MAY 1, 2020
On March 12, 2020, the persecution and torture of our brothers in Russia was strongly condemned by more than 30 European countries. This international denunciation of Russia occurred during a meeting hosted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Permanent Council. The OSCE is mandated, among other things, to protect human rights.
In a joint statement before the OSCE Permanent Council, the 27 European Union (EU) member states, along with 6 nonmember states declared: “The European Union continues to be deeply concerned about the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia who continue to face systemic persecution, including home raids, arbitrary detentions, criminal investigations, and sentences up to seven years of prison time. Furthermore, we are deeply concerned about recent specific reports of torture and other ill-treatment of several members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in detention or prior to being taken into custody by either prison guards or law-enforcement officers.”
The United Kingdom’s Ambassador to the OSCE, Neil Bush, said in his speech before the Permanent Council: “The ruling of the Russian Supreme Court in July 2017, which rejected the appeal against the decision to categorize Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘extremists,’ criminalized the peaceful worship of 175,000 Russian citizens and contravened the right to religious freedom that is enshrined in the Russian Constitution and in multiple OSCE commitments.” He continued: “Since that ruling, we have witnessed an increasing number of detentions, criminal investigations, and prosecutions of Jehovah’s Witnesses across Russia. We echo the deep concern over the allegations of torture and mistreatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
The incidents cited by European officials include the February 6, 2020, beatings of five Witnesses. Prison guards at Russia’s Penal Colony No. 1 violently assaulted Brothers Aleksey Budenchuk, Gennadiy German, Roman Gridasov, Feliks Makhammadiyev, and Aleksey Miretskiy. “All suffered severe injuries and one [Feliks Makhammadiyev] needed hospitalization,” the EU Delegation reported. “In addition, on February 10, 2020, Vadim Kutsenko was reported to be tortured before being taken into custody, as law-enforcement officers repeatedly beat and choked him and applied electric shocks, while demanding information on other Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
The EU Delegation pointed out that “torture and other ill-treatment are among the most abhorrent violations of human rights, human integrity, and human dignity. Torture breaches international human rights law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, all of which the Russian Federation is a state party to.”
In addition, the European leaders noted that the acts committed against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia directly contradict assurances the Russian Federation has given the Permanent Council indicating that our brothers and sisters are free to practice their religion in the country.
“On April 20, 2017, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation banned the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses and all local entities on grounds of ‘extremism.’ Following this, we have heard the Russian Delegation claim more than once in the Permanent Council [sessions] that Jehovah’s Witnesses are, and will continue to be, able to practice their religion freely and that freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed. However, we continue to see numerous reports about home raids, arbitrary detentions, and criminal investigations concerning Jehovah’s Witnesses,” stated the EU Delegation.
The EU leaders noted that “since the liquidation of all local religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, reportedly 869 houses have been searched, 26 individuals are in pretrial detention, 23 under house arrest, 316 are charged, and 29 already convicted.”
“It is clear from the figures above that any manifestation of their faith by Jehovah’s Witnesses can result in the search of their homes, lengthy detention, criminal prosecution, and imprisonment. The scale of the home raids, including a number of raids within a city on a single day, creates the impression of an organized campaign of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses,” said Ambassador Bush.
Experts on religious freedom have also condemned the treatment of our brothers in Russia. Commenting on the EU Delegation’s statement, Austrian lawyer, politician, and Roman Catholic theologian, Dr. Gudrun Kugler stated: “The situation has deteriorated drastically since Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned in Russia in April 2017. . . . All convictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are based on the anti-extremism law criticized as ‘vague and excessively broad’ by human rights organizations. The mere fact of being identified as a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses and of practicing one’s religion privately is sufficient to qualify under Article 282.2 to be sentenced to prison. . . . The brutal persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities in Russia must end!”
Russia and all member states of the OSCE “have an obligation to take effective measures to prevent acts of torture, prosecute perpetrators of such acts, identify victims, and ensure effective redress,” the EU Delegation noted. “We therefore call on the Russian Federation to conduct prompt, effective, and thorough investigations into all reports of such acts, in order to ensure that anyone responsible or complicit is brought to justice. . . . We call upon the authorities to drop all charges against individuals who have been unjustifiably prosecuted or imprisoned for exercising their human rights. We call upon the Russian Federation to live up to its international human rights commitments, to respect the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, religion or belief as well as the rights of persons belonging to minorities, and to guarantee a fair trial.”
Whether or not Russia will respond to international criticism by respecting religious freedom, we know Jehovah will continue to help our brothers and sisters in Russia to patiently and courageously endure until true justice prevails.—Psalm 10:18.