JUNE 18, 2019
A United Nations (UN) panel of international legal experts has concluded that Russia’s arrest and detention of Brother Dmitriy Mikhaylov was “discriminatory on the basis of religion” and thus violated international law. They also urged Russia to drop all criminal charges against him.
According to the 12-page opinion of the panel, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), Brother Mikhaylov’s actions “have always been entirely peaceful.” Additionally, “there is no evidence that he or indeed the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation have ever been violent or incited others to violence.”
The WGAD concluded that Brother Mikhaylov “did nothing more than exercise his right to freedom of religion” and “should not have been arrested and held in pretrial detention.” Therefore, he is entitled to compensation for his lost wages as well as for his personal loss of freedom while he was unlawfully detained.
The WGAD also recognized that Brother Mikhaylov is not alone in suffering injustice for his faith. He is “only one of the now ever-growing number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation who have been arrested, detained, and charged with criminal activity on the basis of mere exercise of freedom of religion”—a right protected by international law. Thus, in an effort to condemn the broader persecution of our fellow worshippers in Russia, the WGAD explicitly stated that their opinion applied not only to Brother Mikhaylov’s wrongful detention but to all Jehovah’s Witnesses who are “in situations similar to that of Mr. Mikhaylov.”
Brother Mikhaylov began studying the Bible as a teenager and was baptized in 1993, when he was 16 years old. In 2003, he married Yelena, and they began serving Jehovah together.
In 2018, Brother and Sister Mikhaylov discovered that the authorities had been tapping their phones and had them under video surveillance for several months. On April 19, 2018, the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation in the Ivanovo region opened a criminal case against Brother Mikhaylov and heavily armed officers came to search his home. A little over a month later, he was arrested and detained, under the claim of financing “extremist” activity. After spending nearly six months—171 days—in pretrial detention, he was released. However, his travel and communication are restricted for as long as the authorities keep his criminal investigation open.
The Russian government has six months to respond to the WGAD’s opinion in which they must state whether the criminal case against Mikhaylov has been closed, whether compensation has been provided, and whether the violators of his rights have been investigated.
A similar WGAD opinion likely effected change in the case of Brother Teymur Akhmedov from Kazakhstan. In 2017, he was arrested and subsequently sentenced to a five-year term for peacefully sharing his faith with others. Having exhausted all domestic remedies, lawyers for Brother Akhmedov filed a complaint with the WGAD. In their opinion dated October 2, 2017, the WGAD condemned the actions of the Kazakh authorities and called for Brother Akhmedov’s release. Six months later, the president of Kazakhstan pardoned Brother Akhmedov. He was released from custody on April 4, 2018.
Regardless of how Russia responds to the decision of the WGAD in Brother Mikhaylov’s case, our full trust is in the promise: “Happy is the man who takes refuge in [Jehovah].” We pray that Jehovah continues to care for our brothers and sisters in Russia who face criminal action, so they will further experience how all who courageously trust in Him “will lack nothing good.”—Psalm 34:8, 10.