On December 11, 2014, the Rostov Regional Court will hear the appeal on the criminal case against 16 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taganrog, Russia. They were prosecuted for attending and organizing peaceful religious meetings.

The ordeal for the Witnesses began in 2011, when local authorities conducted aggressive searches of their homes and secretly recorded their religious meetings. This eventually led to criminal charges. After a 15-month-long trial, the Taganrog City Court convicted seven Witnesses on July 30, 2014. The judge heavily fined all seven and sentenced four of them to lengthy prison terms, but he immediately waived the fines and suspended the prison sentences. The judge acquitted the other nine Witnesses on technical grounds, but he upheld that they had engaged in extremist activity. All 16 Witnesses have appealed, asking that they be fully acquitted of the criminal charges.

The prosecutor has also appealed. He is demanding that the Rostov Regional Court imprison the four Witnesses, who are religious ministers, and take them into custody at the conclusion of the hearing. He also demands that the court overturn the acquittals of the other nine Witnesses and pronounce them guilty of engaging in “extremism.”

Vasiliy Kalin, a representative of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, stated: “I hope that the Rostov Regional Court will see the travesty of justice that these 16 victims of religious oppression have already endured and will exonerate them from their criminal convictions.”