Joint statement on the freedom to religion or belief in Russia
We, the members of the NGO coalition Civic Solidarity Platform, express our deep concern for the deprivation of the right to freedom of religion or belief towards Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and the persecution of the Community members. We urge the Russian authorities to stop deprivations, interrogations and criminal investigations for peaceful religious activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We ask the international organizations and governments of the democratic states to call on the Russian government to end the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
As a result of the national campaign against extremists, the legal entity of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned in the Russian Federation in 2017 and about 400 local religious organisations over the country were liquidated in accordance with the Supreme Court decision. It immediately placed a lot of believers in danger of criminal prosecution for their faith. The Witnesses continue to practise their religion and, as a result, the places of their meetings are searched and the attendees are arrested. As of January 2019, 25 Witnesses are placed in the pre-trial detention, 9 are placed under house arrest and 31 persons are not entitled to leave the residence place. There are also 2 foreign citizens in detention.
The statement calls particular attention to the following cases of pre-trial detention and criminal investigations. Andrzej Onishchuk, a 50-year-old citizen of Poland, was arrested on October 9, 2018 in Kirov during the police raid of 15 Witnesses’ houses. The criminal case is at the level of the pre-trial investigation.
• On October 12, 2018 he was sentenced to detention by the Pervomayskiy District Court in Kirov.
• He is being charged in “organizing and financing the activity of an extremist organization” with the reference to Articles 282.2(1), 282.3(1) of the Criminal Code. If convicted, he will be sentenced for the term up to 10 years.
• On December 2, 2018 the detention was extended. His current stay is in the detention centre Nr 1 in the city of Kirov. The correspondence with him is allowed in the Russian language only. Dennis Christensen, a 45-year-old Danish citizen, was arrested on May 25, 2017 in Oryol. The criminal case is being heard in court and the verdict is expected in the beginning of 2019.
• The heavily armed police and Federal Security Service agents raided a peaceful religious meeting in Oryol, where Christensen was attending. He was detained and placed to the detention centre in Oryol.
• He is being charged under Article 282.2 (1) of the Criminal Code for “organizing extremist activity”.
• As of January 1, 2019 he has stood in court about 50 times; his detention was extended 5 times.
• In July 2017 the Witnesses submitted the application to the European Court of Human Rights concerning Christensen’s pre-trial detention and the arbitrary deprivation of his liberty as a result of his religious activity.
The statement in English is available here.
The statement in Russian is available here.