On 19 December 2022, Judge Yana Vladimirova at the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region passed harsh sentences to four Jehovah’s Witnesses for supposedly organizing and financing extremist activities while they were in fact merely exercising their right to freedom of religion and assembly.
The investigation and trial lasted an unprecedented four years and a half. The litigation lasted over two years. The prosecutor requested a punishment of four to nine years in prison in a colony.
- Sergey Shulyarenko, 38 years, and Valeriy Kriger, 55 years (7 years)
- Alam Aliyev, 59 years (6.5 years)
- Dmitriy Zagulin, 49 years (3.5 years)
Operation “Judgment Day”
On 17 May 2018, a large-scale operation under the code name “Judgment Day” was conducted in Birobidzhan with the participation of 150 security forces. More than 20 families of Jehovah’s Witnesses were victims of the raid (e.g, Newsweek; Kyiv Post).
During this crackdown, Alam Aliyev was arrested and spent eight days in a pre-trial detention center. Later on, three more believers appeared in Aliyev’s case: Valery Krieger, Sergey Shulyarenko and Dmitry Zagulin. They were accused of holding joint worship services, which the investigation considered to be the organization of the activities of an extremist organization and its financing.
In total, 23 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region have already been persecuted for the practice of their beliefs. Among them are the wife of Alam Aliyev—Svetlana Monis, the wife of Valery Krieger—Nataliya Krieger and the wife of Dmitriy Zagulin—Tatyana Zagulina.
The European Court of Human Rights, in its judgment of 7 June 2022, condemned the repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, stating: “The European Court reiterates that only religious expressions and actions that contain or call for violence, hate or discrimination can serve as a basis for suppressing them as ‘extremist’ […] The courts did not identify a single word, deed or action of the applicants, whose motive would be violence, hatred or discrimination against others, or which would have a connotation of violence, hatred or discrimination” (§ 271).
Since the 2017 Supreme Court ban, Russian authorities have raided 1874 homes of Witnesses, including 200 this year
- Mass raids in 2022 (10 or more homes)
- Dec 18, Crimea, 16 homes
- Oct 6, Primorye Territory, 12 homes
- Sept 28, Crimea, 11 homes
- Sept 8, Chelyabinsk Region, 13 homes
- Aug 11, Rostov Region, 10 homes
- July 13, Yaroslavl Region, 16 homes
- Feb 13, Krasnodar Region, 13 homes
Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, states:
“There are over 110 Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison in Russia. It’s unthinkable that peaceful Christian men like Alam, Dmitriy, Sergey, and Valeriy would be accused of extremist activity and given harsh, lengthy prison sentences usually reserved for violent criminals.(*)
Russian authorities have continued to use a substantial amount of State personnel and resources to conduct mass home raids and imprison Jehovah’s Witnesses simply for the practice of their beliefs.
The escalating discriminatory assault against Jehovah’s Witnesses is putting a huge burden on a growing number of wives and children to support themselves without the help of their husbands and fathers who were often the family’s primary source of income. Innocent children have had their fathers ruthlessly taken away from them at the most critical point in their physical and emotional development. It’s hard to believe such gross injustices would happen at all, and even more inconceivable that the systematic persecution—at times including beatings and torture—has continued for more than five years.”
(*) In comparison, according to Article 111 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, grievous bodily harm draws a maximum of 8 years sentence; Article 126 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, kidnapping leads to up to 5 years in prison; Article 131 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, rape is punishable with 3 to 6 years in prison.