In the photo: The building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Source: website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Human Rights

The Russian Foreign Ministry claims that Jehovah's Witnesses have the right to practice their religion in groups. Why then are there dozens of believers that are imprisoned?

Arkhangelsk Region,   Moscow

“Members of a liquidated organization may worship independently, including as part of religious groups that do not require registration...” the Russian Foreign Ministry response, dated 20 February 2021, reads. “

"During the consideration of the case [in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation], neither the legality of the religious beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses, nor the ways of expressing them, but only the specific illegal actions of the organization in question, were assessed."

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This explanation was sent to Irina Yakku from Arkhangelsk. In her letter to Sergey Lavrov, she asked the respected minister to help restore international law and comply with Article 28 of the Russian Constitution: "Since February 2019, our family has not been spared persecution for faith. On February 13, 2019, a criminal case was opened against my husband, Yevgeniy Yakku, just for discussing the Bible with friends and praying. And there are already hundreds of such criminal cases in our country. More than a thousand searches have been carried out at the homes of innocent people just because they believe in Jehovah God, whose name is repeatedly mentioned in various translations of the Bible." The investigation considers the very fact that Yevgeny Yakku discusses his religious views with his friends in faith sufficient to initiate a criminal case under the articles on organizing the activities of an extremist organization and on participation in it. His case is being heard in the Solombalsky District Court of Arkhangelsk.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its response refers to the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of April 20, 2017, on the liquidation and prohibition of the activities of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and 395 local religious organizations of this denomination. It was this decision, which in itself was unjust, that was misinterpreted by law enforcement officials that led to large-scale religious repression. Russian courts have consistently convicted ordinary Jehovah's Witnesses believers under serious criminal articles only on the fact of their personal confession of religion. At the same time, neither the state prosecution nor the courts set themselves the task of detecting signs of extremist activity in the words and deeds of believers. Since the Supreme Court's decision to ban Jehovah's Witnesses' legal entities in Russia came into force, 1318 searches have already been conducted in the country. Charges under the "extremist" article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation have already been brought against 438 believers. As of February 20, 2021, 80 criminal cases are still at various stages of trial, 26 sentences have already entered into force, 9 believers are being held in colonies, 39 people are in pre-trial detention centers, and 26 are under house arrest.

Yaroslav Sivulskiy of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses says, "There is an obvious conflict between the law and law enforcement practices, and it is no surprise that in January 2021, following his last meeting with the Human Rights Council, President Putin instructed the Supreme Court to look into violations of legislation on freedom of conscience, religious beliefs, and religious associations.” Human rights activist Aleksandr Verkhovskiy drew the President's attention to the fact that the problem is not being solved. He said: "We miss the Supreme Court's explanations on these issues. This is especially true with respect to those banned organizations which had some religious aspect. It turns out that these people afterward when they gather to pray together, which is mandatory in all major religions, joint prayers, will also turn out to be a meeting of a banned organization, and so maybe understood."

Russian human rights organizations, as well as the international community, consider the criminal prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia unlawful. The Russian government has repeatedly stated that decisions of Russian courts to liquidate and ban Jehovah's Witnesses organizations "do not assess the doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses, nor do they contain a restriction or ban on the individual practice of the aforementioned doctrine.

Case of Yakku in Arkhangelsk

Case History
The criminal prosecution of Yevgeniy Yakku, an exemplary family man from Arkhangelsk, began in February 2019 - his house was searched, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against him. The believer was left without work, his accounts were blocked, cars were arrested. In May, after a year of surveillance of Kaleria Mamykina, a case was opened against her, the “corpus delicti” of which was talking about religion with friends at her home. After 7 months, the charges against her were dropped, in June 2021, without waiting for the restoration of her good name, Kaleria died of covid. Yakku’s case went to court in February 2020. The investigator accused Yevgeniy of allegedly continuing the activities of the LRO of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Arkhangelsk, which was not recognized as extremist. The believer sent complaints to the ECHR, and his wife to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The answer confirmed that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the right to practice their religion in groups. Despite this, in July 2021, the court sentenced the believer to a fine of 780,000 rubles. The Court of Appeal and Cassation upheld this decision.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Arkhangelsk Region
Suspected of:
according to the investigation he participated in religious services, which is interpreted as participating in and recruiting others into 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)
Court case number:
February 13, 2019
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigative Department of the Directorate of the FSB of Russia for Arkhangelsk Region and Nenets Autonomous Area
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2), 282.2 (1), 282.2 (1.1)
Court case number:
1-4/2021 (1-249/2020)
Соломбальский районный суд
Case History