9 Jehovah’s Witnesses convicted of extremism for working towards religion in Russia

(RNS) — 9 Jehovah’s Witnesses had been convicted of extremism by a Russian court docket on Tuesday (March 5), receiving sentences of as much as seven years in a penal colony for working towards their religion. Of these convicted, eight had already served greater than two years in pretrial detention, usually in solitary confinement, in response to a spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They plan to enchantment the choice.

“Both I’m one in every of Jehovah’s Witnesses or I’m an extremist. It’s inconceivable to be each on the similar time,” Aleksey Solnechny stated in Russian at court docket on Jan. 24, the place he obtained a seven-year sentence. “And I declare: I’m one in every of Jehovah’s Witnesses, however I’m not an extremist!”

Within the fall of 2021, Russian officers raided greater than a dozen Jehovah’s Witnesses’ houses in Irkutsk and the Irkutsk area, subjecting two households — Anatoly and Greta Razdobarov and Nikolay and Liliya Merinov — to beatings and torture. The 2 males had been later known as to be witnesses within the circumstances in opposition to their Jehovah’s Witness friends.

The officers suspected the Jehovah’s Witnesses of violating the Russian Federation’s ban on organizing the actions of an extremist group. In 2017, the Russian Federation’s Supreme Court docket banned the Witnesses’ actions and liquidated their authorized entities. Since then, virtually 800 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been criminally charged, in response to the spokesperson, Jarrod Lopes.

The lads charged within the case embrace Yaroslav Kalin, Sergey Kosteyev, Nikolay Martynov, Mikhail Moysh, Igor Popov, Denis Sarazhakov, Aleksey Solnechny, Andrey Tolmachev and Sergey Vasiliyev. They’ve reported receiving a whole lot of letters of help whereas in detainment, throughout which, a number of stated, they skilled chilly temperatures, isolation, dim lighting and smells from lifeless rodents. The circumstances have contributed to their poor well being, they stated.

High row, from left: Nikolay Martynov, Sergey Kosteyev, Yaroslav Kalin and Mikhail Moysh. Backside row, from left: Igor Popov, Denis Sarazhakov, Aleksey Solnechny, Andrey Tolmachev and Sergey Vasiliyev. (Images courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses)

On the trial on the Oktyabrsky District Court docket of Irkutsk between December 2022 and March 2024, the state prosecutor confirmed books stated to be confiscated through the raids in addition to secret recordings of worship providers. These charged contended that they didn’t violate any legal guidelines and denied that they had promoted extremism. Their spiritual beliefs, they claimed, are separate from Jehovah’s Witnesses’ authorized entities, which had been shut down in 2017.

 “The fees had been largely primarily based on secret audio recordings of worship providers, the place the lads had been praying, singing Christian songs and studying from the Bible. Satirically, one of many passages learn was Psalm 34:14: ‘Search peace and pursue it,’” stated Lopes, referring to the Bible’s Guide of Psalms.

“What does it say a few authorized system that convicts individuals of extremist exercise for studying a Bible verse that promotes peace? … We implore Russian officers to rethink its misconceptions about Jehovah’s Witnesses and permit these peace-loving women and men to worship freely of their beloved homeland as Witnesses do in some 240 different lands.”

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