Staunton, Mar. 15 – The number of new cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation fell almost 50 percent last year as Russian investigators, prosecutors and courts shifted their attention to anti-war activists. But Moscow sent a clear signal that this does not mean that repression against the Witnesses is going to lessen in the longer term.
The SOVA human rights organization and other groups report that after Putin’s war in Ukraine began, the number of new cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of the most persecuted groups in Russia today, fell by almost half, leading some to speak about “a breathing space” for the group (idelreal.org/a/32317422.html).
But if the number of new cases fell because even investigators, prosecutors and courts have only so much time, the central government in Moscow sent a clear signal that persecution of the Witnesses not only will continue but may even intensify once the powers that be have the opportunity.
This signal took the following form: officials in Moscow took the lead in seeking the reversal on appeal of the few cases in which regional courts gave Witnesses lighter sentences than the law allows or even exonerating them altogether. Not surprisingly, Moscow has been successor in all this effort.
As a result, those Witnesses who received lighter sentences in the past will be going to prison longer or paying greater fines and those who have not yet been charged are fearful that the future is anything but bright for them despite the decline in the number of cases in the last 12 months.
This pattern also highlights something else: Moscow is making clear to officials and judges in the regions that it will not tolerate any weakening of the Kremlin’s effort to wipe out the Witnesses in Russia – even if in some regions, officials and judges see little reason to continue this criminal and unconstitutional campaign.