Russian Police Tortured Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut with Stun Guns

stun master 100-sA stun gun like the Stun Master S-100 could have been used by Russian police on recalcitrant Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut. The Stun Master delivers an electric shock of 100,000 volts and sells for a mere $22 at diyhomeprotection.com.

Forensic Examination Confirms Surgut Jehovah’s Witnesses Tortured with Stun Gun
OVD Info
March 28, 2019

Defense lawyers commissioned an independent forensic examination of the wounds on the bodies of six Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut. The Stealth Forensic Research Institute concluded five of the men could have been tortured with stun guns. OVD Info has a copy of the institute’s findings.

Burns from stun guns were found on Vyacheslav Boronos, Yevgeny Kairyak, Kirill Severinchik, Alexei Plekhov, and Artyom Kim.

The forensic examiners concluded the wounds on the bodies of the arrested men were consistent with wounds they could have received if they had been shocked with stun guns. The examiners arrived at the findings after analyzing medical files and considering the opinions of experts on the wounds and the photographic and video documentation of the wounds.

In mid February, numerous police raids and searches were carried out in the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut. At least seven of the men detained during the raids complained they were beaten, humiliated, and tortured with stun guns. OVD Info published an account of these events, as provided by the victims’ lawyer.

On March 27, the Russian Investigative Committee reported the Jehovah’s Witnesses detained during the raids in Surgut had not been tortured with stun guns. But they had been subjected to physical force due to the fact that they, allegedly, had resisted arrest. The Investigative Committee thus explained why there had been bruises and abrasions of the legs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia was an extremist group and banned its work nationwide. In August 2017, all Jehovah’s Witness congregations in Russia were placed on the list of officially banned “extremist” groups.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Here is a list of the articles I have previously published about the new campaign of persecution of Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses:

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Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits torture, and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The Russian Federation signed the European Convention on Human Rights on February 28, 1996, and ratified it on May 5, 1998.

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An Islamophobic Witch Trial in Moscow Ends with Hefty Sentences for Swarthy Men Who Read Banned Books

KMO_169609_00017_1_t218_222045Defendants in the trial holding up a homemade placard that reads, “Oh people! Wake up. We’re not tourists.” Photo courtesy of Kristina Kormilitsyna and Kommersant. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up

In Moscow, Hizb ut-Tahrir Defendants Sentenced to 11 to 16 Years in Prison
OVD Info
February 15, 2019

The Moscow District Military Court has sentenced defendants in the so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir case to eleven to sixteen years in medium security penal colonies, reports Moscow News Agency.

The men were found guilty of violating either Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 205.5 Part 1 or Part 2, which criminalizes involvement in the work of an organization deemed a terrorist organization. According to investigators, the accused men read “banned literature, including religious and ideological texts” in a rented apartment in Moscow from October 7, 2016.

The prosecutor had originally asked the court to sentence the accused men to thirteen to seventeen years in prison.

Interfax reports that Zafar Nodirov, the cell’s alleged leader, Farhod Nodirov, and Hamid Igamberdyev received the maximum sentences.

Sobirjon Burhoniddini, Alijon Odinayev, Muradjon Sattorov, Otabek Isomadinov, and Aziz Hidirbayev were sentenced to eleven to twelve years in maximum security penal colonies.

Four of them did not deny their involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. They claimed the organization was a political party whose members did not engage in prohibited activities.

The twelve natives [sic] of Central Asia were arrested in December 2016. Three defendants in the case pleaded guilty and were sentenced to ten to twelve years in maximum security penal colonies.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an international pan-Islamist political organization. It is banned in a number of Muslim countries and Russia. It is also banned in Germany for not recognizing the state of Israel. The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis has argued the party has been wrongfully deemed a “terrorist” organization in Russia.

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up and for caring. Translated by the Russian Reader

___________________________________________________

Why Ban Hizb Ut-Tahrir? They’re Not Isis—They’re Isis’s Whipping Boys
William Scates Frances
The Guardian
February 12, 2015

Another day, another Islamic State (Isis) meme. This one is a rather well done mimicry of the pamphlet style of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Its title reads “Hizb ut-Ta’khir”—translated roughly as the “party of delay”—and its bold headline reads, “Establishing the Khilafah since 1953.”

Beneath, the disclaimer reads: “I know, we have got nowhere so far, but we have lots of conferences and heaps of flags and are really good at sitting in cafes.”

This is not the first meme about Hizb ut-Tahrir to be spread around the oft deleted and resurrected pro-Isis Twitter handles. The Dawlah twittersphere (Dawlah meaning “state,” shorthand for Islamic State) is full of them, all of a similar theme, all targeting Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Reading much of the commentary in recent months, you would not expect Hizb ut-Tahrir to be the target of Isis supporters’ mockery. However, contrary to the common equivalency made between the two groups, the gap between Isis and the Hizb has never been wider. They are not only very different, but for some time have been in active opposition.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is a nonviolent political group that imagines itself as speaking truth to power from within the belly of the beast. Isis is a violent utopian movement that views staying in the west as inherently suspect. Hizb ut-Tahrir’s membership are generally inclined towards the classical Islamic sciences, while Isis affiliates are “Salafi-Jihadi” in approach.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has a party structure, with defined roles and official party lines. Isis is scattered, with isolated spokespeople of varied authority and rhetorical skill. The primary similarity between the two is their religion, but when their membership, approach, rhetoric and demographics are so utterly distinct, the comparison stops there.

In Australia, Hizb ut-Tahrir is something like the Muslim equivalent of a socialist student movement. Its prominent members are mostly tertiary-educated and imagine themselves as a sort of Muslim consulate to the west. They are avowedly nonviolent in their approach, but do not shy away from supporting specific “mujahedeen” groups in current conflicts, though this support has rarely been found to go beyond the rhetorical and is confined to wars within the Muslim world.

Like the aforementioned socialist student groups, their main form of communication comes through pamphlets and fiery speeches delivered by a small cadre of speakers from within their party structure.

Isis, on the other hand, is nothing like this. While in Raqqa and Mosul the group has something approaching a governance structure, in Australia the supporters of the group have no coherent hierarchy. Rather, “Dawlah fanboys,” as they are known to some, are scattered individuals confined to hidden Facebook groups, anonymous Twitter accounts and the occasional coy “spokesperson.”

They imagine the Islamic State as a sort of Muslim utopia, a land “free of humiliation.” They view themselves as destined to fight the good fight against the tyranny and disbelief which defines a postcolonial Muslim world. That they use memes is telling; they are a wholly different demographic from Hizb ut-Tahrir. Much of their membership seems to be both less educated and of a lower socioeconomic status. They deride the Hizb as all talk, and say as much often and publicly.

On the other side, Hizb ut-Tahrir has, in the few media releases in which they address Baghdadi directly, invoked verses of the Qur’an regarding the curse of God upon tyrants and their servants. This rhetoric has only increased since a senior member of the group was reportedly executed in Aleppo for “questioning Baghdadi’s self-proclaimed Caliphate.” Hizb ut-Tahrir called dibs on the Caliphate, and they view Baghdadi’s group and his title as wholly illegitimate.

Much was made of Wassim Dourehi’s refusal to denounce Isis during his Dateline interview with Emma Albarici. This was no show of support; Dourehi’s refusal was Hizb ut-Tahrir exposing the media’s ignorance of their movement. Further, it only takes a cursory look at Hizb ut-Tahrir’s website to see that they are embroiled in a bitter and ongoing feud with Isis.

While Tony Abbott has not confirmed whether the federal government will attempt to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, it would be foolish to do so. Hizb ut-Tahrir thrives on bans. It is banned in a large number of the regimes of “taghout”—tyrants, as their language describes it—and they wear these bans as a mark of honor, as a sign of their legitimacy and the fear their truths inspire. Indeed, the lack of a ban is used by some Isis supporters to prop up a persistent rumor that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a government front.

As it stands, Hizb ut-Tahrir is a whipping boy. Whenever Isis does something bad, they are dragged out in public to get a flogging. The idea that banning the Hizb will somehow reign in Isis or stop the spread of their rhetoric shows just how much this ignorance pervades discussions of public policy.

Judgement Day: Russia’s Rabid Crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses

yuri zalipayevIs Russian Jehovah’s Witness Yuri Zalipayev an “extremist”? Should he be imprisoned for five years for exercising his right to freedom of conscience, as guaranteed by the Russian Constitution? Photo courtesy of jw-russia.org

Not Everyone Shall Be Guaranteed the Freedom of Conscience: How Russia Has Been Persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses
Marina Muratova
OVD Info
August 23, 2018

Believe what you will, but do not do it openly is how the freedom of religion should now be interpreted in Russia. The authorities have sent over fifty people to court for praying and reading the Bible together. Jehovah’s Witnesses have had their homes searched and been arrested like people suspected of grave offenses. The grounds for these actions is the argument that the practice of their faith is a “continuation of the activities of an extremist organization.” OVD Info investigated the charges.

Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with others any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views, and act according to them.
—Article 28, Constitution of the Russian Federation

Russia vs. the Jehovah’s Witnesses
23 criminal cases in 18 regions of Russia, 53 people charged, 13 suspects. 31 people released on their own recognizance, 9 people under house arrest, 26 people in remand prisons. Several people assaulted by police during searches of their homes, the doors of those homes kicked down in nearly all cases. Nighttime interrogations, confiscated electronic devices, papers, and money, blocked bank accounts.

On April 20, 2017,  the Russian Supreme Court shut down the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia for violating the law against “extremism.” All 395 official chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were banned. The EU’s mission to Russia said the ruling could lead to arrests. That is what has happened.

The Charges
Believers gather to pray and read the Bible, meaning they continue the work of a banned organization, according to Russian police investigators. There are few exceptions: nearly all the Jehovah’s Witness who have been detained have been charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2 (“organization of and involvement in the work of an extremist organization”).

Danish national and Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen was, among other things, charged with financing extremist activities. The prosecutor submitted to the court records,  allegedly showing that money was transferred from the account of the Jehovah’s Witnesses after the church was shut down. It transpired the transactions in question had been executed by the bank itself after the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been dissolved as a legal entity. Another Jehovah’s Witness, Yuri Zalipayev, stands accused of inciting assaults on Russian Orthodox Christians and Muslims. Zalipayev’s defense attorney is sure police investigators cooked up their evidence and then tried to conceal the frame-up.  Arkadya Akopyan, a 70-year-old tailor, has also been charged with insulting Muslims and |Russian Orthodox Christians. There is no audio or video evidence, only a witness’s testimony.

arkadya akopyanIs Russian Jehovah’s Witness Arkadya Akopyan an extremist? Photo by Diana Khachatryan. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Police Searches of Homes
Russian law enforcement authorities usually conduct searches simultaneously in the flats of several Jehovah’s Witnesses early in the morning. Jehovah’s Witness have often reported violations on the part of police during these searches. In the case of the Polyakov family in Omsk, the security services busted down the door to their flat, prevented the Polyakovs from telephoning relatives, and smashed Mr. Polyakov’s face. (Doctors recorded his injuries only two days later.) When the Polyakovs attempted to voice their disagreement with the actions of police  in the official search report, police wrested the form from their grasp.  During searches and interrogations in Penza, a police investigator forced six female Jehovah’s Witness detainees to strip naked.  In Saratov Region, the security forces mistakenly sawed off the door of the wrong flat. In another flat the same day, the police discovered banned literature in the sleeve of a child’s overcoat. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the police planted it there.

In the city of Shuya, Ivanovo Region, police interrogated a 10-year-old girl, and the list of items confiscated during the police search of her family’s flat included sheet music and a pupil’s grade book from a music school. In Kabardino-Balkaria, one group of security officers stormed a flat through the balcony, although the flat’s female occupant had opened the front door to another group of security officers. In Birobidzhan, 150 law enforcement officers took part in numerous searches carried out on the same day: the operation was codenamed “Judgement Day.” Police have seized digital gear, books, Bibles, diaries, photographs, and bank cards during the raids. The raids and subsequent interrogations have lasted several hours.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have not only been detained in their homes. Police caught up with Andrei Stupnikov of Krasnoyarsk at an airport at four in the morning as he and his wife were checking into a flight to Germany. A court later jailed Stupnikov, since he could have received political asylum, as the judge put it. Alexander Solovyov was detained when he stepped off a train after returning to Perm from holiday.

Custodial Measures
Most of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been charged with criminal offenses have been incarcerated in remand prisons.  The defense attorney representing Sergei Klimov of Tomsk told OVD Info that Klimov spent two months in a solitary confinement cell measuring 1.7 meters by 2.8 meters, allegedly, because it was impossible to find room for him in an ordinary cell. On August 8, at an appeals hearing, Klimov was left in police custody, but he was transferred out of solitary into gen pop.

After time spent in remand prisons, several Jehovah’s Witnesses have been released and placed under house arrest. Konstantin Petrov of Magadan spent 64 days in jail, while several Jehovah’s Witnesses in Orenburg spent 78 days in jail each.

Vitaly Arsenyuk, a resident of the town of Dzhankoy in northern Crimea, was charged with engaging in illegal missionary work, a violation of Article 5.25 Part 4 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code. After the first hearing in his case, in June 2017, Arsenyuk died of a heart attack.

Some Jehovah’s Witnesses have spent months in pretrial custody. Danish national Dennis Christensen has spent over a year in a remand prison. No one has yet been sentenced to hard prison time, but the courts have been indulgent to Jehovah’s Witnesses only on rare occassions. In 2017, a court acquitted Vyacheslav Stepanov and Andrei Sivak of Sergiev Posad, who had been charged with inciting hatred or enmity on the strength of a video recording of worship services. In May, an appellate court freed 55-year-old Alam Aliyev. On August 9 and 10, a court in Kamchatka overturned earlier decisions remanding Mikhail Popov in custody and placing his wife Yelena under house arrest.

Community Property
In all regions of Russia, buildings constructed or purchased by Jehovah’s Witnesses have generally been seized and turned over to the state. In Petersburg’s Resort District, the state took possession of a complex valued at around two billion rubles [approx. 25 million euros], a complex from which the authorities had received hefty tax payments for many years. Over the course of seventeen years, state inspectors never found a single violation at the complex, but now the local courts refuse to recognize the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the property or the official deeds to the complex.

Reactions
The EU delegation to the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, and human rights activists have spoken out against Russia’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Dennis Christensen’s arrest led to the initiation of legal proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. On May 15, 2015, the Kingdom of Denmark was admitted as a third party to the case of Christensen v. Russian Federation.

In response to the complaint filed with the ECHR, Russian envoys at the ECHR and UN claimed Jehovah’s Witnesses still had the right to practice their religion despite the dissolution of their congregations. It was at this same time, in the spring of this year, that the number of arrests of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia went through the roof.

The International Memorial Society has already recognized 29 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses as political prisoners. A total of fifty Jehovah’s Witnesses have been subjected to persecution by the authorities.

  • Oryol: Dennis Christensen, Sergei Skrynnikov
  • Omsk: Sergei and Anastasia Polyakov
  • Penza: Vladimir Alushkin, Vladimir Kulyasov, Denis Timoshin, Andrei Magliv, and four more unnamed people
  • Tomsk: Sergei Klimov
  • Saratov: Konstantin Bazhenov, Felix Makhammadiyev
  • Village of Shirokoye, Saratov Region: Alexei Budenchuk
  • Magadan: Sergei Yerkin, Yevgeny Zyablov, Konstantin Petrov
  • Khabarovsk: Ivan Puyda, Vladimir Moskalenko
  • Naberezhnye Chelny: Ilkham Karimov, Konstantin Matrashov, Vladimir Myakushin, Aidar Yulmetiev
  • Orenburg: Vladimir Kochnev, Alexander Suvorov, Vyacheslav Kolbanov
  • Polyarny, Murmansk Region: Roman Markin, Viktor Trofimov
  • Shuya, Ivanovo Region, Dmitry and Yelena Mikhaylov, Svetlana Shishina, Alexei A., Svetlana P.
  • Vladivostok: Valentin Osadchuk
  • Nakhodka: Dmitry and Yelena Barmakin
  • Krasnoyarsk: Andrei Stupnikov
  • Perm: Alexander Solovyov
  • Sol-Iletsk, Orenburg Region: Boris Andreyev
  • Village of Perevolotsky, Orenburg Region: Anatoly Vichkitov
  • Kostroma: Sergei and Valeria Rayman
  • Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka Territory: Mikhail and Yelena Popov
  • Beryozovsky, Keremovo Region: Sergei Britvin, Vadim Levchuk
  • Maysky, Kabardina-Balkaria: Arkadya Akopyan
  • Lensk, Yakutia: Igor  Ivashin
  • Pskov: Gennady Shpakovsky
  • Birobidzhan: Alam Aliyev
  • Yelizovo, Kamchatka Territory: Konstantin Bazhenov
  • Belgorod: Anatoly Shalyapin, Sergei Voykov

This list was supplied to us by the European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses and defense attorney Artur Leontiev.

Freedom of Conscience
OVD Info asked attorney Artur Leontiev, who has been handling the defense of Sergei Klimov and Andrei Stupnikov, as well as the case of the property owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, to comment on the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“Law enforcement agencies have been criminally prosecuting believers for ordinary, peaceful professions of faith, as when they gather in small groups to read and discuss the Bible, watch videos on biblical topics, and so forth. The security forces got it into their heads that this constituted a continuation of the activities of an organization dissolved by the court. However, the believers who have been charged with these crimes had nothing to do with the legal entities that were dissolved and were not parties to the proceedings in the Russian Supreme Court.

“Believers’ phones were tapped, their letters were vetted, and they were followed. The security service thus amassed a fair amount of operational material. I think the heads of the various agencies decided to use it to improve their conviction rates, all the more so since the peaceable Jehovah’s Witnesses were easy targets. They have always tried to be law-abiding. Even now they do not regard themselves as criminals. They evince no aggression, imagining the injustice that has befallen them is a misunderstanding that will soon be cleared up. Actually, they are faced with a choice: refuse to practice their religion or be prepared to endure all the delights of criminal prosecution. However, the law enforcers doing the dirty work in the locales often understand what is really going on, but they are guided by the principle of ‘I have my orders, and I have a family to feed.’

“The complaint (Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and Kalin v. Russian Federation, Case No. 10188/17) has been filed with the ECHR and accepted for review, the parties have exchanged comments, and the case has been expedited. Complaints have also been filed with the ECHR for each particular instance of criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“It is vital, however, the Russian legal system kicked into gear and operated not on the basis of expediency, but according to the law. Whatever you feel about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have the same right to their beliefs and the same right to a fair trial as other Russians.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia’s Bright Future (Putin 4.0)

Member of HRC Describes Putin’s New Term: Everything under the Sun Will Be Banned
Alexei Obukhov
Moskovsky Komsomolets
October 10, 2017

Pavel Chikov argues Russia will become isolated internationally, and federalism and regional economies will be jettisoned.

Pavel Chikov, member of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, has forecast what politics in Russia will be like if Vladimir Putin is re-elected to another term. According to Chikov, the situation in the country will deteriorate rapidly, and more and more areas of public life will be off limits.

1a1bb3f8a345889fc79a754c4ae35c6dPavel Chikov. Photo courtesy of Facebook/MK

Foreign mass media will be the first to be banned. This has been borne out, says the human rights activist, by the threat to shutter Radio Svoboda, which the media outlet received from the Justice Ministry last Monday.

Following the media, “the political arena will be mopped up: the current persecution of Alexei Navalny’s employees and Open Russia’s employees is a harbinger of this.”

In Chikov’s opinion, the country will also be stripped of religious freedom, as witnessed by “the huge criminal cases against and expulsion from the country” of members of various non-traditional religious movements, from Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have been declared “extremist” banned in the Russian Federation, to supporters of non-mainstream Buddhist and Muslim groups.

These measures, writes the human rights activist on his Telegram channel, will be paralleled by Russia’s renunciation of its international commitments. It will exit the Council of Europe and end its cooperation with the European Court of Human Rights. (Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Federation Council, said yesterday this was a probable scenario.) Russian’s relations with many European countries, from the Baltic states to Germany, will deteriorate, and their embassies will be closed. Restrictions will be placed on Russian nationals traveling outside the country, and the practice of stripping refugees and asylum seekers of their Russian citizenship and confiscating their property will be broadened.

Meanwhile, Russia will succeed in isolating its segment of the Internet and instituting a Chinese-style firewall to censor content.

Finally, Chikov writes, the country’s economy and domestic politics will deteriorate. The regions will lose the last remnants of their autonomy (Chikhov cites Vladimir Vasilyev’s  recent appointment as acting head of Dagestan, although the United Russia MP has no experience in the republic), and the assets the regions have left will be placed under the control of Putin’s inner circle.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Vasily Zharkov for the heads-up

“Extremism” Ruling Against Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Popular Will?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Was it the “popular will” that 500 hectares of land be reclaimed in the Neva Bay right off Petersburg’s Vasiliyevsky Island and developed into densely built high-rise estates, causing untold amounts of environmental and aesthetic damage? No, it wasn’t. In fact, locals were bitterly opposed to the project and they mounted a loud resistance back in the day. But their will was roundly ignored by Petersburg city hall and developers. Under the present authoritarian regime, “popular will” is a friendly phantom, at best, an irritant, at worst. Photo by the Russian Reader

The Russian Supreme Court has gone ahead and banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses and ordered their property confiscated. This is a colossal insult to hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Russian citizens. A huge new underground has been generated. Massive crackdowns for their faith, new political prisoners, and mass immigration are around the corner. The Russian authorities and Moscow Patriarch Kirill, who is personally responsible for this operation, have curious ideas about the joy of Easter.
—Nikolay Mitrokhin, Facebook, April 21, 2017

Perhaps this is what is most disheartening about the recent legal battle. The state may be the central actor, but its actions reflect the popular will of Russians who, by and large, have decided that Witnesses have no place in their society.
—Emily Baran, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Spells End for Russia’s Religious Diversity,” Moscow Times, April 24, 2017

When did Russians decide this? Did they hold a referendum recently? Are most Russians even aware of how the Justice Ministry has used the Russian Supreme Court to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremists,” allegedly, at the insistence of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Kirill? I very much doubt it.

Professor Baran only mentions actions by state or quasi-state actors, such as the central press in Soviet and post-Soviet times. Yet they were and have been somehow acting on behalf of the “popular will,” a symbiosis she makes no real attempt to prove in her op-ed piece for the Moscow Times, as quoted above.

As for real popular sentiment, I imagine there are as many Americans as Russians who have reflexively negative attitudes toward Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just think of all the jokes about JWs you have heard in your lifetime that cast them in a negative or ridiculous light, or how many times you have seen their likenesses figuring as the villains on TV medical dramas who refuse proper care for desperately sick children? Then why aren’t they banned in the US? At worst, the American “popular will” sees them as outsiders and obscurantists, at best, as an annoyance.

I can imagine that tenure-track professors in the US have a hard time understanding how disempowered and disconnected the grassroots are in a country that now has the world’s largest income inequality gap, and a long, brutal history of minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, getting hammered by the powers that be while putative “majority” either did not mind, looked the other way or did not even notice.

But does Tennessee, where Professor Baran teaches, have an utterly different history when it comes to protecting the rights of its minorities?

The Russian Supreme Court’s decision to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses extremist is completely despicable in every possible way, but Russians who bother to care about minorities and “minority” interests (like the environment, civil and social rights, corruption, labor rights, migrant rights, and historical preservation and sound urban planning) are often too few and far between to fight every battle and put out every fire. And many of those fighters are themselves currently under the state’s gun. The same Justice Ministry that has gone after Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses like a pit bull has also been branding NGOs, research institutes, and grassroots organizations “foreign agents” like it was at a fire sale.

That is no excuse for the judicial execution the Russian state has just performed on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it was a decision made at the top by the political, ecclesiastical and judicial elites, including the ROC’s Patriarch Kirill. It was not the state’s response to a nonexistent, utterly imaginary “popular will.” {TRR}

Russian Supreme Court Looks Set to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses

Hearing of the Justice Ministry’s case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Russia in Russian Supreme Court, April 5, 2017, Moscow. Photo courtesy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Russia

Supreme Court Refuses to Recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses as Victims of Political Repression
Court Examining Justice Ministry’s Suit to Have Organized Declared “Extremist”
Yelena Mukhametshina
Vedomosti
April 5, 2017

The Supreme Court has begun its consideration of the Justice Ministry’s suit against the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The ministry has asked the organization to be declared extremist, to ban its work, and to close it.

The Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia had tried to file a counterclaim, asking that the Justice Ministry’s actions be declared illegal. It also asked the court to rule that the ministry’s actions against the Jehovah’s Witnesses were political repression and to throw out the Justice Ministry’s suit. However, the judge refused to take the counterclaim into consideration.

The Justice Ministry has filed its suit to close not only the Administrative Center but also all of the religious organization’s branches and affiliates in Russia.

“The true goal is political repression against religious organizations, in particular, the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” said a defense counsellor.

He recalled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were also banned in Soviet times. In the early 1990s, however, the authorities admitted that members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been victims of political repression, and they were subsequently rehabilitated.

Three hundred and ninety-five local chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have asked to be named co-defendants, since their work would be stopped if the Administrative Center were deemed an “extremist” organization. Each of these chapters, which could be deemed “extremist,” has the right to ask Justice Ministry officials why they want to ban them, said a defense counsellor. The court turned down the request. They also requested the case files from administrative cases, in particular, cases in which the authorities claimed to have seized “extremist” matter. A defense counsellor said there were witnesses who had seen matter that had previously been recognized as “extremist” planted in places where searches had taken place. This motion was also denied. The next hearing in the case will be on Thursday.

In October of last year, Moscow’s Tverskaya District Court issued a warning to the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia for “extremist” activity. In January of this year, Moscow City Court upheld the legality of the warning. In March, the Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court asking that the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia be recognized as an “extreme” organization and that its activities be banned after inspections allegedly revealed violations of anti-“extremist” laws. At the same time, an order was issued to suspend the work of both the Administrative Center and all local chapters until the court had made its final decision. In turn, the Jehovah’s Witnesses indicated the ban would affect four hundred registered local religious organizations and 2,777 religious groups in Russia, amounting to 175,000 followers. The Supreme Court had already upheld the closure of local chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol, Belgorod, Samara, and other cities.

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Nikolay Mitrokhin
Facebook
April 5, 2017

Today, a trial began whereby the Russian authorities intend to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The whole world understands it is shameful to persecute people for religious beliefs, but not the Russian authorities, who habitually could not care less about their reputation. If we speak in terms of the “public good,” then in the coming years, as terrorist attacks continue, crime rates remain high, and corruption has become total, law enforcement agencies will be busy “interdicting” the religious activities of the organization’s 170,000 active members. (This figure does not included the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of sympathizers, family members, and people involved in some way.)

There is no doubt the entire attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been undertaken by Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov to curry favor with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. It could be stopped with a single phone call. And yet this ban won’t really help the ROC in any way. Moreover, it will cause it serious problems, which even part of the church leadership understands. However, Kirill and his ideological confederates, having long ago taken the bit between their teeth, are speeding the church’s carriage over bumps and gullies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Is Yoga a Crime in Petersburg?

Dmitry Ugay. Still image courtesy of philologist.livejournal.com
Dmitry Ugay. Still image courtesy of philologist.livejournal.com

Persecuted for Yoga
An article by Dmitry Ugay, a follower of Vaishnavism who has studied and practiced the ancient science of reality for many years
Hare Krishna in Novgorod the Great
January 2, 2016

On December 1,  2016, the Indian philosophy of yoga was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Culture of Humanity. A bit earlier, on October 22, 2016, I gave a lecture entitled “Varieties of Yoga” and was also written up—on a misdemeanor charge for violating the so-called Yarovaya Law. I was charged with engaging in missionary work, a charge of which I am innocent. I was not even allowed to familiarize myself with the charge sheet. I am concerned by the complete lawlessness of the incident, which could result in the persecution of my many fellow citizens who practice yoga and study Indian philosophy, completely unaware of the possible dangers.

There was recently a wild discussion on Facebook of an article by the Indian national Prasun Prakash, who was pelted with foul accusations and insulted. Later, an attempt was made to break into the Center for Promoting the Preservation and Development of Indian Culture, founded by his father. It is amazing that people are being persecuted for work that even the most subtle interpretations could construe as missionary work. People are being persecuted for practicing yoga, a culture whose history dates back several thousand years, for yoga, who beneficial health effects have been confirmed by a myriad of medical studies. Even in the Soviet Union, popular science films about yoga were shot and publicly screened.  The Soviet science fiction writer Ivan Yefremov wrote about yoga, and it was taught to Soviet cosmonauts as part of their physical training. Carl Jung wrote about yoga’s serious therapeutic value, and over 250 million people worldwide practice yoga seriously. In a word, there are signs that a campaign against an entire culture has been unleashed, a campaign against one of humanity’s supreme achievements, a very nasty xenophobic campaign not only against yoga, but against India, its traditions, and its people.

I had been invited to given a lecture on the varieties of yoga at the Veda Life Festival on October 22, 2016, at Loft Project ETAGI in Saint Petersburg. The audience consisted of neophytes, many of whom would be hearing about Indian philosophy for the first time. I tried to make the lecture as simple as possible. Nowadays, yoga is seen mostly as a means of wellness. The general public knows nothing about the worldview on which yoga is based, on its high ethical and spiritual standards. So I emphasized the philosophy and ethic of yoga. In my lecture, I talked about the fundamentals, the things one might here in classes on comparative religion and eastern philosophy at liberal arts universities in Russia. True, I had to make some effort to do this, because I had shout over the loud music playing next to me on the stage.

I was interrupted after about forty minutes. The audience was visibly agitated. I didn’t immediately understand what the matter was, noticing only later that police officers had entered the room. Two officers came up to me, one in uniform, the other in plain clothes. As I learned later, there was a total of six or seven officers. The others went to inspect the other events at the festival, checking people’s papers, looking for the organizers, and acting nervously when people took pictures of them, officers of the law at a public event.

They asked me rather rudely to go with them. Initially, they wanted to lead me out of the building without letting me put my coat on. They behaved rudely and cheekily in a calculated attempt to intimidate me and keep me from coming to my senses. Fortunately, Sergei, a professional attorney who was attending the festival, turned up in the audience. He forced the police to let me put on my coat. He persistently asked the officers whether I was officially under arrest or not, but the officers kept mum. They were trying to spirit me out of the building quickly, but the lawyer was clearly putting a spanner in their works. He asked them to draw up an arrest sheet. He asked them to show us their IDs. He insisted he intended to act as my advocate and demanded that I be allowed to write up a power of attorney in his name.

The police officers silently ignored all these legitimate requests and forcibly dragged me to the exit, where a car was parked. Resisting the police meant giving them grounds for yet another charge, in this case a completely real charge, so I had to obey. Outside, yet another uniformed officer joined us.  Sergei threatened to call the prosecutor’s office directly. One of the officers finally produced an ID: Arsen Magomedovich Magomedov, a detective with the 76th Investigative Division. I was pushed into a police car. The police gave Sergei the brush-off, and he and my friends set off after us in a cab.

I was taken to the 76th police precinct on Ligovsky. Sergei telephoned and asked what shape I was in. I remember that the police detectives laughed. They asked whether I understood that I would be put on trial, and that the judge would ask me unpleasant questions. They persuaded me to sign a statement they had written up beforehand They said if I signed, I would go home peacefully, but if I didn’t, they would put me behind bars for 48 hours: they had the right to do it.

Sergei had warned me that under no circumstances should I sign anything. Following his instructions, I refused to sign, invoking my right not to testify against myself under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution. They wrote down that I had refused to sign the statement and threatened to take me to court. I replied that, as officers of the law, they could perform their professional duties. A beat cop asked whether I understood that I was engaged in illegal missionary work, and what lay in store for me.

It was the height of absurdity. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Mircea Eliade had no idea that a simple recounting of their world-renowned academic works would be dubbed missionary work and sectarian preaching. In keeping with this rationale, any lecture on Indian philosophy at any university could be dubbed missionary work. But I was merely discussing how the various yogas imagined the law of karma and the way of liberation. Hundreds of similar lectures are given annually to students in different university departments. They form the basis for course exams and honor’s theses.  How would this mass of students feel were they to learn that they are now illegal missionaries? The level of nonsense has clearly gone off the scale.

At the precinct, there was a rather educated looking man among the officers. I don’t remember whether he was in uniform or not. He asked what my religious views were, how I viewed Russian Orthodoxy, whether I had a spiritual name, and whether I lived at home or the temple. I could not understand at all what this had to do with my case. I replied that I believed in Krishna, but in this instance it was completely irrelevant. It was my profoundly personal affair whether I believed in Krishna, Buddha, Cthulhu or a pasta monster. My lecture had not been about that. Besides, worshiping God was one variety of yoga, namely, Bhakti yoga.  Hearing an unfamiliar concept, the officer left me alone.

Then I was asked where I worked. I replied that I worked as a web programmer. They asked for and took my internal passport. I sat down on a bench in the waiting room along with other detainees.

Two hours later, a detective came for me. He sat down at a desk and wrote something with an intimidating look on his face.  Right then, Sergei called again. He told me to telephone the prosecutor’s office and file an oral complaint against the actions of the police detectives, because they were obliged to draw up a charge sheet and release me. They did not have the right to detain me. He texted me the on-duty number at the prosecutor’s office.

The detective said I had the right to make only one phone call (just like in American films about dangerous criminals!) and ordered me to switch off my phone, threatening me with force if I didn’t. I turned my phone off. Then he gave me a blank sheet of paper and said I had two options. I could go on denying everything and then I would spend a minimum of 48 hours behind bars here. He would lock me up in a cell, and then I would go to court. Or I could write out handwritten promise to report to the precinct on such-and-such a date and sign it, and I would be released immediately. I said I would not sign a blank piece of paper.

“Are you a moron?” the detective asked.

“Call me what you like,” I replied.

He left. I stayed in the waiting room. A woman who was not let out to use the toilet was wailing and cursing in the holding cell. Other police officers came and went, dealing with the current crop of detainees. Crates filled with fruit and peppers stood in the corner: a woman had been detained for selling them. She poured grapes into plastic bags and very humbly handed them over to the police officers. She was released, but her crates were left behind. Someone  else had been detained for not registering his car, while another man had been brought in for swearing in an Okay grocery store. The female desk sergeant quarreled with the women in the holding cell and the detainees, swearing at them.

I had been sitting there for a fairly long time. Three detainees had already been released from the front desk area. One of the detectives came in and asked the desk sergeant for the papers “on the Hare Krishna,” grabbed them, and left.

I went to the toilet. There were double doors in there without latches. I finally turned on my phone and called my friends. They had been scrambling on my behalf. They called me down and said I would be released soon. Soon after, the desk sergeant did in fact say I was free to go.

“And my passport? My passport was confiscated,” I asked.

She expressed surprised and walked out of the room. Ten minutes later, she gave me back my passport.

I headed out of the building. Passing a bored officer, I asked for a copy of my arrest sheet. He looked at me as if I were an imbecile and said I wasn’t supposed to get a copy.  Really? What about procedure?

There was nothing I could do, so I left the building. I hugged my friends and got into their car. We headed home.

Later, I learned that my case had been sent back by the judge due to multiple procedural violations and the lack of corpus delicti. The arrest sheet in the case file had been filled out extremely clumsily. I also found out that, two months later, the old arrest sheet had been destroyed and a new one  drawn up that took into account the judge’s criticisms. The judge admitted this arrest sheet into evidence, along with a charge sheet filed several days (!) before my lecture. The case file also included the testimony of two fake witnesses, two women, one of whom had not even my lecture. All this time I sense what Sartre meant by the phrase “being under the gaze” and the saying “We were born to make Kafka a reality.” I hadn’t studied philosophy under Valery Sagatovsky in grad school for nothing. He had been depressed by the state of affairs in Russia. Unfortunately, now, several years after his death, the situation is even more alarming and uncertain.

Indian philosophy has greatly enriched Russian culture. The impact of Indian though on the Russian Silver Age was huge.  The complete academic translation of the Mahabharata was published in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, an edition that required titanic efforts on the part of the editors and commentators. Numerous works by classic Indian thinkers, writers, and poets have been published. And who can imagine Russian today without the Indian cinema? Without Indian dance? Without yoga? Without vegetarian food? Is this Russia coming to an end?

P.S. I seek the help of religious studies scholars, lawyers, civil rights activists, reporters, and anyone who could help out by publishing this article in print and online publications or read the transcript of the lecture and confirm, as experts, that it contains no signs of missionary work.

Dmitry Ugay, “Varieties of Yoga” (lecture), Loft Project ETAGI, Petersburg, October 22, 2016

Also, if possible, you can support me by mentioning my court hearing in your publications, blogs, and social network pages. This will help avoid such incidents in the future. The hearing takes place at 3:10 p.m on January 9, 2017, in Saint Petersburg at 26 Fourth Soviet Street, Room 11, Section 211 (near Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station).

With respect and gratitude,

Dmitry

UPDATE. A Petersburg court threw out the case againt Mr. Ugay on Wednesday, January 18, 2016.

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E.M. Maha-Balarama Prabhu, “The Law on Missionary Work: A Survival Guide,” July 10, 2016, Moscow (in Russian)