MAY 18, 2020
A United Nations (UN) panel of human rights experts has issued a 15-page opinion concluding that Russia violated international law by arresting and detaining 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses in different cities from May 2018 to July 2019. Ultimately, the panel demands the immediate and unconditional release of those Witnesses who are still detained.
An advance copy of the panel’s opinion was released on May 15, 2020. The final version will be available on the UN’s website soon.
This is the third time in the past year that the panel, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, has issued such a conclusion in favor of our fellow believers. In its latest opinion, the Working Group condemns numerous aspects of Russia’s overt maltreatment of our brothers and sisters.
Addressing the authorities’ use of “extraordinary force” when arresting the Witnesses, the Working Group concludes that “there were no grounds justifying such action on behalf of the police” and emphasizes that “none of [the Witnesses] should have been arrested and held in pretrial detention and no trial of any of them should take or should have taken place.”
The panel categorically refutes the charge of so-called extremist activity. It explains that the brothers and sisters have done nothing more than observe “the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of religion.”
In the opinion, the rights experts also denounce the courtroom tactics used to try our brothers. For example, during their pretrial detention extension hearings, two of the sisters were kept in cages in the courtrooms. As the Working Group explains, international law recognizes the right of all persons “to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in accordance with the law.” For that reason, our sisters should not have been “shackled or kept in cages during trials or otherwise presented to the court in a manner indicating that they may be dangerous criminals.”
The Working Group demands that Russia expunge the criminal records of all 18 Witnesses and compensate them in accordance with international law. Further, the country is called upon to “ensure a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty” and “take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of [the Witnesses’] rights.”
The opinion notes that the 18 Witnesses are “part of a now ever-growing number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia who have been arrested, detained, and charged with criminal activity on the basis of mere exercise of freedom of religion,” a right protected by an international covenant to which Russia is a party. Therefore, although the present opinion focuses on the 18 named brothers and sisters, the Working Group was unequivocal that the findings “apply to all others in similar situations.”
The Working Group’s call to action does not guarantee that our brothers and sisters in Russia will be exonerated, but there is hope that it may improve the situation. We await Russia’s response. In the meantime, as our brothers and sisters in Russia courageously endure persecution, we know our loving Father, Jehovah, will continue to fill them with joy and peace for trusting in him.—Romans 15:13.