People “Hug” Park in Surgut to Save It from Developers

Surgut Residents “Hug” Park to Protect It from Redevelopment
Activatica
November 18, 2019

Residents of Surgut who oppose construction of a bus station near the Griboyedov Interchange carried out a flash mob in which they tried to “hug” a forest park slated to be cut down to make way for the construction site. Over three hundred people took part in the protest, reports Nakanune.ru. Residents literally formed an makeshift human shield to protect the green zone.

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Residents of the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st districts joined hands and formed a circle around the forest park, where a bus station is scheduled to be built.

“Surgut residents have protested against construction of the new facility. Many of them are certain it will lead to gridlock on that section of the highway, as well as destroying trees,” said one of the protesters.

On November 11, the Surgut Investment Council approved construction of a new bus station near the Griboyedov Interchange. The investor is Nizhnevartovsk Passenger Transport Company No. 1, which has committed itself to building the new station, investing over 200 million rubles into it.

As Federal Press reports, residents of the neighborhoods near the interchange met with Surgut Deputy Mayor Alexei Zherdiyev on November 15. During the meeting, residents voiced their fears about the new facility. They argued tat the planned construction would make traffic in the area even worse. They also said that the forest slated to be cut down is a place where many of them go to walk and relax. Zherdiyev assured them that, since two roads were now being built in the area, and funds for another three roads were being raised, this would reduce traffic at the existing interchanges. He also announced the creation of the Quantorium Technology Park and reconstruction of a local park. However, he gave no exact or approximate deadlines for the projects.

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Mayor Vadim Shuvalov reacted to the protest.

“The flash mob against construction of a bus station near the Griboyedov Interchange has shown me two things. First, the residents of Surgut are strong, tight-knit people who love their city. I deeply respect you for that. Second, we have not talked enough about the project itself, so there has been a lot of speculation and rumors. We are going to be more proactive in informing the populace about plans to develop Surgut’s infrastructure. We are often rightly criticized for the quality of roads and some new decisions. But all changes require thoroughness, dialogue, and sometimes compromise. I invite you to discuss the issue of the bus station together. I have ordered my aides to schedule a meeting with residents,” Shuvalov wrote on social media.

Photos courtesy of Agit Rossiya and Activatica. Translated 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:

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Source: DIY Home Protection

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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.

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