The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Do Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses Deserve Our Solidarity?

[E]mpathy also requires identifying with the person you’re em­pathizing with. And sometimes you only identify with those whom you recognize. That’s a problem because part of solidarity is the people you don’t recognize. The people who you don’t see yourself in. And we’re raised in this particular era of liberal multiculturalism to see ourselves in others. When in fact I tell my students, “Look, not only do you not see yourself in others, but if we’re talking about en­slaved people in the eighteenth century, I’m sorry, none of y’all can know what that means.” We can begin to understand not by simply imposing our own selves but by stepping outside of ourselves and moving into different periods of history. Understanding the constraints and limitations of people’s lives that are not us, as opposed to those who are like us. The fallback is always, “Well, if it were me,” or, “I can see how other people feel,” as opposed to, “Let me step outside myself.”
—Robin D.G. Kelley, quoted in “Solidarity Is Not a Market Exchange”: An Interview with Robin D. G. Kelley, Black Ink, January 16, 2020

witnessesIvan Pryanikov, Venera Dulova, and Darya Dulova are considered “extremists” by the Putin regime. Image courtesy of Woman, Prison, Society

Woman, Prison, Society
Facebook
January 25, 2020

FAITH AS A CRIME

Charged with “extremism,” three Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sverdlovsk Region are awaiting the verdict in their trial. The defendants are Venera Dulova, who has a hearing disability, her twenty-year-old daughter Darya, and Alexander Pryanikov. The prosecutor’s office has asked the court to give them two to three years of probation.

According to the case file, all three prayed and read the Bible, “knowing that they belonged to an organization banned in Russia.”

The reading of the verdict is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., January 27, in the Karpinsk City Court (ul. Mira, 60)

By the way, Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted in Hitler’s Germany and the USSR during the Stalinist crackdowns.

Thanks to Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Special Rapid Deployment Force Raids Jehovah’s Witness Gathering in Norilsk

tomsk raidPolice raiding Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tomsk in 2018. Photo courtesy of the website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

Special Forces Raid Recreational Compound in Norilsk Where More Than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses Were Gathered, Criminal Charges Filed
OVD Info
October 22, 2019

On October 20, the Special Rapid Deployment Force (SOBR) raided a recreational compound in Norilsk where more than fifty Jehovah’s Witnesses had gathered, later carrying out searches in some of their homes, according to a report posted the next day on the religious organization’s website. A source in law enforcement confirmed that the raid had happened, according to local news website Tayga.info.

“Masked commandos broke into the building and ordered everyone who was there to surrender their telephones and tablets,” said the report on the Jehovah’s Witness website. Some of the people were then taken away in minivans to be interrogated or have their homes searched. Witnesses noticed the Norilsk Nickel logo on some of the vans.

There is information about searches in five homes. They lasted around five hours. Police confiscated Bibles, computers, tablets, and telephones from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The interrogations took place at the local headquarters of the Russian Investigative Committee. The people interrogated were asked questions from a questionnaire consisting of twenty-five questions. In particular, they were asked about their affiliation with the “forbidden” faith.

According to Tayga.info’s source, criminal charges have been filed against the leader of the local Jehovah’s Witness community.

On April 20, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist” organization, abolishing it and banning it from operating in Russia. In August of the same year, all local Jehovah’s Witness organizations in Russia were banned, setting off a subsequent wave of criminal cases against members of the church.

In February 2019, a court handed down the first sentence against a Jehovah’s Witness involving a long term of imprisonment: Danish national Dennis Christensen was sentenced to six years in prison. He has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has promised to review it.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Marrying the Mob

DSCN1068

On Facebook, I regularly push stories about Syria and, especially, Russia’s criminally disastrous involvement there. Unfortunately, it has had no visible effect on any of my Russian Facebook friends with one exception.

I should thank Allah for that many “converts.”

In international politics, marriages of convenience among dictators and wannabe dictators always lead to mayhem and unintended fallout for the innocent bystanders in their immediate vicinity.

Let us pretend, for the sake of argument, that Trump and his campaign really did not collude with Putin and other Russian government officials to sway the 2016 US presidential election.

Even if that were the case, Trump’s overweening admiration for Putin’s style of bad governance has still had catastrophic effects on the country he is supposed to be leading

For someone like me who is all too familiar with the bag of tricks known, maybe somewhat inaccurately, as Putinism, it has been obvious Trump wants to steer the US in a quasi-Putinist direction.

While the republic, its states, and the other branches of government can mount a mighty resistance by virtue of the power vested in them, Trump can still cause lots of damage as an “imperial” president, even if he is booted out of the White House two years from now.

Likewise, Russians can imagine there is a far cry between living in a country whose cities are besieged and bombed by the country’s dictator, and what Putin has been doing in Syria. What he has been doing, they might imagine, mostly stays in Syria, except for Russian servicemen killed in action there, whose names and numbers are kept secret from the Russian public.

In reality, it is clear that the Kremlin’s neo-imperialist turn in Ukraine, Syria, etc., has made the regime far more belligerent to dissidents, outliers, weirdos, “extremists,” and “terrorists” at home.

Over the last five years, more and more Russians have fallen prey to their homegrown police and security services either for what amount to thought crimes (e.g., reposting an anti-Putinist meme on the social network VK or organizing nonexistent “terrorist communities”) or what the Russian constitution does not recognize as a crime at all, such as practicing one’s religion (e.g., Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses do)

Putin has adopted an Assadist mindset, therefore. He, his cronies, and the ever-expanding Russian security services, whose mission is making the paranoia of their superiors come true by meeting quotas of harassed, interrogated, arrested, tortured, jailed and convicted “extremists” per quarter, have come to imagine the only way to avoid the mess in which Assad found himself is to hammer anyone in Russia who sticks their necks out too far, whether intentionally or not, that everyone else will get the clue dissent and even plain difference come with a heavy price tag and reduce theirs to an invisible minimum.

Things were not exactly peachy during the first years of the Putin regime, but they became a hell of a lot worse after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine and went flying off to Syria to save Assad’s bacon from the fire of popular revolution.

As long as Russia remains entrenched in those places, there can be no question of progress on the home front, especially when the vast majority of Russians pretend very hard not to know anything about Syria and their country’s involvement there, and have grown accustomed to the Ukrainian muddle, meaning they mostly avoid thinking about what has really been happening in Eastern Ukraine, too. {TRR}

Thanks to the fabulous Sheen Gleeson for the first link. Photo by the Russian Reader

Torturing Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Career Booster

yermolayevVladimir Yermolayev, head of the Russian Investigative Committee in Surgut

Russian Investigative Committee Investigators Accused of Torturing Jehovah’s Witnesses Recognized as Outstanding in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region
Znak.com
April 23, 2019

Vladimir Yermolayev, head of the Russian Investigative Committee office in Surgut and Investigator Sergei Bogoderov, whom followers of the religious organization Jehovah’s Witnesses, banned in Russia as “extremist,” accused of torturing them, have been recognized by their superiors as among the most outstanding employees in the committee’s regional directorate.

The recognition for their outstanding work was reported on website of the Russian Investigative Committee’s Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region Directorate, to which the Surgut office reports. According to the directorate, Yermolayev was among the top three heads of local offices in 2018 in terms of professional outcomes, ranking second overall. He yielded first place to Dmitry Kuznechekov from Pyt-Yak while outpacing Alexander Zakharov from Kogalym.

Bogoderov was also awarded second place by his superiors in the category “Best Investigator.” First and third places were awarded to Investigator Ruslan Mukharyamov, from Yugorsk, and Stanislav Tomak, from Nizhnevartovsk.

“The staff of the investigative directorate congratulates the winners and wishes them further success in their professional careers,” reads the press release issued by the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region’s Investigative Directorate.

On February 15, 2018, raids were carried out on the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut. Criminal charges were filed against two dozen adherents of the religious doctrine. They were charged with establishing an “extremist” community and involvement in an “extremist” community. Three of the believers were remanded in custody. Three weeks later, one of the men was released. After they spent two months in a remand prison, the other two men were released on their own recognizance by a court, which denied Yermolayev and Bogoderov’s motion to extend their time in police custody. All three men still face criminal charges, however.

A few days after the February 15, 2018, dragnet, several of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been detained claimed that, while they were in custody at the Russian Investigative Committee’s Surgut Investigative Branch, they had been strangled with plastic bags, doused with water, tasered, injected with a life-threatening unknown substance, and threatened with sexual violence.

In late March, lawyers representing the Surgut Jehovah’s Witnesses held a press conference in Moscow at which they presented reporters with the findings of an investigation of the torture, undertaken by independent experts. The lawyers and the accused also identified the investigators who, according to them, were involved in torturing them in Surgut.

The lawyers noted Yermolayev’s particular role in humiliating the detainees and forcing them to testify. They claimed it was Yermolayev who ordered Investigative Committee investigators and field officers to torture the detainees until they supplied them with the testimony needed to file criminal charges for establishing an “extremist” community.

The Surgut Investigative Office and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region Investigative Directorate have consistently denied accusations they employed torture. They explained the injuries on the bodies of the suspects, as documented by experts, were caused by “vigorous resistance.”

Last week, it transpired that the Yugra District Court found the searches carried out by the Investigative Committee in the homes of two suspected Jehovah’s Witnesses, Yevgeny Kayryak and Vyacheslav Boronos, had been illegal. According to the defense lawyers, this underscores the “professionalism” of investigators.

Kayryak and Boronos have also claimed they were tortured on the day they were detained.

Artyom Kim, arrested by Investigator Bogoderov on February 15, 2019, on suspicion of “extremism,” recounted how he was tortured by law enforcement officers at the Surgut Investigative Office in a video posted on Russia human rights activist Lev Ponoromaryov’s YouTube channel on April 3, 2019.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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:

_________________________________________

SM-100S-bFeatures:

  • 100,000 Volts
  • 4.5″ Tall
  • Safety Switch
  • Wrist Strap
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Uses One 9V Energizer Eveready Alkaline Battery (not included)

How To Use:

  • A short blast of 1/4 second will startle an attacker, cause minor muscle contractions and have a repelling effect.
  • A moderate length blast of 1 to 4 seconds can cause an attacker to fall to the ground and result in mental confusion.  It may make an assailant unwilling to continue an attack, but will be able to get up almost immediately.
  • A full charge of 5 seconds can immobilize an attacker, cause disorientation, loss of balance, falling to the ground and leave them week and dazed for several minutes afterward.

Note: This Stun Master stun gun will have an effect anywhere on the body, but the maximum effect is in the following areas:

  • Upper Shoulder
  • Below Rib Cage
  • Upper Hip

How Stun Guns Work:

The stun gun does not rely on pain for results. The energy stored in the gun is dumped into the attacker’s muscles causing them to do a great deal of work rapidly.

This rapid work cycle instantly depletes the attacker’s blood sugar by converting it to lactic acid. In short, he is unable to produce energy for his muscles, and his body is unable to function properly. The stun gun also interrupts the tiny neurological impulses that control and direct voluntary muscle movement. When the attacker’s neuromuscular system is overwhelmed and controlled by the stun gun he loses his balance.

Should the attacker be touching you, the current will NOT pass to your body! Stun Master has been a leading brand in the stun gun industry since 1994 making it a true icon in the world of self-defense. This type of success for so many years in a competitive field is the finest recommendation any product could be given.

Source: DIY Home Protection

_________________________________________

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.

Alexander Verkhovsky: Russia’s Campaign Against “Religious Extremism”

yaltinskoe_delo_hizb_ut_tahrir_1.jpgRussia has used its official ban on the Muslim movement Hizb ut-Tahrir to go after Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea, such as these six men, charged in the so-called Yalta Case. The fact that the defendants are neither terrorists nor members of Hizb ut-Tahrir has not stopped Russian authorities from prosecuting them for these imaginary crimes. Courtesy of Crimean Tatar Resource Center

Russia’s Campaign Against “Religious Extremism” Has Been Expanding: It Should Be Reined In
Alexander Verkhovsky
Nezavisimaya Gazeta
March 5, 2019

The dramatic events of recent weeks surrounding the Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the harsh prison sentence handed down to Dennis Christensen, and the torture of detained believers in Surgut, make us wonder how unique what has been happening to them has been.

First, we should recall the bare facts. The Russian authorities have banned numerous texts published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, including their translation of the Bible into Russian. All their local branches have been banned and their property confiscated. More than forty criminal cases are underway, cases in which 120 people, aged 23 to 84, have been charged. Twenty-five of those charged have been remanded in custody. All of them have been charged with going on with the work of a banned “extremist” organization (punishable under Article 282.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), although this amounted only to holding prayer meetings and group discussions

The Russian Supreme Court decided to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses completely on April 20, 2017. Criminal cases based on the ban were launched a year later, that is, over a hundred suspects were charged in a matter of ten months, and yet not a single case has gone to court yet.

In fact, Christensen was convicted on the basis of an earlier ban of a local Jehovah’s Witness branch. There were eight such bans of local branches. Unlike his co-religionists, convicted earlier under the same ban, Christensen was sentenced to actual prison time. After the so-called Yarovaya package was adopted by the Russian parliament, he had to be sentenced to no less than six years in prison, and this was what happened. It should make us extremely concerned about what will happen to current and future suspects, especially the ones now jailed in remand prisons.

But what has happened to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is not unique. In exactly the same way, the peaceable followers of the fundamentalist movement Tablighi Jamaat and the peaceable followers of the quite moderate Turkish theologian Said Nursi have been banned in Russia and persecuted under the same law in the Russian Criminal Code.

The pattern was the same. First, the texts published by the groups were banned because, allegedly, they claimed the superiority of their religious doctrines to others and contained hostile descriptions of non-believers. Then, the organizations themselves were banned for the same reasons, including using the banned texts in their worship services. Finally, the Russian authorities prosecuted believers for “going on with the work” of their now-banned organizations. Moreover, the courts usually gave defendants probation sentences at first. Subsequently, however, people convicted on the same charges were sent to prison and the sentences handed down were harsher.

The Muslim activists were also tortured by Russian law enforcement. The current shock over events in Surgut can be put down to the fact that Russian society is in some sense inured to the torture of Muslims suspected of “radicalism.”

The Russian Supreme Court banned all three groups: the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the followers of Said Nusri, and Tablighi Jamaat. For some reason, it paid no mind to the fuzzy definition of “extremism” to which it resorted in all three rulings. It is true that all three religious doctrines claim only their way is the true way and that all other ways are false, and their texts occasionally contain rather harsh descriptions of non-believers. The current Russian legal definition of “extremism” is such that these things can be considered evidence of “extremism,” but you could find more or less the same things in nearly all religious doctrines. Such claims are typical of confessions of faith, and, as such, they are protected by the Russian Constitution.

With regard to criminal cases of incitement to hatred, including religious hatred, in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that criticism of religious convictions, religious rituals, and religious groups is not a criminal offense. For some reason, however, this ruling has not been applied in civil cases banning religious literature and organizations, although the conflict between the procedure for banning religious “extremism” and Russia’s constitutionally enshrined freedom of conscience is striking. Perhaps unraveling this conflict is a job for the Russian Constitutional Court?

Returning to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we should again pay attention to the scale of their persecution. The number of accused Jehovah’s Witnesses in terms of one calendar year has been much greater than the numbers of the two Muslim groups mentioned. It is more comparable to the persecution of the radical movement Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islaami.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was banned in 2003 as a terrorist group, although it has not been implicated in terrorism. The Russian authorities were clearly in a hurry to ban it, so the actual danger it posed or did not pose to the constitution was not even at issue. Members of the movement have been charged under the anti-terrorist laws in the criminal code, and so their prison sentences have been even harsher. But there are similarities with the other religious groups we have been discussing: participating in group gatherings and reading the same texts were offered as evidence of their criminal deeds.

Another serious conflict emerges in this case between the Russian Constitution and the articles in the Russian Criminal Code dealing with “extremist” (Article 282.2) and “terrorist” (Article 205.5) groups. Let us assume for simplicity’s sake that a group has been banned altogether legitimately. When this happens, the group’s formal and informal members are obliged to honor the court’s ban. But they have not changed their views, and they still associate with the same group of people. It is likely they would want to discuss what to do in the circumstances: perhaps, for example, establishing a new group based on slightly different principles. If we are dealing with a dangerous group that has been rightfully outlawed, such discussions and meetings could not help but interest the police and security services, but they are hardly criminal in their own right, for these people have not been deprived of their basic civic rights, including the right to assemble. Besides, not only active members could take part in these meetings but also outsiders, and yet law enforcement does not especially distinguish between the two groups of people in practice.

These problems are more apparent when we speak of religious communities. The Russian Constitution enshrines the right to practice one’s religion both alone and in the company of others. The work of any religious organization mainly consists in praying together and other joint activities, such as confessing and preaching as part of religious services. If a religious association has been banned, its members are in effect barred from exercising their constitutional right. If Russia’s current anti-“extremist” laws are meant to enact such severe restrictions of a fundamental human right, this have never been explicitly stated. So, again, one would like the Russian Constitutional Court to issue a clarification. It is, after all, a matter of tens of thousands of Russian nationals potentially facing criminal charges.

Since there have not been any clarifications, and the current crackdown has only been picking up steam, many have wondered how it happened. There is hardly a single, simple answer to this question. We might say that in their campaign against potentially dangerous movements, the Russian authorities have gone much too far and made a considerable number of mistakes. One of the reasons is that they listened to politically and religiously biased “experts,” and they continue to heed their advice, judging by the way the anti-“extremist” campaign has progressed in the religious realm. Our many years of experience with these cases have shown that counterarguments by religious studies scholars and legal experts rarely reverse the current tendency. They prove useful only when the authorities are willing to listen to them for reasons of their own.

The growing campaign against the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been horrifying, but there is also the chance that this time someone in the elite will finally come to their senses and change their mind. The Jehovah’s Witnesses clearly pose no threat whatsoever to Russian national security. Moreover, it is clearly just as impossible to eradicate their religion in Russia, since it would be wrong to jail or force over 100,000 people to emigrate, especially since Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses did not give up their faith in the worst of times.

The problem, however, is whether the officials who make key decisions about large-scale crackdowns could find acceptable means for reconsidering their earlier decisions. If this does happen, it matters, given the constitutional conflicts described above, whether anti-“extremist” policies will be reconsidered, if only in the religious realm.

Alexander Verkhovsky is director of the SOVA Information and Analysis Center. Thanks to Nikolay Mitrokhin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader