A spokesperson for the religious group said that a Russian court sentenced three Jehovah’s Witnesses to up to six and a half years in prison on Thursday for “extremism”.
The spokesperson said that 68-year-old Vilen Avanesov was sentenced to 6 years in prison. According to the organization, his 37-year-old son Arsen and the third defendant Alexander Pakov (53 years old) were each sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
Supporters say their convictions were unjust, especially after more than two years of pretrial detention. According to the organization, six other Jehovah’s Witnesses are still in pretrial detention in the Rostov region.
In 2017, when the Russian Supreme Court declared the movement an “extremist” movement, witnesses would be banned in Russia, and the movement belonged to the same category as the Islamic State terrorist organization. This religious group has nothing to do with politics and is known for its pacifism and refusal to perform military service.
Jehovah’s Witness spokesperson Jarrod Lopes said the three were “wrongly convicted and sentenced to long prison sentences.”
Mr. Lopez added: “Russian officials are not unobtrusive in persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses.” “Russian officials arrogantly and brutally recorded their attacks on the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses and forcibly arrested them. This video is all over the Internet. And social media.”
Mr. Lopez said that some of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia had been “violently beaten” during their arrest or interrogation.
Mr. Lopez said: “The Jehovah’s Witnesses only want to worship in their own country like fellow believers in more than 200 other countries.” He estimated that the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is about 170,000.
According to statistics from Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Russia and Crimea, the Witnesses received a total of 246 criminal cases against their members, involving 517 believers. So far, 51 people have been in prison and 34 have been under house arrest. Since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling, more than 1,500 houses of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been searched, and the ruling also liquidated the organization’s legal entity.
Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Department, said: “These people shouldn’t and never have to be in jail for a minute, but they have been in custody for two years.” “Russian authorities. It’s never too late to stop arrests, release Jehovah’s Witnesses in custody, stop these criminal proceedings, and rescind convictions that have already occurred.”
The former British ambassador to Russia, Sir Anthony Wood, said in a statement: “Before the verdict on the extremism of the three Jehovah’s Witnesses, they were detained for more than two years before the trial. This is already unfair. Russia’s “Extremism” is an indictment issued by diktat that labels many organizations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has no reliable definition. … Its purpose is suppression, not promotion justice.”