Country Conditions In Russia: Jehovah Witnesses
Russia is a country that declares itself as "secular" by way of formal presentation. It poses to embrace all and sundry. The written laws of Russia present an acceptable degree of freedom of thoughts, beliefs, and personal values as well as respect for human rights. How then are these rights exercised? Are the written laws in full practice? Are the rights of a person or people respected or are there limitations to these rights in practice? How are the persons of different religious orientations treated? Is there a bias in the form of treatment meted out to people based on their religious orientation? These and more, are questions that should come to mind in the course of this article. We will do our best to give meaningful answers.
Human Rights Activities In Russia
A human rights report for the year 2020 released by the US Department of State on Russia goes at length to examine the degradation of value for human rights in Russia. The country (Russia) no doubt has laws that protect the human rights of its citizens to an acceptable level. Yet, factors such as impunity of the military and other law enforcement agencies have ensured a fast decline in the respect for human rights. The report also depicts the part played by the Russian government or its proxies in the infringement of human rights.
The report is divided into seven sections bothering on:
- Respect for the integrity of the person, including freedom from; arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, etc.
- Respect for Civil Liberties, including; freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of religion, etc.
- Freedom to participate in the political process.
- Official corruption and lack of transparency in government.
- Governmental attitude regarding international Nongovernment investigation of alleged abuses of Human Rights.
- Discrimination, societal abuses, and trafficking in persons.
- Worker rights.
The above issues discussed amongst others, how religiously and ethnically disadvantaged persons are being treated in the State of Russia. A set of persons who suffer from this bias are Jehovah's Witnesses who are considered as "extremists" by the Russian government.
Russia and Jehovah's Witnesses
According to a poll conducted by the independent Levada Center in 2020, it was discovered that Jehovah's Witnesses accounted for barely one percent of Russia's total population. In 2017, the ruling of the Supreme Court in Russia declared the Jehovah's Witnesses Administrative Center an extremist organization. To this effect, all Jehovah's Witnesses' activities including the website of the organization and its regional branches were and are still banned. According to the court's ruling, the constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief, but this right is limited by other rights, including existing civil peace and harmony. See here.
Based on independent reports made by religious groups and NGOs, the government of Russia continued to investigate, torture, arrest, incarcerate, and physically abuse persons on account of their religious beliefs or association. Authorities of the Russian Government still accuse religious minorities of extremism.
Vladimir Putin’s lock on Russia’s leadership since 2000 has given the Russian Orthodox Church an even more commanding position in the country’s religious picture.
According to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2019, the Russian government:
Throughout the year, authorities continued to enforce the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling that banned and criminalized the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” by raiding homes, seizing personal property, detaining hundreds of suspected members, and sentencing individuals to prison. There were reports that authorities physically abused Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of other religious minority groups in detention. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media reports, on February 15, Investigative Committee officials in Surgut detained seven male Jehovah’s Witnesses. The detainees said that during their interrogation, authorities put bags over their heads, sealed the bags with tape, tied the men’s hands behind their backs, beat them, stripped them naked, doused them with water, and shocked them with stun guns. Authorities continued to fine, detain, and imprison members of other religious minority groups and organizations for alleged extremism, including individuals belonging to the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. As of the end of the year, the human rights NGO Memorial identified 245 persons who were imprisoned for their religious beliefs or affiliation, an increase from 177 in 2018.
According to a report released in December 2020 by Jehovah's Witnesses on the repression of faith, 427 followers were officially in the status of accused, suspected, indicted, convicted, or acquitted. 146 of these persons, learned of criminal persecution in 2020. With an increase in criminal cases being opened against Jehovah's Witnesses across the country, more persons are being convicted on account of their faith. Many are unhealthily detained in penal colonies and detention facilities. In the year 2020 alone, over 400 searches were made in the private residence of members of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization or their affiliates. This resulted in the breaching of the constitutional rights of persons to liberty and security of person, privacy, personal and family secrets, honor, and good name. jw-russia.org (Jehovah's Witnesses Under the Yoke of Repression: Results of 2020).
Some Stories of Human Rights Violation on Jehovah's Witnesses.
With Jehovah's Witnesses being on the top list of Russia's extremist sect, there has been quite a lot of abuse perpetrated against them. For example, on February 10, 2020, officers from the Russian National Guard handcuffed Vadim Kutsenko, a resident of Chita. They took him into a local forest, where his face and neck were beaten and suffocated. He was forced to admit being a practicing member of Jehovah's Witnesses with the use of a Taser. When Vadim reported his ordeal to authorities, he was ignored and instead sent to a temporary detention center along with three other members of Jehovah's Witnesses. As gathered by media reports, Vadim sought medical attention after his release, which confirmed his trauma.
According to the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, a 61-year-old Viktor Malkov died 3 months after being released from his 8 months detention. Malkov, detained on the grounds of extremism due to his religious beliefs, was refused medical attention by prison officials when he sought it for his heart disease and kidney problems.
These and many more are stories of human rights violations of persons associated with Jehovah's Witnesses, who are considered extremists by the Russian Government.
It is not only dangerous, but according to the Russian government it is “criminal” to be a Jehovah’s Witness in Russia. The meetings of the congregations must be conducted in secret for if discovered, the attendees will face criminal chargers. “Russia's mysterious campaign against Jehovah's Witnesses” See. Not only that, there is a great chance that a Jehovah Witness will end up locked up in a psychiatric ward by the hands of the government. Id.
As such, Russian government systematically is involved in persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses where one may be subjected to arrest, detention, torture, threat of rape and violence, threat of deprivation of parental rights, and more just because of their religious affiliation.
You may find more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses Treatment in Russia form the following sources:
- Department of State Country Conditions Reports, Russia
- Religious Freedom Reports, Russia
- Human Right Watch
The Supreme Court Ruled to Liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Sova Center for Information and Analysis. April 20, 2017.
Russia Bans the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Just as the Soviet Union Did. The Economist. Aptil 29, 2017.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Adopted the Declaration on the Religious Freedom in Russia). SOVA Center for Information and Analysis. October 16, 2017.