TAGANROG, Russia—In an escalation of their attempts to criminalize the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian authorities have opened two new criminal cases under Article 282.2 (1) and (2) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which penalizes those organizing or participating in the activities of an extremist organization. The charges carry a hefty fine and imprisonment for up to three years.
The two new criminal cases involve fifteen of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including families with children. Some have received written orders not to leave the city. The investigation began in April 2011 after a police officer, feigning interest in the Bible, infiltrated a peaceful religious meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses and filmed the gathering using a hidden video camera. As a result, 19 homes of the Witnesses were searched in August 2011, and criminal charges quickly followed.
Such prosecution is nothing new and appears to intensify unjust and hostile actions against the Witnesses. In December 2009, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dismissed an appeal of the Taganrog Witnesses, and their legal entity was liquidated. Viktor Zhenkov, an attorney representing the Taganrog Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, remarked: “The liquidation of their legal entity does not abolish the constitutional right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to freedom of religion. The teachings and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses are still lawful throughout Russia, including Taganrog. In addition, an appeal contesting the liquidation is pending before the European Court, which has consistently condemned Russia for violating Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to freedom of religion.”