Is Russia clamping down on Jehovah Witnesses? BBC News
More than a dozen followers of the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sent to jail
The coronavirus pandemic did not at all improve the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, but rather even worsened it, despite the protests of the international community. This is the conclusion reached by Russian religious scholars interviewed by the Russian service of the Voice of America..
Let us remind you that the day before a court in Pskov sentenced Gennady Shpakovsky, a follower of the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to six and a half years in prison. The 61-year-old believer was taken into custody in a conference room. He is accused of creating and financing an extremist community. According to the investigation, he was in charge of the local cell of the banned organization..
Gennady Shpakovsky categorically denies his guilt. In his last word to the judge, he recalled that in Soviet times, millions of citizens were repressed on false charges, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were later rehabilitated by the authorities..
“Unfortunately, history repeats itself. Today they treat me and my fellow believers in the same way. They are accused of a monstrous crime, which not only does not agree with my Christian beliefs, but also does not fit into the minds of a sane person, ”said Shpakovsky, whose words are quoted on the website jw-russia.org.
On June 4 of this year, the Supreme Court of Crimea, having considered the appeal of another Jehovah’s Witness Artyom Gerasimov, who did not agree with the large fine imposed on him, sentenced the resident of Yalta to 6 years in prison. Earlier, the court in Dzhankoy appointed the same prison term for Gerasimov’s co-religionist Sergei Filatov.
“The decisions of the courts are getting tougher. From the point of view of international law, the verdict of the court is an arbitrary imprisonment for the peaceful confession of religion, ”said the representative of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses Yaroslav Sivulsky.
Gennady Shpakovsky became the 11th Jehovah’s Witness sent to prison for his faith. As of June 9, the list of “prisoners of conscience” on the website of Russian followers of this doctrine lists 327 people who are being persecuted in the country..
The UN Working Group and other international structures have repeatedly called for an end to the criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Lawyer, editor-in-chief of the journal “Religion and Law” Anatoly Pchelintsev in an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America stated that Russia continues to ignore the requirements of international legal organizations. In his opinion, the situation is already developing “beyond reason”.
“This can be explained by one thing – the Russian Federation is steadily sliding into totalitarianism, and human rights are not respected everywhere,” he added. “A striking example confirming this fact is precisely the mass persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”.
According to Anatoly Pchelintsev, this is an absolutely peaceful pacifist organization: “But in the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a Center for Countering Extremism (Center“ E ”) has been created with a huge staff, by the way, most often legally illiterate. They are faced with the task of fighting “wrong” religions, those that are recognized as extremist. The flywheel is running, and there is no one to stop it “.
The editor-in-chief of Religion and Pravo magazine also claims that the security forces do not disdain any methods to achieve their goals: “During searches, Jehovah’s Witnesses are planted with compromising literature, they are tortured, the most striking example here is Surgut. As a result, the believers were given long prison terms. The tightening of sentences can be explained by the fact that Center “E” needs to justify its existence. They need to demonize Jehovah’s Witnesses and thus take revenge on them. “.
From the point of view of Anatoly Pchelintsev, this is an unreasonable policy. The extremist article can be applied to absolutely all confessions without exception, including the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), he said..
“All of them fall under Article 282 if the same scale is applied to them, if we proceed from the principle of equality of all before the law. But we have a selective approach. We will punish Jehovah’s Witnesses and press them. Well, the Russian Orthodox Church, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims have already sort of adjusted themselves to the power, “summed up the editor-in-chief of the magazine” Religion and Law “.
In turn, a journalist leading the religious column of the Daily Journal Svetlana Solodovnik in a commentary to the Russian service of the Voice of America, she noted that the coronavirus had practically no effect on the policy of the power structures towards Jehovah’s Witnesses. It seemed to her that the process of pressure on believers did not stop for a second..
“As for the calls by international organizations to end the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Russian authorities treat them like all other“ claims ”against them from outside,” she stressed. – In Russia today there is an installation – no one decree for us, we are our own head, what we want, we do it. So they chose the unfortunate Jehovah’s Witnesses as victims, and they continue to spread rot “.
On the other hand, the persecution of other “non-traditional” confessions has also intensified, the journalist said. According to her, recently, several Protestant educational institutions have had their licenses taken away – in particular, the Baptist seminary has been closed: “In general, the wave is coming, going and going. Obviously, they want to rein in everyone, except the Orthodox Church, so that people are discouraged to be “scattered”. Here we have traditional religions, and be happy! ”
To accuse believers of extremism is complete absurdity, Svetlana Solodovnik is convinced. However, as it seems to her, as long as the “Yarovaya amendments” are in effect, everything will continue in the same spirit: “Moreover, the law enforcement agencies already have a knurled track in which it is so convenient for them to work. From the very beginning, human rights activists said that an extremist article is a very convenient tool to jail almost anyone, bringing absolutely any accusation against him ”.
The article is worded so vaguely that it can be used the way you want, the journalist concluded..