The apostle Paul urged Christians: “Keep in mind those in prison, as though you were imprisoned with them.” (Heb. 13:3) As Jehovah’s servants, we keep remembering our faithful brothers and sisters and pray concerning “all those who are in high positions, so that we may go on leading a calm and quiet life with complete godly devotion and seriousness.”—1 Tim. 2:1, 2, ftn.; Eph. 6:18.
The following are some of the legal issues that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been dealing with during the past year:
Our brothers in Russia continue “without letup teaching and declaring the good news” despite an ongoing campaign by the Russian Orthodox Church and some government officials to stop our activity. (Acts 5:42) Russian authorities persist in misapplying—to our publications and to our brothers individually—a vague law on extremism that they originally framed to counteract terrorism. As a result, Russian courts have declared that about 70 of our publications contain “extremist” expressions, and government officials have added these publications to a national list of banned extremist literature. On the basis of this alleged danger, some local authorities raid Kingdom Halls and the homes of our brothers in order to find the publications. Police detain, photograph, and fingerprint many Witnesses for engaging in the ministry. They often attempt to intimidate our brothers while holding them at the police station.
Beginning May 2013, sixteen brothers and sisters in the city of Taganrog stood trial for organizing, attending, and participating in Christian meetings and engaging in the preaching work. This is the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that Witnesses are facing criminal charges for practicing their faith. Authorities elsewhere in Russia are trying to get the courts to declare our literature “extremist” and to charge our brothers as criminals guilty of religious hatred.
Conditions for our brothers and sisters in Eritrea have not improved. As of July 2013, there were 52 in prison, including eight brothers who are at least 70 years of age, as well as six sisters. Three brothers, Paulos Eyassu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam, have been in prison since September 24, 1994, for their neutral stand on military service.
Over half of those imprisoned are in the Meiter prison camp, located in the desert north of the capital, Asmara. From October 2011 to August 2012, the authorities punished 25 of our brothers by putting them in a corrugated metal building half-buried in the ground. In the summer months, the guards let the prisoners out during the day to escape the building’s intense heat. However, they receive inadequate food and insufficient water, so the brothers’ health suffers greatly. Sadly, Yohannes Haile, a 68-year-old brother, died in August 2012 because of this mistreatment, as did Brother Misghina Gebretinsae in 2011.