Thursday, February 18, 2021

Russian Courts Ignore Russian Law to Impose Increasingly Harsh Sentences on Jehovah’s Witnesses, Rights Leaders Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 17 – Many have been horrified by the increasing number of increasingly draconian sentences imposed on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia ( But what they should really be outraged by is that Russian courts are ignoring Russia’s own laws to do this.

            Vladimir Ryakhovsky, a member of the Presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, says that judges are justifying the long sentences they are imposing by referring to the 2017 decision that banned the organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation (

            “But as far as I know,” he continues, “from the very first case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they assert that they have no relation to the prohibited organization and are simply followers of a doctrine.” Given that the Russian Constitution gives everyone the right to do that, invocation of the court case provides no justification for what the courts are doing.

            “The teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was not prohibited in our country,” Ryakhovsky continues. And if it happens that followers assemble at home or online to discuss it, they are not violating the law unless it can be shown that they are taking an active part in banned organizations, something the Russian courts aren’t troubling themselves to do.

            What the courts are thus doing, he suggests, is to ban a faith, an action that is both illegal and unconstitutional.

            Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the head of the SOVA Information and Analysis Center and another member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, agrees. He says that “it is impossible to understand the logic” of the punishments that Russian courts are now meting out against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

            “It seems to me,” he continues, that such sentences “depend on the personal attitudes of local prosecutors, judges and also the FSB which takes part in all of this.” They are the ones who are acting illegally and unconstitutionally, not the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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