Over the past month, Russian authorities have stepped up a campaign of terror and arrested and imprisoned more of Jehovah’s Witnesses under the guise of fighting extremism. Police forces raided private homes in Birobidzhan, Khabarovsk, Magadan, Orenburg, Naberezhnye Chelny, Perm, Pskov, Saratov, and Tomsk. They arrested 15 more Witness men, bringing the total to 20 Witnesses in pretrial detention. Two others are under house arrest. At least 15 Witnesses, including some in their 70’s and 80’s, have been required to sign an agreement not to leave the area where they live. As of June 14, 2018, authorities in Russia have brought criminal charges against over 40 Witnesses. If convicted, they face prison terms of up to ten years.

Locations of the raids in Russia

The Russian government has directly violated its guarantee made in open court that the ban on the legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses would not affect the right of individual Witnesses to practice their faith. Russia has completely disregarded this guarantee and is misapplying Article 282 of the Criminal Code in order to charge the Witnesses with participating in, organizing, or financing an “extremist” organization. In reality, rather than fighting extremism, Russia is persecuting its own citizens for their peaceful worship.

Recent Raids, Arrests, and Detentions

June 12, 2018, Saratov. Police raided and searched several homes of Witnesses and took at least ten Witnesses to the police station for interrogation. During the search of one home, the authorities planted religious literature that had been banned earlier by Russian courts. Five Witness men were taken into custody. Two of them were later released, but the police detained the other three and charged Konstantin Bazhenov and Feliks Makhammadiyev with ‘organizing the activity of an extremist organization.’ The criminal charge against the third Witness, Aleksey Budenchuk, is unconfirmed. On June 14, 2018, the Frunzenskiy District Court of Saratov ruled to keep Mr. Bazhenov and Mr. Makhammadiev in pretrial detention until August 12, 2018. The same court also ruled to keep Mr. Budenchuk in pretrial detention, but his release date is unconfirmed. Separately, the police ordered another Witness to sign an agreement not to leave the area.

June 3, 2018, Tomsk. At 10:00 a.m., police and members of Russia’s Special Military Force (Spetsnaz) raided two homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tomsk, Siberia. They detained about 30 Witnesses, including an 83-year-old woman. The police seized personal belongings from homes and vehicles, loaded the Witnesses into buses, and escorted them to the Center for Counteracting Extremism.

At the Center, investigators Ivan Vedrentsev, Aleksandr Ivanov, and Vyacheslav Lebedev forcefully interrogated some of the Witnesses until 2:00 a.m. the following morning. The investigators threatened to have one of the detainees fired from his job. During the investigation, ambulances were sent to the Center several times, and at least one Witness was hospitalized.

One of the detainees, Sergey Klimov, was kept in custody. On June 5, 2018, the Oktyabrskiy District Court of Tomsk ordered that he be kept in pretrial detention until August 4, 2018, under the charge of ‘organizing the activity of an extremist organization.’ The judge rejected motions for him to be held under house arrest or to be released on bail.

June 3, 2018, Pskov. Police forces raided multiple homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Pskov. At one home, everyone present was detained and interrogated, including two non-Witness visitors. Several of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including Gennadiy Shpakovsky, were taken to the Pskov Regional Headquarters of the Federal Security Services (FSB) for interrogation. Some of those taken to the police station were pressured to give evidence against Mr. Shpakovsky. Authorities initiated a criminal case against him under the charge of ‘organizing the activity of an extremist organization.’ Although he was later released, officials may at any time press further charges.

May 30, 2018, Khabarovsk. Police arrested Ivan Puyda after invading and searching his home. They escorted him to Magadan, where they kept him in custody. On June 1, 2018, the Zheleznodorozhniy District Court ordered that he be kept in pretrial detention until July 30, 2018, under the charge of ‘organizing the activity of an extremist organization.’

May 30, 2018, Magadan. Armed and masked police forces raided private residences in Magadan and arrested and detained Konstantin Petrov, Yevgeniy Zyablov, and Sergey Yerkin. On June 1, 2018, the Magadanskiy City Court ordered that they be kept in pretrial detention until July 29, 2018, under the charge of ‘organizing the activity of an extremist organization.’

Dmitriy Mikhailov

May 29, 2018, Shuya, Ivanovo Region. Authorities took Dmitriy Mikhailov into custody for the second time. After a raid on April 20, the police charged him with ‘participating in the activity of an extremist organization.’ On May 29, authorities also charged him with ‘financing extremist activity.’ On June 3, 2018, the Shuya City Court ordered that he be kept in pretrial detention until July 19, 2018.

May 27, 2018, Naberezhnye Chelny, Republic of Tatarstan. Overnight, FSB agents searched ten private residences and seized electronic devices, cell phones, and passports. Ilkham Karimov, Konstantin Matrashov, and Vladimir Myakushin were arrested and taken into custody. On May 29, 2018, the Naberezhnochelninskiy District Court ordered that they be kept in pretrial detention until July 25, 2018, under the charge of organizing and recruiting for an “extremist” organization and participating in its activity. Later, Aydar Yulmetyev was also arrested, and on May 31, 2018, the court ruled to keep him in pretrial detention as well.

May 22, 2018, Perm. When Aleksandr and Anna Solovyev returned to Perm after a trip to Moldova, police officers met them at the train station, handcuffed Mr. Solovyev, seized his personal belongings, and escorted the couple to the police station in separate vehicles. While Mr. Solovyev was in detention, police searched his home and interrogated his wife. On May 24, 2018, the Sverdlovskiy District Court placed him under house arrest, under the charge of ‘participating in the activity of an extremist organization.’

May 17, 2018, Birobidzhan. In a sting operation code-named Judgment Day, 150 police officers and members of the FSB raided 22 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The police seized tablets, cell phones, and money. Police arrested and imprisoned Alam Aliev, one of the 34 Witnesses searched during the raids. On May 18, the Birobidzhanskiy District Court ordered that he be kept in pretrial detention until July 13, 2018, under the charge of ‘organizing the activity of an extremist organization.’ On May 25, 2018, Judge A. V. Sizova of the Appellate Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region granted Mr. Aliev’s appeal and reversed the order for his pretrial detention.

May 16, 2018, Orenburg. Police officers raided and searched private homes. They arrested three Witnesses: Aleksandr Suvorov, Vladimir Kochnev, and Vladislav Kolbanov. On May 18, the Promyshlenniy District Court ruled that Mr. Kolbanov be kept under house arrest under the charge of ‘financing extremist activity.’ The following day, the same court ordered that Aleksandr Suvorov and Vladimir Kochnev be kept in pretrial detention until July 14, 2018, under the charge of ‘organizing the activity of an extremist organization.’ The investigator also ordered seven other Witnesses to sign an agreement not to leave the city during the investigation.

Left: Aleksandr Suvorov; Right: Vladimir Kochnev

Will International Censure Have Effect?

Both the European Union (EU) and the United States have issued official statements condemning Russia’s disregard for fundamental freedoms. The EU called on Russia “to respect its international commitments on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.” The United States additionally urged Russia “to immediately release all those imprisoned simply for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.”

Philip Brumley, General Counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, stated: “Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world are greatly disturbed by the harsh persecution of their fellow believers in Russia. Jehovah’s Witnesses are confronting the same type of repression today as they suffered under the Communist regime. By its actions and ongoing oppression, Russia is flagrantly disregarding its own guarantees to uphold fundamental human rights.”

Witnesses who were earlier placed in pretrial detention *

  • Dennis Christensen

    Aged 45, Oryol, detained since May 25, 2017, and ordered to remain jailed until August 1, 2018.

  • Valentin Osadchuk

    Aged 42, Vladivostok, detained since April 19, 2018, and ordered to remain jailed until June 20, 2018.

  • Viktor Trofimov

    Aged 61, Polyarny, detained since April 18, 2018, and ordered to remain jailed until October 11, 2018.

  • Roman Markin

    Aged 44, Polyarny, detained since April 18, 2018, and ordered to remain jailed until October 11, 2018.

  • Anatoliy Vilitkevich

    Aged 31, Ufa, detained since April 10, 2018, and ordered to remain jailed until July 2, 2018.

^ par. 21 For further details, see the jw.org Newsroom article “Campaign of Terror Begins for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.”