Staunton, May 21 – One of the most disturbing but instructive aspects of the current regime in Russia is that while decisions to move against this or that group are taken in Moscow, they are often first implemented against that group in places far from the Russian capital, testing the reaction of Russians and others and even “normalizing” repression.
That is clearly the case with the Jehoavh’s Witnesses whose members and communities in distant parts of the Russian Federation have been treated typically earlier and worse than in major cities at least in part because groups in such faraway locations have fewer opportunities to attract attention.
That makes what happens in such places even more important to report because those who care about human rights in Russia need to ensure that Moscow is never able to conclude that it can act with complete impunity in places where there are no foreign embassies or foreign journalists.
And because it often happens that reports about what goes on in such places arrives long after the events described even in this Internet age and thus is ignored by journalists and others as somehow no longer news, it is important to report not only as a bellwether of larger trends but also because people wherever they live deserve to have their rights respected.
Today, the Jehovah’s Witness in Russia reported on a case of repression that began two years ago in Kolyma, a region of the Russian Far East best known if at all to the outside world because of Varlam Shalmanov’s Kolyma Tales about the GULAG inmates there (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5EC624E4C249B§ion_id=4354A73076FEC).
Everything began two years ago when the Magadan FSB opened a criminal case against 13 local Witnesses for supposed extremism. One of their number, Konstantin Petrov, 34, says that he and the others were arrested by masked men and threatened with “serious problems” if they did not cooperate with investigators.
He and three of those refused and were confined in Magadan’s preliminary detention center, although they were later released to home detention. They are thus victims of the same kind of official violence that was visited on their ancestors there, whose mistreatment in Stalin’s times is recalled them by a memorial to political repression.
Officials in Moscow claim that the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia aren’t being persecuted for their faith, although what is going on out of public view beyond the ring road makes such claims ring hollow, as does the fact that the European Court for Human Rights has accepted appeals from members of the denomination.