Russia’s War on “Terrorists” and “Extremists” in Crimea and Syria

filatovPersecuted Crimean Jehovah’s Witness Sergei Filatov faces seven years in prison for “extremism.” Photo courtesy of Grati

Prosecutor Requests Seven Years in High-Security Prison for Jehovah’s Witness in Crimea
OVD Info
February 25, 2020

During closing arguments in the trial of local resident Sergei Filatov, who organized meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the prosecutor asked the Dzhankoy District Court to sentence Filatov to seven years in a high-security penal colony, according to the online publication Grati, which cited Filatov himself as its source.

Filatov, who is currently free on his own recognizance, is accused of “organizing the activities of an extremist organization,” punishable under Article 282.2.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. According to investigators, Filatov, as the head of a religious organization, “undermined the foundations of the constitutional system and the security of the state.” The case files include an audio recording, made by local FSB field officer Vladislav Stradetsky, in which Filatov and other believers can be heard discussing religious topics.

The prosecution claims that Filatov is a co-organizer of a Jehovah’s Witness organization called Sivash, which held gatherings and religious lectures at the defendant’s registered domicile.

The only witness at the previous hearings in Filatov’s trial was a man named Verbitsky, a computer science teacher at a rural school. In September 2019, he testified that he had gone to Jehovah’s Witness gatherings right up until the organization was banned in April 2017, and therefore was unaware of Filatov’s further actions. In November 2019, however, he changed his testimony, saying he had continued attending meetings of believers for another six months or so.

Verbitsky claimed the defendant was intimidating him, so the judge honored his request to hold the hearings in closed chambers. The website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reports that the “intimidation” in question was phone calls from strangers. The defense made several requests to hold the trial in open chambers, but to no avail.

Filatov has four children, two of whom are minors. He considers the trial biased,  and the whole case an instance of religious persecution.

“The prosecutor asked the judge to sentence me to seven years for extremist activity—seven years for religious convictions, for believing in God. There was no crime, no culpability. 1951 and 1937 are coming back. They happened in Russia and here [in Crimea]: there are people among us today who were persecuted and sent into exile. This is tyranny and genocide,” Grati reports Filatov as saying after the trial.

In November 2018, the security forces raided a number of homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Dzhankoy. Searches were conducted at several dozen addresses, but only Filatov was detained, allegedly because police found extremist literature and manuals on psychology and recruiting in his home.

On April 20, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist organization,” disbanded it, and prohibited it from operating in Russia. In August 2017, all Jehovah’s Witness organizations were placed on the official list of banned organizations, sparking a subsequent wave of criminal cases against members of the confession.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Putin: Our Forces Stopped a Serious Threat to Russia in Syria
Asharq Al-Aswat
February 24, 2020

President Vladimir Putin has revealed a decisive Russian military attack last week to prevent Turkish-backed Syrian opposition factions from advancing towards Neirab city.

The Russian military has rooted out well-equipped terrorist groups in Syria and prevented major threats to Russia, Putin said at a gala on Defender of the Fatherland Day.

The attack was followed by intense airstrikes on militant sites in Idlib province.

Putin’s statements came in line with accusations launched by the Kremlin against Turkey on its violation of the Sochi Agreement.

According to Russian sources, the military sought to prevent Ankara from trying to impose a new fait accompli by controlling sites that have been recently occupied by the regime.

Russia “will not allow the return of the previous situation, when Idlib province and its surrounding areas were under the control of Syrian factions,” the sources added.

Putin, however, revealed on Sunday another aim for his country’s intervention in Syria.

Russia’s officers and soldiers have confidently confirmed their high professionalism and combat capabilities, the strength of spirit and their best qualities during the military operation in Syria, he said.

“They have wiped out large and well-equipped terrorist groups, thwarted major threats for our motherland at distant frontiers, and helped the Syrians save the sovereignty of their country,” he stressed, thanking all soldiers who have participated in the fight in Syria.

Putin’s remarks highlighted information circulated on Ankara supplying the Syrian factions with US mobile anti-air systems, which enabled them to shoot down two Syrian army helicopters last week.

The Ministry of Defense said these weapons could be used against Russian forces, slamming Ankara and Washington.

It said both sides “cannot predict how and when the terrorists will use these weapons.”

Putin affirmed Moscow’s intention to continue to enhance its military capabilities and provide its armed forces with the most advanced arms, including laser weapons, hypersonic systems and high-precision systems.

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