this? The BARS case has been dragging on since early 2017, when several monarchists where detained in Kaliningrad and charged with acting on behalf of an extremist organisation. Later, the FSB increased the charges, accusing BARS members of being terrorists. It’s like a right-wing version of the Network case: just like their counterparts in Penza, the FSB in Kaliningrad tried to label a local group of activists as terrorists in order to then investigate them and then solve a high-profile case. The court, however, did not agree with the investigators.

Jeovah’s Witnesses. The Russian authorities are continuing to criminally prosecute Jehovah’s Witnesses. A member of the religious community in Yakutia was given a six-year suspended sentence. New criminal charges were pressed against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Moscow, Sverdlovsk and Khakasia Regions. Meanwhile the FSB in Khabarovsk searched the home of a Jehovah’s Witness who had already died.

  • Why does this matter? Ever since the Jehovah’s Witnesses were deemed an extremist organisation, members of the Christian sect have been facing persecution all over Russia. Jehovah’s Witnesses are being faced with searches, criminal cases, arrests and torture for nothing more than their religious convictions.

The Doctors’ Alliance. Anastasia Vasileva, the leader of a doctors’ union, has been called in for interrogation by the Investigative Committee for supposedly spreading disinformation about coronavirus. This happened after Vasileva and the Doctors’ Alliance started a fundraising campaign to address a shortage of personal protective equipment for staff in state healthcare facilities.  Later, Vasileva and other members of the union were arrested in the Novgorod Region while delivering surgical masks to a local hospital. Vasileva was hit in the solar plexus and left to spend a night in the police station. 

  • Why does this matter? Members of the workers’ union have been convicted of petty offences under the newest article to be added to Russia’s administrative code. The article governs failure to comply with emergency regulations. The authorities’ extreme response to the Doctors’ Alliance might be down to the union’s connection with Navalny, a well as to the authorities’ intolerance towards any display of disloyalty from staff on the state’s payroll.


Quarantine and the security forces. The coronavirus epidemic part and parcel today’s Russia and is changing all areas of life. The work of the law enforcement agencies and the courts, about which OVD-Info writes, is no exception. Aleksandr Litoi explains how the virus has altered the work of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the court system and the Federal Penitentiary Service.

Prosecution and emigration. Anna Romashchenko speaks to several people who have been forced, at various points, to flee Russia instead of risking politically-motivated criminal prosecutions. They tell her what changed in their lives, which challenges they have faced, and what their lives are like now.


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Translated by Judith Fagelson

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