Crimea: Jehovah’s Witness sentenced to six years in a penal colony

The Russian authorities today sentenced a man in Russian-occupied Crimea to six years in prison simply for expressing his religious belief. The sentence handed down to Sergei Filatov by the Dzhankoi District Court is also the first of its kind in Russian-occupied Crimea.

“Sergei Filatov is a prisoner of conscience, facing years in a penal colony solely for expressing his faith. Across Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are being sent to jail, tortured and harassed under vague counter-extremism legislation,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director.

Across Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are being sent to jail, tortured and harassed under vague counter-extremism legislation
Marie Struthers, Amnesty International's Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director

“It is chilling to see the Russian authorities roll out their pursuit of Jehovah’s Witnesses across the border – it’s the latest example of the wholesale export of Russia’s brutally repressive policies to Crimea.”

On 5 March, the Dzhankoi District Court sentenced Sergei Filatov to six years of imprisonment in a penal colony after it found him guilty of “organizing the activities of an extremist organization”.

Artyom Gerasimov, another Jehovah’s Witness criminally prosecuted in Yalta, in southern Crimea, was sentenced to a fine of 400,000 rubles (6,000 US dollars).

Sergei Filatov and all other Jehovah’s Witness imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion and belief are prisoners of conscience. They must be immediately and unconditionally released, their convictions quashed and all charges against them dropped.

Background

In November 2018, more than 200 law enforcement officials raided and searched eight houses of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Crimean town of Dzhankoi, including the house where Sergei Filatov lived with his wife and their four children. A criminal case was opened against him under Article 282.2 (1) of the Russian Criminal Code (“organization of the activities of an extremist organization”). According to the investigation, his activities included conducting “religious meetings… and propaganda of religious ideas… using the place of [his] registration and residence”. His trial started in September 2019.

The criminal case against Artyom Gerasimov was initiated in March 2019. The investigation claimed that his participation in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious services constituted “organizing of the activities of an extremist organization”.

Since 2009, Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced persecution and harassment in Russia under the country’s “counter-extremism” legislation. In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that all Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations should be closed down. A month later, Dennis Christensen, a Danish national, was the first Jehovah’s Witness to be arrested in Russia under this law, and more than 300 followers of the faith have been criminally prosecuted since. Dozens have complained of torture and other ill-treatment in custody, and not a single one of their complaints has been effectively investigated.

It is chilling to see the Russian authorities roll out their pursuit of Jehovah’s Witnesses across the border – it’s the latest example of the wholesale export of Russia’s brutally repressive policies to Crimea
Marie Struthers, Amnesty International's Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director

Over 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been put on the list of “extremists and terrorists” by Rosfinmonitoring. the government agency tasked with overviewing financial flows and counteracting illegal transactions. Inclusion on the list results in automatic blocking of bank accounts and debit and credit cards, and deprives individuals of effectively all means of subsistence, leading to further human rights violations. 

Russia annexed and occupied Crimea, a peninsula in the south of Ukraine, in violation of international law in February-March 2014. It has imported its repressive legal framework wholesale and has been using it to prosecute and silence dissenting voices in Crimea.