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CRIMEA: Raids, another criminal case, four appeals

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Armed Russian FSB security service officers raided six Jehovah's Witness homes around Yalta, seizing religious literature. Artem Gerasimov faces "extremism"-related criminal charges with a maximum ten year jail term, the second Crimean Jehovah's Witness to face such charges. On 16 April, Russia's Supreme Court is due to hear appeals by four Muslims convicted in January of membership of the Muslim group Tabligh Jamaat.

On 20 March, armed Russian FSB security service officers raided at least six Jehovah's Witness homes in the southern Crimean city of Yalta and the nearby suburb of Alupka. At least one of the FSB officers was carrying what appeared to be an assault rifle over his shoulder, despite Jehovah's Witnesses known for being pacifist. Officers seized religious literature, money and other documents, and took several people for interrogation.

FSB officers seized Jehovah's Witness literature, much of which has been banned as "extremist" in Russia. However, they also seized Bible translations and a Bible concordance used by Russian Orthodox, Protestants and others and which the Russian authorities have not banned (see below).
 
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Crimean FSB headquarters, Simferopol
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The Crimean branch of the Russian FSB launched a criminal case against 34-year-old Yalta resident Artem Gerasimov. If eventually tried and convicted, he faces up to ten years' imprisonment. He has had to sign a pledge not to leave his home town as the FSB investigates the case against him (see below).

Gerasimov is the second Jehovah's Witness in Crimea facing investigation under Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 ("Organisation of the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity").

One of the FSB Investigators refused to discuss the case against Gerasimov with Forum 18 (see below).

The Russian FSB is still investigating the criminal case launched in November 2018 against 46-year-old fellow Crimean Jehovah's Witness Sergei Filatov. The launching of the criminal case was accompanied by coordinated raids on eight Jehovah's Witness family homes in the northern Crimean town of Dzhankoi involving an estimated 200 officers. One elderly Jehovah's Witness was tortured, while a young woman suffered a miscarriage soon after the raid (see below).

In January, Crimea's Supreme Court rejected challenges to their legality from three victims of the raids (see below).

Meanwhile, four Muslims convicted in January of membership of the banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat have appealed to Russia's Supreme Court in Moscow. Renat Suleimanov was jailed for four years, while the other three were given suspended sentences. The Supreme Court is due to begin hearing the appeals on the morning of 16 April (see below).

The four men had met in mosques to discuss their faith and denied meeting conspiratorially or promoting "extremism" (see below).

Suleimanov's lawyer told Forum 18 his client, who is 49, has refused to go to Moscow for the appeal hearing, saying he is too ill to travel all that distance. Suleimanov – who has been held since his October 2017 arrest - is still being held in Simferopol's Investigation Prison (see below).
 

"Extremist" organisations banned


Ukraine and the international community do not recognise Russia's March 2014 annexation of Crimea. After the annexation, Russia imposed its restrictions on freedom of religion and belief. 
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Russia's Supreme Court 
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Russia's Supreme Court 
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 Prosecutors in Russia 
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 Of these, at least 25 are in pre-trial detention and 26 under house arrest as of 2 April 2019. Others have had to sign pledges not to leave their home town without permission.

Following Russia's occupation of Crimea, the Russian authorities granted re-registration to Jehovah's Witness communities in Crimea, 
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Raid, interrogations, confiscations


On 20 March, armed Russian FSB security service officers raided at least six Jehovah's Witness homes in the southern Crimean city of Yalta and the nearby suburb of Alupka. Officers seized religious literature, money and other documents, and took several people for interrogation.

FSB attention focused on Yalta resident Artem Vyacheslavovich Gerasimov (born 13 January 1985). FSB officers took him for interrogation to Simferopol, a two-hour drive away, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

The FSB announced the same day that during the raids its officers had seized religious literature "banned in Russia", computers and other equipment and money, some of it in foreign currency.

FSB video of two of the raids – released to the local media – shows officers in camouflage with FSB in large letters on the back of their uniforms and individuals in civilian clothes raiding Gerasimov's and one other home. One of the FSB officers raiding Gerasimov's home appears to be carrying an infantry assault rifle over his shoulder (Jehovah's Witnesses are known to be pacifists). Most of the intruders are wearing masks covering their faces except for the eyes.

Officers place religious literature on a bed. Some of the titles are Jehovah's Witness publications, such as their "New World" version of the Bible, which 
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 Others however are Bible translations and a Bible concordance used by Russian Orthodox, Protestants and others and which have not been banned.
 

Criminal case


Following the 20 March raids, the Crimean branch of the Russian FSB security service issued a statement to the local media. "It was established that a 34-year-old inhabitant of Yalta organised the activity of the local Jehovah's Witness organisation, conducted meetings, religious events and propaganda of the ideas of the given religious sect, as well as attracting new adherents to its ranks."

The FSB announced that it had launched a case against one individual (whom it did not name) under Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 ("Organisation of the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity").

The FSB released Gerasimov later in the day after he signed a pledge not to leave his home town without permission from the FSB Investigator. He was allowed to return to his home in Yalta, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

The criminal case against Gerasimov is being led by FSB investigators Aleksandr Lavrov and Sergei Bosiev. Forum 18 reached Investigator Bosiev at the FSB headquarters in Simferopol on 1 April, but as soon as it had introduced itself he put the phone down.
 

First criminal investigation continues


The Russian FSB security service is still investigating the criminal case against Jehovah's Witness Sergei Viktorovich Filatov (born 6 June 1972) in the northern Crimean town of Dzhankoi on the same "extremism"–related charges. He too faces a maximum possible prison term of ten years under Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1.

The criminal case – 
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 – was the first against Jehovah's Witnesses in occupied Crimea. Like Gerasimov, Filatov had to sign a pledge not to leave his home town.

"Interrogations of Sergei are continuing," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. The FSB security service commissioned five "expert analyses". Only one – to study the characteristics of his voice – has been completed, they added. This implies that the FSB has recordings that they believe are of Filatov.

The FSB investigator Lieutenant Aleksandr Chumakin in Simferopol – who is leading the investigation of Filatov's case - again refused to talk to Forum 18 on 2 April.

Five days after the criminal case was opened, 
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Filatov tried to challenge the case against him, but Crimea's Supreme Court rejected these challenges in November 2018.

On 17 January 2019, and despite not having been convicted of any crime, Filatov was added to the Rosfinmonitoring "List of Terrorists and Extremists", whose assets banks are obliged to freeze (although small transactions are permitted).
 

Crimean Supreme Court rejects challenges to raids


Three other Jehovah's Witnesses whose homes were raided in November 2018 tried to challenge their legality.
 
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Crimean Supreme Court, Simferopol
krymr.org (RFE/RL)
Court decisions seen by Forum 18 reveal that FSB investigator Lieutenant Chumakin sought permission from Simferopol's Kiev District Court on 14 November 2018 for the raids "with the aim of finding items of significance for the criminal case" against Filatov. 

Viktor Ursu (beaten and handcuffed during the raid and hospitalised afterwards), Liliya Bezhenar (whose husband Vladimir had to be hospitalised with a suspected stroke) and Vladimir Ostapchuk lodged suits against the search warrants on 11 January 2019 to Crimea's Supreme Court. However, in separate hearings on 31 January, Judge Alla Ovchinnikova rejected all three suits, according to the decisions seen by Forum 18.

Anna Turobova from the Crimean Prosecutor's Office in Simferopol led the case in court to reject the three victims' suits. Her telephone went unanswered each time Forum 18 tried to reach her on 2 April.
 

Moscow appeal for four convicted Muslims


The appeals of four Muslims convicted in January on charges of alleged membership of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat are due to begin at Russia's Supreme Court in Moscow at 10 am on 16 April, according to the court website.

The appeal is due to be heard at Russia's Supreme Court as it is the next level up from the men's original conviction at Crimea's Supreme Court in Simferopol.

The four men met openly in mosques to discuss their faith. 
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On 22 January, at the end of their trial, Judge Sergei Pogrebnyak convicted the men under Criminal Code Article 282.2. This punishes organisation of or involvement in "the activity of a social or religious association or other organisation in relation to which a court has adopted a decision legally in force on liquidation or ban on the activity in connection with the carrying out of extremist activity".

1) Renat Rustemovich Suleimanov (born 30 August 1969), Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1, four years' imprisonment in an ordinary regime labour camp, followed by one year under restrictions.
2) Talyat Abdurakhmanov (born 1953), Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 2, two and a half years' suspended sentence, with a two year probation period, plus one year under restrictions.
3) Seiran Rizaevich Mustafaev (born 2 January 1969), Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 2, two and a half years' suspended sentence, with a two year probation period, plus one year under restrictions.
4) Arsen Shekirovich Kubedinov (born 6 August 1974), Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 2, two and a half years' suspended sentence, with a two year probation period, plus one year under restrictions.

All four of those convicted lodged appeals to Russia's Supreme Court on 11 March. Two days later, the court assigned the appeals to a judge from the fourth criminal division.

Suleimanov's lawyer, Aleksandr Lesovoi, told Forum 18 from Simferopol on 1 April that his client has refused to go to Moscow for the appeal hearing, saying he is too ill to travel all that distance.
 

18 months in Investigation Prison already

 
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Investigation Prison No. 1, Simferopol
Google/DigitalGlobe

Suleimanov has been held since his October 2017 arrest in Simferopol's Investigation Prison. Until his appeal is decided, he is still deemed to be in pre-trial detention. During this time, each day of detention counts as a day and a half of his prison term.

Asked if Suleimanov has access to the Koran and is able to pray freely in prison, his lawyer Lesovoi responded: "He hasn't complained."

Suleimanov's address in Investigation Prison:

295006 Krym
g. Simferopol
Bulvar Lenina 4
Sledstvenny Izolyator No. 1
Suleimanovu Renatu Rustemovichu

(END)

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
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      Read full text in Russian
      Case of Gerasimov and Others in Yalta
      Region: 
      Crimea
      Locality: Yalta
      Case number: 11907350001000041
      Current stage: preliminary investigation (pre-trial proceedings)
      Suspected of: according to the investigation, together with others he conducted religious services, which is interpreted as organising the activity of an extremist organisation (with reference to the decision of the Russian Supreme Court on the liquidation of all 396 registered organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses)
      Article of the Russian Criminal Code: 282.2(1)
      Case initiated: 23 May 2017
      Investigating: Investigative Department of the Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia for the Republic of Crimea

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      By Guest Indiana
      Sergey Skrynnikov is the second of Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Oryol caught in the millstones of persecution for his faith. What helps him not to give up? What was his way to faith? What is his reaction to criminal prosecution? 
      Sergey first came in contact with Jehovah's Witnesses in 1973, when he was 11 years old. The family lived in a small village in eastern Ukraine. Under the conditions of Soviet anti-religious propaganda, his mother began studying the Bible with Jehovah's Witnesses. From her, then, Sergey first heard about God, about his Son and his Gospel. Since then he never doubted the truth of God's Word, this knowledge deeply embedded in his heart. But knowledge of the truth obliged him to build his life in harmony with God’s high standards. He was not ready for this at the time, and his life became a bad scenario. At the age of 25 he already abused alcohol, lost his job, lost his  family and decided to return to his mother in his native village, Manuylovka.
      How did Sergey come to this faith? His mother had underground publications of Awake! magazine, and she specifically left them for Sergey in the house. He gradually rethought his life, realizing that he heard what the Creator said, but he had not listened. So he began an intensive study of the Bible. He suggested to his mother to move somewhere far away from his drinking companions. They sold the house and moved to the town of Torez, where there was a community of Jehovah's Witnesses. Comparing biblical counsel  with his negative experience, he came to believe truth resides in the Bible.  In 1989, after a long search, he was baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
      Has Sergey's life changed for the better? As mentioned, because of his riotous lifestyle, his marriage to his wife, Nina, broke up, and they divorced. After some time, Nina learned from a friend that Sergey had become one of Jehovah's Witnesses—and could not believe it. But still she decided to write him a letter. This was the first step. Nina and Sergey already had a daughter who went to the first grade without ever really knowing her father. On vacation, they would visit. Nina became interested in the Bible's message and sound advice. A year later, in 1990, she too became one of Jehovah's Witnesses. She and Sergey decided to restore the marriage, because Jehovah, the God named in the Bible, is presented as hating divorce. So the Bible is credited with saving not only Sergey, but also his marriage.
      How was the further life of the family? Sergey is a physical education teacher by profession, having graduated from Bolkhov Pedagogical School. He taught at his profession, including the Oryol region. Nina is also a teacher. Somehow in her school a child was injured. Due to severe stress, Nina was paralyzed; for a year and four months she was bedridden. It was a hard time. One day, Nina suddenly said: “I want to go with you in the preaching ministry.” Sergey  discouraged her, but she insisted. So he dressed her, picked her up and carried her about 20 meters to their neighbor's, where he sat her down on a bench, and she started talking about the Bible with their neighbor. After 15 minutes they returned home. The next day, exactly the same but 30 minutes. Then an hour. And so over time, she began to walk. All thanks to the ministry. Now Nina is struggling with melanoma. Observed at the oncologist, she rejoices every day.
      Their daughter, Olesya, became one of Jehovah's Witnesses in 1994, and later married a fellow believer. When Sergey moved to Oryol to look after his wife's parents, Olesya and her family also moved with them, bringing four of her five children already born in Oryol. Sergey and Nina help raise their five grandchildren. Sergey calls Nina a devoted friend whose support is very important: "She knows by experience that Jehovah God is a caring and loving heavenly Father.”
      The large family adapted immediately when Sergey was arrested and criminal charges were lodged against him, alleging “extremism.”
      Speaking for the family, Sergey Skrynnikov said: 
      “When it all started, we were ready. Thanks to the care of Jehovah and loving elders, we were not caught off guard. The whole family quickly restructured and began to adapt to new circumstances. Nobody goes to extremes. However, sometimes in the depths of the soul you feel like a leper. You can not talk to anyone on the phone because of a possible interception. You can not go to visit your friends because of possible surveillance. It is impossible even to appear somewhere near the brothers because they will photograph us together, then the brothers will have problems. We live like in the Wild West.”
      Awaiting the court's verdict, the family said they all are eager to meet what God will allow. If He permits the government to sentence Mr. Skrynnikov to prison, it means that this is God's will and a new appointment for Sergey.  As his family sees it, millions of people are sitting in the prisons and have not heard anything of God’s Word. To quote Jesus Christ, “The fields are white for harvesting.” Mr. Skrynnikov says, "I am ready for everything and believe that my beloved God, Jehovah, will not forsake me. Every day he fills my heart with peace and joy, and it will always be so.”

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      After the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses* was considered to be an extremist one, and its activities were banned in Russia by the court, it became more difficult to defend them, rights defenders have stated. According to their version, the residents of Northern Caucasus, who have left the Islam, were especially suffering.
      The "Caucasian Knot" has reported that on April 20, 2017, the SC of Russia satisfied the demand of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to liquidate all the 396 religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses* in Russia as extremist.
      Rights defenders have faced the problem of protecting Jehovah's Witnesses* in various fields, including from domestic violence, Svetlana Gannushkina, the chair of the "Civil Assistance" Committee, told at a press conference in Moscow on March 28.
      In the course of the event, Ms Gannushkina told the story of a family living in the Caucasus, in which mother and daughter who had converted from Islam to Jehovah's Witnesses* were persecuted by the Muslim husband and father.
      An application from the mother of the minor daughter arrived in the "Civil Assistance" Committee about three years ago, when Jehovah's Witnesses* had not been labelled as an extremist organization. Then, the situation has worsened after Jehovah's Witnesses* became outlawed – now, rights defenders could not help the family, Ms Gannushkina has explained.
      "If they had converted, say, into Christian Orthodoxy, then, they could well turn to the police. But now they are believers of a banned organization; and we cannot protect them, because they can be accused of meeting their fellow believers, which is fraught with prison," Svetlana Gannushkina has concluded.
      With the help of the "Civil Assistance" Committee, the family managed to leave the Caucasus; now, the mother and daughter live in a shelter – a specialized camp for people who have no place to live, Ms Gannushkina has added.
      * The organization has been recognized as extremist in Russia, its activities are banned by the court

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      In February, a Russian court sentenced a Danish citizen who was a legal resident of Russia to six years in prison for such an extremist offence as organizing other Witnesses to shovel snow from their church’s property.
      A month later, Sergei Skrynnikov, a Russian and allegedly a Jehovah’s Witness, was charged with “participating in an extremist organization,” an offence under Russian law that could earn him up to six years in prison. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been fleeing Russia and seeking asylum in Germany and Finland to escape such harsh sentences.
      In China, state authorities harass Jehovah’s Witnesses and raid their meetings. Authorities also deport foreign Witness missionaries from countries such as South Korea.
      South Korea has only recently dropped a 2003 law prohibiting conscientious objection to fighting in its armed forces, a law that confined young Witness men — as well as other men — to jail.
      All these states violate international laws that protect religious freedom, including the freedoms of unpopular minorities. Article 18, 1 of the 1976 United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects everyone’s freedom to “have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice” and “to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
      A long history of persecution
      Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first groups the Nazis persecuted. There were about 25,000 to 30,000 Witnesses in Germany in 1933. About half of those who did not flee were convicted of various crimes and between 2,000 and 2,500 were sent to concentration camps, where about 1,000 died. About 250 were also executed.
      Some years ago I met a Jehovah’s Witness in the city where I live who told me the Nazis had beheaded his grandfather. Germany’s Jehovah’s Witnesses were not merely passive religious group that refused to adopt the Nazi ideology: they also actively tried to expose Nazi atrocities.
      In the 1960s and ‘70s in Malawi, entire villages of Jehovah’s Witnesses were burned, and many villagers were raped, tortured or murdered as they tried to flee. Their crime was refusal to participate in rituals of loyalty to the newly independent Malawian state and its president, Hastings Banda.
      The Malawi government denied me a visa in the early 1980s when I told its High Commission in Ottawa that I wanted to know what had happened to these Witnesses for research for my book, Human Rights in Commonwealth Africa.
      Many Witnesses in Rwanda, both Tutsi and Hutu, lost their lives during the 1994 genocide, many trying to hide people at risk of being murdered.Even now, Rwandan authorities expel some Witness children from school and have fired some Witness teachers because they refuse to sing the national anthem or participate in religious training.
      Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada
      Here in Canada, Jehovah’s Witnesses have not always enjoyed their rights to freedom of religion and expression.
      During the Second World War, Witness children were banned from schools in several locations because they would not salute the flag, sing the national anthem or repeat the pledge of allegiance. A Witness father sued the Hamilton Board of Education on behalf of his two sons, who had been expelled from school in 1940. In 1945, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, saying the Board was required to excuse students from participating in religious exercises to which their parents objected
      Read more: 
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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      At least six homes of local Jehovah's Witnesses were searched by officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on March 20, 2019, in the Crimean towns of Yalta and Alupka. A criminal case has been initiated against believers, citing the article 282.2(1), “Organization of the activities of an extremist organization.” Several persons were detained for interrogation. 34-year-old Artyom Gerasimov was taken to the republican center city of Simferopol.
      During the searches, computers and other electronic devices belonging to believers were seized, along with their Bibles. The case is led by FSB investigators A. Lavrov and S. Bosiyev.
      Earlier, on November 15, 2018, a major operation against the Witnesses took place in Dzhankoy (Crimea).

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      – JW Headquarters (19.03.2019) – Almost two years after the ban of their movement in Russia, 150 Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently under investigation.Already in 2019 Russian law enforcement has conducted raids on JWs in 10 cities in 6 regions (in 2018 Russian agents conducted 280 searches in about 40 regions throughout the Federation).
      Latest figures regarding JWs facing criminal charges throughout Russia:
      Pretrial Detention: 24
      House arrest: 26
      Ban on activities: 5
      Recognizance: 55
      Wanted: 4
      Another EU citizen detained in Russia: Andrzej Oniszczuk from Poland
      Andrzej Oniszczuk, 50, has been kept in solitary confinement for over five months, and is not permitted to lie down from 06:00 to 21:00. He is only allowed to take a shower with hot water once a week for 15 minutes. The administration of the detention center in Kirov refuses to allow Andrzej to have a Bible.
      For the five months Andrzej has been detained, his wife, Anna, has not been allowed to visit him and has only communicated with him by letter. She has submitted several requests to visit Andrzej in prison; however the investigator in Kirov has repeatedly denied her requests. Typically prisoners in Russia can have visits from close family members, so it is unclear why such extreme action has been taken to keep Anna from seeing her husband.
      You may recall that Andrzej was arrested on Oct 9, 2018, when local police and masked special-forces raided 19 homes and one former place of worship for JWs in Kirov, Russia. Andrzej is being accused of “extremist” activity for simply singing biblical songs, improving the skills of missionary work, and studying religious literature.
      At the outset, Andrzej Oniszczuk was forced to sign a document under duress wherein he agreed to refuse visits by the Poland Embassy, so the embassy was initially unable to contact/assist. However, after several requests by the embassy, they have finally been allowed to visit/assist Andrzej. The address where Andrzej is being held:  FKU SIZO-1, UFSIN of Russia, Kirov Region, ul. Mopra, d. 1, Kirov, 610004. Andrzej’s pretrial detention has been extended twice (now through April 2, 2019).
      A total of seven men in Kirov are facing criminal charges for practicing their faith. Four men (44-yr-old Maksim Khalturin, 66-yr-old Vladimir Korobeynikov, 26-yr-old Andrey Suvorkov, and 41-yr-old Yevgeniy Suvorkov) had been arrested in October 2018 and held in pretrial along with Andrzej. Yevgeniy continues in pretrial detention, however the three others have been released to house arrest. Two other men (63-yr-old Vladimir Vasilyev and 25-yr-old Vladislav Grigorenko) from Kirov have been under investigation since January 21, 2019 but are not yet under any restrictions.
      BIO: Andrzej was born October 3, 1968 in the city of Białystok in northeastern Poland. After graduating from school, he became a lathe operator. Andrzej enjoys reading Russian literature, especially Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, and Pasternak. In 1997, he moved to Russia and worked for himself in the city of Kirov. There he met Anna, and they married in 2002.
      Anna, Andrzej Oniszczuk’s wife, has agreed to talk to journalists (Polish or Russian only). Her phone number +7(961) 748 2088 (via Telegram or Signal).
      Sergey Skrynnikov under threat of three years in prison
      On the heels of the Zheleznodorozhniy District Court of Oryol sentencing Dennis Christensen to six years in prison, another one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sergey Skrynnikov, also from Oryol is being criminally tried at the same court for his peaceful worship as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and a verdict is expected on April 1, 2019.
      On 18 March, prosecutor Nadezhda Naumova recommended that the Court sentence 56-yr-old Sergey to three years in prison followed by one year of additional restrictions for so-called extremist activity. Closing statements by the defense will be next Thursday March 28, with the court’s verdict will be at 10am on Monday April 1.
      For more information, please contact Yaroslav Sivulskiy in Russia: (ysivulsk@jw.org; call or WhatsApp +7 985 359 34 10; +371 2 0044105).

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      Name: Yuriy Belosludtsev
      Born: [to be determined]
      Current status: [to be determined]
      Detained since: 18 March 2019 
      Current restrictions: pre-trial detention
      Currently held in: [to be determined

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      An EU citizen has been placed in solitary confinement, denied visitation with his wife and subjected to a grueling daily regimen while awaiting trial in central Russia, the Jehovah’s Witnesses told The Moscow Times.
      The federal penitentiary service of Kirov region did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
      Andrzej Oniszczuk, 50, was one of several adherents of the religious group detained in the Volga region of Kirov on extremism charges in October 2018. Russia labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization in 2017, leading to raids nationwide and the sentencing of a Danish national last month.
      “Andrzej has been kept in solitary confinement for over five months,” Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman Jarrod Lopes said in an emailed statement.
      Prison authorities prohibit Oniszczuk from lying down for 15 hours during the day, withhold the Bible and allow showers only once a week, the spokesman said. Oniszczuk’s wife has been denied several requests to visit him, Lopes told The Moscow Times.
      He said Polish diplomats were “finally” allowed to visit and assist the EU citizen despite Oniszczuk’s initial signature “under duress” to refuse visits from embassy staff.
      The organization said a total of 24 Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently held in pretrial detention in Russia, where 150 believers are under investigation on extremism charges.
      Lopes said in February that investigators in Siberia had stripped, suffocated, doused with water and applied stun guns on at least seven believers detained on extremism charges. Russia's Investigative Committee has denied the claims.

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      Name: Volosnikov Sergey Vladimirovich 
      Born: 1977
      Current status: [to be determined]
      Current restrictions: [to be determined]
      Biography
      On February 15, 2019, there were massive searches in the homes of believers in the city of Surgut. This was followed by the beating and torturing of believers. Sergey Volosnikov is one of seven Jehovah’s Witnesses who reported torture.

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      Question:  Why did Jehovah’s Witnesses  recently organize a worldwide letter writing campaign due to the persecution in Russia and not for other countries where there is also persecution?
    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      Based on official documentation dated March 1, 2019, the Russian federation has seized the Jehovah’s Witness administrative center campus worth $30.4 million US dollars. The property has been transferred to the Federal State-funded institution Almazov National Medical Research of the Ministry of Healthcare of the Russian Federation. According to a representative from JW, “the Russian government has schemed to effectively steal this property from our U.S. corp, claiming the U.S. corp’s ownership was invalid and that the property was really owned by JWs in Russia.”

      Read more at World Religion News: "Russia Confiscates $30.4 Million Property From Jehovah’s Witnesses" https://www.worldreligionnews.com/?p=59873
       

    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      Name: Khasan Abduvaitovich Kogut
      Born: 1983
      Current status: accused
      Detained since: 6 February 2019
      Time spent in prison: two days in the temporary holding facility in Berezovskiy
      Current restrictions: house arrest
      5 March 2019
       
      Case of Kogut in Berezovskiy
      Region: Kemerovo Region
      Locality: Berezovskiy
      Case number: 11907320001000083
      Current stage: preliminary investigation (pre-trial proceedings)
      Suspected of: according to the investigation they participated in religious services, which is interpreted as organising and participating in the activities of an extremist organisation (with reference to the decision of the Russian Supreme Court on the liquidation of all 396 registered organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses)
      Article of the Russian Criminal Code: 282.2(2)
      Case initiated: 6 February 2019
      Investigating: Investigative Department of the Directorate of the FSB of Russia for the Kemerovo Region
       

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      By Editorial Board
      March 2 at 7:09 PM
      RUSSIA’S PURSUIT of believers in the Jehovah’s Witnesses is reviving dark practices of the past. The worst of the Soviet Union’s interrogation methods appear to have been revived recently in the Siberian city of Surgut. Although today’s Russia was founded on principles of freedom of thought and worship, under a constitution that guarantees them, the security services behave as if Joseph Stalin were still around.
      In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses should be labeled an extremist organization. This is nonsense. The Jehovah’s Witnesses eschew subservience to the state; they refuse military service, do not vote and view God as the only true leader. For their convictions, they are suffering an intense crackdown by Russia’s security services. Raids against them have taken place in 40 regions. There are now 140 believers facing criminal charges, including 26 in pretrial detention and 26 others under house arrest.
      The latest assault on the Jehovah’s Witnesses is particularly shocking. According to the group, early in the morning of Feb. 15, security services carried out mass searches of homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut and the town of Lyantor, both in the region of Khanty-Mansi in Siberia. About 40 people were detained, and a criminal case opened against 19 believers, claiming they were either organizing or supporting an “extremist” organization.
      Seven of those detained were tortured between interrogation sessions in Surgut on the first floor of the Russian Investigative Committee’s offices, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses said. The spokesman said Russian security officers placed a bag over a suspect’s head, wrapped it with tape for suffocation, tied a suspect’s hands behind his back, smashed his fingers and beat him on his neck, feet and in the kidney area. They poured water over the detained men and applied electric shocks. The spokesman said the men were repeatedly questioned about the location of meetings, names of elders and for passwords to their phones. Three are still in detention. The investigative committee in Surgut denied the allegations but then said it would investigate. Amnesty International said its interviews “strongly indicate that torture and other ill-treatment did take place.”
      In his recent State of the Union address, President Trump boasted that he has “taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.” But he has been silent about the latest brutality against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Where is Vice President Pence, who has declared that religious freedom is a “top priority of this administration”? Or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo? They have failed to uphold the U.S. role as a beacon of hope to those suffering for their religious beliefs.
      Source: 
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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      One believer was jailed and four others placed under house arrest February 28, 2019, in Ulyanovsk.  Svetlana Chebukina, a judge of the Leninsky District Court of Ulyanovsk, sent 53-year-old Sergey Mysin to jail after he was accused of “organizing an extremist organization” in connection with his religion. His wife, Natalya, as well as Andrey Tabakov, 43, Khoren Khachikyan, 33, and  Mikhail Zelensky, 58, were placed under house arrest.
      The case against residents of Ulyanovsk who are suspected of being Jehovah's Witnesses was initiated by the local department of Federal Security Service (FSB). Worshippers are accused of “popularization of the ideas of Jehovah's Witnesses, promoting the superiority of these ideas over other religious teachings, finding venues for meetings of participants in this organization, and direct participation in meetings.” On February 27, their apartments were searched.
      According to the court order, Sergey Mysin must be detained in SIZO-1 in the Ulyanovsk Region until April 23, 2019, inclusive.
      Law enforcement officers repeatedly misconstrue normal worship as participation in the activities of an extremist organization. As these abuses mount, they have been noted and denounced by many observers including prominent public figures in Russia, the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation, the President of the Russian Federation, as well as international organizations like European External Action Service, observers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In actuality, Jehovah's Witnesses are in no way related to extremism and insist on their complete innocence. The Russian government has repeatedly stated that the decisions of the Russian courts to liquidate and ban the organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses “set out no assessment of the religious denomination of Jehovah’s Witnesses or limitation or prohibition to individually manifest the aforementioned denominations.”

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      Even Putin has suggested that the campaign against the religious minority may be unwarranted.
      Christians are the most widely persecuted religious believers around the globe. They are the most numerous people of faith worldwide. They also tend to evangelize, threatening established religions. Moreover, especially in some Muslim nations, local Christians are assumed to be strong supporters of Israel and agents of America and U.S. foreign policy. The result is an increasingly tenuous existence for Christians in many lands.
      However, smaller faiths tend to face more intense hostility. Jews, of course, are the traditional scapegoats for numerous ills. Bahá’is are seen by Muslims as apostates. And Jehovah’s Witnesses now are under sustained attack in Russia.
      JWs, as they are known (and call themselves), might seem an odd addition to that list. While active, their numbers remain relatively low, about 8.5 million worldwide. Their largest national home is America. The next two are Mexico and Brazil, which exist in a region with the least religious persecution. JWs reject any political role. They do not threaten the existing order anywhere.
      Yet Russia has imposed a six-year sentence on a Danish JW, Dennis Christensen, for “organizing the activity of an extremist organization.” In 2016 the government recognized the JW faith as “extremist”; the following year the country’s supreme court ruled the JW church to be an “extremist organization” and banned it. Although Christensen knew that his faith had been outlawed, explained the prosecutor, the JW unsurprisingly continued to proselytize, hold meetings, and distribute literature. He was arrested in May 2017 at a worship service and is now set to serve six years in a penal colony — which will be decidedly less pleasant than the prisons in Christensen’s homeland.
      Unfortunately, he is not the only such victim of Russian persecution. Last year Moscow launched a vigorous nationwide campaign against JWs. Earlier this month the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses published a special report, “Russia: State-Sponsored Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses Continues.”
      From September 2017 to January 2019, the church reported, the Putin government has mounted 300 raids, mostly of homes. Twenty-three people have been jailed, 27 have been placed under house arrest, 41 have been ordered to remain in their hometown, and 121 have been placed under investigation. The church has complained that government security agents use “heavy-handed tactics against the Witnesses as though they were dealing with hardened criminals. The authorities point guns in the face of Witnesses, including children and the elderly — and manhandle them.” Property worth $90 million is subject to confiscation. More than 100 properties, including the large administrative center, have already been seized, and some 300 more face confiscation.
      The report goes on to list the other JWs facing charges. They should not be forgotten.
      Three currently are on trial: Sergey Skrynnikov, Yuriy Zalipayev, and Arkadya Akopyan. (The latter is 71 years old.)
      In pretrial detention are Aleksandr Akopov, Vladimir Atryakhin, Dmitriy Barmakin, Konstantin Bazhenov, Sergey Britvin, Aleksey Budenchuk, Sergey Klimov, Vadim Levchuk, Feliks Makhammadiyev, Valeriy Moskalenko, Georgiy Nikulin, Andrzej Oniszczuk, Konstantin Samsonov, Yuriy Savelyev, Andrey Sazonov, Aleksandr Shevchuk, Nataliya Sorokina, Yevgeniy Spirin, Andrey Stupnikov, Shamil Sultanov, Yeveniy Suvorkov, and Mariya Troshina.
      Such a campaign might be appropriate against a terrorist organization. But against a group of religious believers whose behavior is decidedly harmless? The armed assaults demonstrate that the Russian government is determined to halt private worship as well as organizational activity.
      For targeting JWs and other peaceful religious minorities, Russia has been designated a “country of particular concern” by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In its annual report on persecutors worldwide, USCIRF observed that the Putin government has “continued to target ‘nontraditional’ religious minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists, with fines, detentions, and criminal charges under the pretext of combating extremism. Most notably, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned outright, as was their translation of the Bible, and their followers persecuted nationwide.”
      Although Russia has gained the distinction of being just about the only majority-Christian country to persecute, it is not the only nation to ban JWs. Twenty-six Muslim nations do so, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and even reasonably liberal Kuwait, as well as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, and Yemen. Several are Communist, such as China, North Korea, and Vietnam, or formerly Communist. Eritrea, Lebanon, and Singapore are also on the list.
      Why such hostility? The sect was founded in the U.S. in the 1870s. Its doctrines, including non-trinitarianism and teachings on the role of Jesus Christ, differ significantly from those of traditional Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic. JWs rely on their own biblical translation, have a unique eschatology, and are noted for rejecting blood transfusions and refusing to celebrate traditional religious holidays. However, being different isn’t reason for persecution. (I have several JW relatives and friends. Their theology is not for me, but they are uniformly warm, decent people.)
      More significant, perhaps, is the separationist nature of JWs. An intense community rather like the Amish, they expel members through disfellowship. They refuse to accord government the respect that public officials crave or to honor the state — to say the Pledge of Allegiance in America, for example, or to serve in the military anywhere. Such attitudes may have generated the Russian claim that they are guilty of “social hostility.” Presumably they are seen as focusing on those within their community rather than without.
      Moscow denies that it is persecuting JWs for their beliefs. Rather, explained Vyacheslav Lebedev, chief justice of the Russian Supreme Court, “the situation is actually being presented as if these people are being persecuted for their belief and religious activity. Yet the decision, which was made by the Supreme Court amongst others, is unrelated to religion. It is about a violation of the law, which religious organizations have no right to breach.”
      The law bans the faith, so punishing them for exercising their faith is merely punishing a violation of the law. This argument is perfectly Orwellian. Translating Lebedev: We declared your religious faith to be extremist, and you are not allowed to be extremists. So we are arresting you for being extremists. But feel free to practice your faith and have a good day.
      Some critics appear to imagine that they are dealing with something akin to al-Qaeda. For instance, Roman Silantyev of Moscow State Linguistic University complained that “this sect promotes external and inner extremism, inciting hatred to those who think and believe in a different way and bullying their own members.” He went on to claim that “recognizing this sect as extremist gave a possibility to dozens of our citizens to leave this concentration camp.” Silantyev appears not to understand religion: Despite the threat of arrest and prison, JWs continue to meet, because they are operating out of faith rather than compulsion.
      JWs also are known for evangelism, highlighted by their going door to door. This stirs harsh resistance by majority faiths, especially those that are as much political as religious. The Russian Orthodox Church is hostile even to traditional Christian faiths. It would be difficult for its hierarchy to advocate banning Catholic and Protestant churches with roots as deep as its own, but JWs are an easier target.
      President Vladimir Putin admitted as much. When asked why his government targeted JWs, Putin dismissed the charge. But, he admitted, “our society does not consist solely of religious sects. Ninety percent of citizens of the Russian Federation or so consider themselves Orthodox Christians. . . . It is also necessary to take into account the country and the society in which we live.” Translation: JW’s are different and don’t fit in. This attitude also may explain attacks by groups and individuals on JWs, their homes, and meeting halls.
      Putin offered a glimmer of hope in December when he allowed that one should not “label representatives of religious communities as member of destructive, much less terrorist organizations” and acknowledged that he did not “quite understand why they are persecuted,” so “this should be looked into, this must be done.” Although Putin’s references to human rights should be treated with more than a few grains of salt, he appears to respect religion, and these comments are hard to explain other than as an expression of genuine puzzlement over so much effort being expended to eliminate an evidently nonexistent threat.
      Russia’s persecution of JWs pales compared with the punishment, including violence, inflicted on religious minorities elsewhere. Consider the horrors that continue to afflict religious minorities in the Middle East. Conflict zones in Iraq and Syria have shrunk, but Christians, Yazidis, and others continue to be at risk. Both sides of the Sunni–Shia divide, represented by Saudi Arabia and Iran, are inhospitable homes for non-Muslims, as well as for the “wrong” Muslims. American client states, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, are little better.
       
      Nevertheless, the precarious status of JWs worldwide shows the breadth and reach of the problem of religious persecution. In Russia, thousands of people, largely ignored owing to their small numbers and relative isolation, are being punished for their faith, persecuted for no plausible reason. The arbitrariness of the state is matched only by the hardship inflicted on the affected individuals and families.
      The freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses should be on the religious-liberty agenda. Indeed, given the concern expressed even by Putin, American and European officials should raise the issue when they meet their Russian counterparts. The agenda with Russia is crowded. However, liberty of conscience is always worth defending. Especially when success doesn’t require armed campaigns and regime change.

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    • Guest Indiana
      By Guest Indiana
      Khanty-Mansiysk District Court on Feb. 26, 2019, denied the Investigation Committee of Russia's request to detain 38-year-old Andrey Sazonov and decided to release him immediately from custody. Earlier, on February 8, this court sentenced him to jail for 55 days, but later an appellate court reduced his term of detention and returned his case for a new trial in the same court. The decision on house arrest has been taken here by the new composition of the court.
      It is noteworthy that Andrey Sazonov will be at his home in Uray (Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area), and not in Khanty-Mansiysk, where the investigative body is located. The distance between locations is more than 400 kilometers.
      Andrey arrived home on the same day at 2 a.m. He is required to wear a leg bracelet.

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    • By The Librarian
      At least seven of Jehovah’s Witnesses were subjected to torture—electric shocks, suffocation, and cruel beatings—on the first floor of the Russian Investigative Committee’s building at ul. Ostrovskogo, d. 47, in Surgut. While being tortured, officers interrogated the Witnesses, demanding to know: “Where are meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses held? Who attends the meetings? What are the elders’ last names? What is your mobile phone password?”
      On February 15, 2019, 
      Hello guest! Please register or sign in (it's free) to view the hidden content.  started in the early morning hours. Worshippers were taken to the Investigative Committee offices. Investigators began interrogating the Witnesses, who refused to disclose details about their fellow worshippers. After the only legal representative in the room left, victims report that the following occurred: agents put a bag over the victims’ heads, sealed it with tape, tied their hands behind their backs, and beat them. Then, after stripping the Witnesses naked and dousing them with water, the agents shocked them with stun guns. This sadistic torture lasted for about two hours. At least three Witnesses are still behind bars.
      Additionally, after the mass searches were completed, the Russian authorities initiated criminal cases against a total of 19 Witnesses for so-called “organizing an extremist organization.”
      Those who have been released have had their injuries documented by medical professionals and have filed complaints with supervisory agencies.
      The Witnesses will pursue all available legal remedies for this crime, since such an egregious abuse of authority is punishable under the Russian Criminal Code. Additionally, The Russian Federation is subject to several international bodies that protect individuals from torture.

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    • By The Librarian
      Jehovah’s Witnesses, a U.S.-based religious denomination that Russia has branded extremist and banned, says that police in Russia's Khanty-Mansi region have tortured several members of the congregation.

      In a  Hello guest! Please register or sign in (it's free) to view the hidden content. , the religious group said that at least seven of its adherents were "subjected to torture -- electric shocks, suffocation, and cruel beatings" by the Investigative Committee's officers in the city of Surgut, in northwestern Siberia, after they were detained on February 15 on extremism charges.

      The statement says that those detained refused to answer police questions about other members of the congregation and after the only legal representative left the interrogation room, the officers "tied the victims’ hands behind their backs, beat them, poured water on their naked bodies, and subjected them to electric shocks."

      "The torture lasted for several hours," the statement said.

      According to the statement, 19 members of the congregation were charged with the alleged organization of extremist activities and at least three of them remain behind bars.

      The released members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses turned to medical institutions to document bodily harm sustained during torture, the statement says, adding that the group will seek justice in court.

      The Investigative Committee rejected the Jehovah's Witnesses' statement.
      Homes Raided 

      A committee spokesman in the Khanty-Mansi region, Oleg Menshikh, told the TASS news agency on February 20 that no law was violated during the interrogations.

      "Nobody tortured them. There was no physical or psychological pressure on them," TASS quoted Menshikh as saying.

      Police have started raiding the homes of Jehovah's Witnesses in that region and in the region of Mordovia on February 7, a day after a Russian court convicted Dennis Christensen, a Danish member of the religious group, on an extremism charge and sentenced him to six years in prison in the western city of Oryol.

      Human rights organizations, the European Union, and United States officials have condemned Christensen’s conviction and called on Russia to respect freedom of religion.
      Christensen was arrested in Oryol in May 2017, a month after Russia's Supreme Court labeled the religious group an extremist organization and banned it.

      He was the first Jehovah’s Witness to be detained in Russia following the ban.
      Since then, dozens of other members of the group in different Russian regions have been detained and face similar extremism charges.
      With reporting by TASS

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      When the woman asked why he was watching the videos, the teenager answered evasively.
      Media reported the first details of the interrogation of Vladislav Roslyakov’s mother after her son had blown a bomb and shot fellow students at a Kerch college yesterday. According to the Mash Telegram Channel, the woman admitted that a few days before the slaughter, her son had been watching videos of school shootings. When she saw it and wondered why he was doing it, Vladislav said: "No reason."
      On the day when Vladislav Roslyakov blew up his school, he had waited for his mother to leave for work, and went to college only after that.
      Earlier, RT reported citing a source in the Crimean Ministry of Education that the teenager’s mother is a nurse at an oncology center, and had joined Jehovah’s Witnesses cult (banned in Russia) a few years ago. On the day the tragic incident occurred, the woman received the victims, who got sent to the oncology center, too. She did not know who was responsible for the college massacre back then.
      The teenager’s father, who has lived separately for a long time, said during interrogation that it was hard to talk with his son about his school performance. He claimed that his son had been raised to be a good man and had never shown any aggression before. The father admitted he had known that his son had a thing for guns.
      On the afternoon of October 17, an explosion occurred at Kerch Polytechnic College, while a 4-year student, Vladislav Roslyakov, started shooting. His body was found in the library later. One of his classmates said that once, the kid told him he hated other students and could shoot them all. The classmate did not take it seriously.
      According to the latest data, 21 people died in the attack.
      The Mash Telegram Channel published a surveillance video that had caught the shooter a few minutes before the attack. The video shows Vladislav Roslyakov walking towards the school with a backpack and then getting inside the building.
       

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    • By Anna
      In view of last weeks WT study "Do you have the facts" (August 2018, page 3) and thanks to @Gone Away for highlighting the following reports, I thought I would put this in a separate and concise topic to show an actual and recent example of misinformation.
      NEWS REPORT: (I cut it a little short because the article went on about the ban in general. You van read the whole thing here:
      Hello guest! Please register or sign in (it's free) to view the hidden content. MOSCOW: Five Jehovah's Witnesses have been detained in Russia and charged with possessing weapons and running an extremist group, investigators said Wednesday (Oct 10, 2018), in the latest case targeting the banned religious movement.
      They were arrested in the Kirov region northeast of Moscow, where authorities said they found two grenades and a landmine in searches of their homes.
      The Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian denomination that originated in the United States in the late 19th century.
      The Russian authorities consider the movement a totalitarian sect and last year the country's supreme court banned the Jehovah's Witnesses from operating in Russia.
      "They had been conducting meetings and called on others to join their organisation," Yevgenia Vorozhtsova, a spokeswoman for regional investigators, said.
      She said officials were investigating how the members of the Jehovah's Witnesses had obtained the ammunition, but declined to provide further details.
      Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a member of the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses, said it was the first time the Russian authorities had accused members of the movement of possessing ammunition.
      "We were shocked," he said from the Latvian capital Riga. "It is both funny and strange. Why mines?"
      One of those detained was a Polish national residing in Russia, he said.
       
      THE FACTS: (here I took the liberty of slightly adjusting the translation by Google, so it made more sense)
      On October 9, 2018, in the city of Kirov, during a search of the house of retired Vladimir Bogomolov, a collector of artifacts from the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), investigators seized fragments of obviously unusable rusty shells. The man was searched because his 69-year-old spouse (the only one of her entire family) professes the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. The woman does not share her husband's fascination with antiques. Thus, the report that the ammunition was seized allegedly from Jehovah's Witnesses is not true.
      Jehovah's Witnesses do not take weapons for conscience reasons. For this position they appeared before tribunals of different countries and went to concentration camps. They will be grateful to the media for clarifying the misunderstanding .
      Vladimir Bogomolov, from whom the relics were confiscated, was in the past an active participant in a search movement (aimed at burying the remains of the soldiers who died in World War II), he was the brigadier of the search party. The activities of his squad were written about in newspapers. On October 9, 2018, upon the discovery of the artifacts, a criminal case on the illegal possession of weapons was instituted, it was allocated in a separate proceeding. The items were sent for examination.
       Source: 
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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      MOSCOW: Five Jehovah's Witnesses have been detained in Russia and charged with possessing weapons and running an extremist group, investigators said Wednesday (Oct 10), in the latest case targeting the banned religious movement.
      They were arrested in the Kirov region northeast of Moscow, where authorities said they found two grenades and a landmine in searches of their homes.
      The Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian denomination that originated in the United States in the late 19th century.
      The Russian authorities consider the movement a totalitarian sect and last year the country's supreme court banned the Jehovah's Witnesses from operating in Russia.
      "They had been conducting meetings and called on others to join their organisation," Yevgenia Vorozhtsova, a spokeswoman for regional investigators, said.
      She said officials were investigating how the members of the Jehovah's Witnesses had obtained the ammunition, but declined to provide further details.
      Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a member of the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses, said it was the first time the Russian authorities had accused members of the movement of possessing ammunition.
      "We were shocked," he said from the Latvian capital Riga. "It is both funny and strange. Why mines?"
      One of those detained was a Polish national residing in Russia, he said.
      SEARCHES IN SMOLENSK REGION
      In a statement on Tuesday, investigators said the members of the Jehovah's Witnesses wanted the movement to continue operating in Kirov and nearby towns.
      Authorities said they had organised clandestine meetings between August 2017 and September this year at which they sang hymns and read "extremist" literature banned in Russia.
      They had also collected more than 500,000 rubles (US$7,500) in donations from supporters.
      The five have been detained and charged on suspicion of running and financing an "extremist organisation", the statement said.
      Sivulskiy said the crackdown on Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia had intensified after President Vladimir Putin was re-elected for a fourth term in March.
      Around 25 of their members are now in pre-trial detention in Russia, he said.
      On Sunday, the FSB security service and police searched the homes of people they suspect of being members of The Jehovah's Witnesses in the western Smolensk region, the association said.
      Two women from the town of Sychyovka have been incommunicado for the past three days, it said in a statement.
      "They are thought to have been arrested," the statement said.
      The FSB in Smolensk could not immediately provide a comment.
      In a report this year, Human Rights Watch accused the Russian authorities of a "sweeping campaign" of harassment and persecution against the movement.
      The Jehovah's Witnesses say they now number more than 170,000 in Russia, a country of 144 million people where most are Orthodox Christians. Thousands more of their members have fled to other countries.

      Read more at
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