8 August 2020
Lev Ponomarev, chair of the national NGO ‘For Human Rights’ and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
I’ll be brief. In Voronezh region on 13 July more than 110 searches were carried out simultaneously on the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses (an organisation banned on the territory of the Russian Federation). Did you not hear about this? Don’t worry, it’s not just you: somehow this story has not been very well covered.
Here, of course, it is worth apologizing to Navalny for the “major operation” just in case, as it is quite difficult to tell who has been searched the most. But they’re more or less neck and neck.
To date, we are aware of the arrests of at least 10 believers, five of whom reported the use of violence and torture against them. There are no exact figures yet. Some of those that were taken to detention centres were unable to see a lawyer for over two weeks.
Yury Galka, in his own words, had Federal Security Service (FSB) officers twist his hands behind his back and put a bag over his head until he began to suffocate. Meanwhile they beat him, breaking his rib. Anatoly Yagupov reported that they put a bag over his head and beat him on the chair where the investigators had sat him (clearly a new trend in torture methods). Aleksandr Korol was tortured in a similar way, using a bag for suffocation and blows to the head. They threatened to use needles to torture Korol. The victims report that the torture was used by law enforcement officials to force them to incriminate themselves or their fellow believers.
Again, remember that Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians and, what is more, committed pacifists who never carry weapons even in self-defence. Try to work out where the extremism is hiding here, because they are being prosecuted as extremists.
Of the states that have had the strongest Christian traditions, only the Nazi Reich and Soviet Union have systematically persecuted Jehovah’s Witnesses. It could be said that their persecution is a quality mark that unambiguously identifies fascism and totalitarianism.
The FSB has a lot of work to do. In Russia there are roughly 200,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their haste is understandable – the apocalypse could arrive before they’ve succeeded.
Now let’s think about it: who will go to heaven, and who will simply die?!
Translated by Verity Hemp