Lev Ponomarev on the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia: “The whole world sees this tragic absurdity”

10 June 2021

by Lev Ponomarev, human rights activist, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group with a full translation of a letter from former prisoners of the Dachau concentration camp

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Echo Moskvy]


One of the foremost international scandals around the repressions in Russia has been the FSB [Federal Security Service] pursuit of Jehovah’s Witnesses.*

On 20 April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court deemed the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Centre in Russia to be extremist and banned its work. The prosecutions began. One would think Putin ought to know and understand what was going on in the country. However, at a session of the Presidential Human Rights Council in 2018, Putin was informed of this and he was greatly surprised: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are also Christians, and why they are being prosecuted I don’t really understand, either. Therefore, this must simply be analyzed, this must be done. I am discussing this with Vyacheslav Mikhailovich [Lebedev], and we will attempt to do this.”

If they did try, it didn’t work. As of the present day, two and a half years later, more than 160 believers have been charged or are under suspicion, and tens of people are already serving sentences for praying. Families are being imprisoned, people with chronic illnesses are being imprisoned.

And now, quite recently, former prisoners of the Dachau concentration camp have sent a letter to our president — a petition to cease violating the right to freely confess one’s religion. Perhaps this will later get as far as Putin. Perhaps fascist practices will cease in this country. Here is the full translation of their letter (the original is at the end of the publication):

Open letter from members of the International Dachau Committee (CID) 

Esteemed Herr Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin,

A day does not pass without reports about state repressions against Witnesses and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The apartments of the religious community’s members are being searched and ransacked by the FSB (the Russian special service) and the police. We are talking about cruel treatment and attacks involving violence. Men and women are being sentenced to long prison terms. Petitions for release or for a delay in sentencing are regularly declined.

We, the International Dachau Committee, an organisation founded by survivors of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau devoted to the ideals of the victims of National Socialist injustice, call upon you to stop the injustice inflicted on members of the religious community once and for all.

The “Never again!” (Das “Nie wider!”) of National Socialism’s victims also refers to injustice against religious minorities. In particular, thousands of members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were deported to Nazi concentration camps, and hundreds were killed for living in accordance with their religious ideals.

We are calling on you to grant every resident of the Russian Federation, man or woman, their constitutional right to confess their religion freely.

Please, put an end to this injustice!

In order to understand just how absurd and cynical these cases are, I quote from the indictment against A.E. Ivshin, one of those prosecuted:

“… he organized collective religious services consisting of a sequence of acts committed: the performance of songs from a special collection of the religious teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses; prayers to the Jehovah god; and the study of articles of literature of religious content propagandizing the religious teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Believers are being tortured, and during interrogations they are being asked, “Do you celebrate 8 March [International Women’s Day], 23 February [Defender of the Fatherland Day], 1 May [International Workers’ Day], and other holidays? Did you serve in the army?” One of the victims of these persecutions says this about his interrogation: “They said that I would not be freed from there because I believe in the Jehovah God. And that means I believe wrongly. When I asked whether they have the right to verify whether I believe in God correctly or not, they answered that they do and Bastrykin had given them that right.”

The whole world sees this tragic absurdity. All that remains is to get Putin to see it and put an end to it.

Meanwhile, the For Human Rights civil society organisation was closed down by decision of the Russian Supreme Court for defending the Jehovah’s Witnesses,* and I was deemed a person-media-foreign agent. Recent changes in legislation have been aimed at completely depriving human rights activists of financing. We need your support very much. You can donate and also sign up for regular donations here.

*This organisation’s activities have been banned in the Russian Federation

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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