OSCE Headquarters in Vienna. Photo source: OSCE / Curtis Budden

Human Rights

European Union Calls on Russian Authorities to Stop Ill-Treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses

Austria,   European Union,   Saratov Region,   Trans-Baikal Territory

A joint statement of the 27 European states-members of the European Union (EU) was circulated on March 12, 2020, in Vienna at a meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The statement was joined by another six non-EU countries.

Among other things, the statement said: "... Jehovah's Witnesses must be able to peacefully enjoy their human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression, without discrimination. We call on the authorities to drop all charges against individuals who have been unjustifiably prosecuted or prosecuted for exercising human rights."

The European Union cites shocking statistics: "Since the liquidation of all local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, 869 house searches have reportedly been conducted, 26 people are in pre-trial detention, 23 are under house arrest, 316 have been charged and 29 have already been convicted."

The statement lists the most egregious recent cases of ill-treatment of believers by Russian officials: "According to reports from the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, which were also reflected in Forum 18 reports and media articles, on 6 February 2020, in Orenburg, prison No. 1 officers beat five citizens (Alexei Budenchuk, Gennady German, Roman Gridasov, Felix Makhammadiev and Alexei Miretsky). All of them suffered serious injuries, and one of them required hospitalization. In addition, on February 10, 2020, it was reported that Vadim Kutsenko was tortured before he was taken into custody. Law enforcement officers repeatedly beat and choked him, as well as beat him with electric shocks, demanding information about other Jehovah's Witnesses."

The European Union pledged to continue to "closely monitor developments around Jehovah's Witnesses in the OSCE region."

Case of Bazhenov and Others in Saratov

Case History
In September 2019, Judge Dmitry Larin immediately sent 6 Saratov residents to prison for a term of 2 to 3.5 years just for reading the Bible, singing songs and praying. Since 2017, security forces have been conducting covert surveillance of believers. In the summer of 2018, their homes were searched with banned literature planted. While the investigation was underway, they had to go to a pre-trial detention center, under house arrest and under recognizance not to leave. A year later, despite the absence of victims in the case, the believers were found guilty. Upon arrival at the Orenburg colony, 5 out of 6 convicted believers were beaten by the staff of the institution. Mahammadiev was hospitalized, and the rest were placed in a punishment cell for a while. Saratov prisoners of conscience have mastered various professions in prison. In May 2020, Mahammadiev and Bazhenov were stripped of their Russian citizenship and, after their release, deported from Russia. All 6 believers have already served their sentences. In September 2022, the cassation court dismissed the complaint, and the verdict and the appellate ruling were unchanged.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Saratov Region
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)
Court case number:
June 9, 2018
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigative Department of the Directorate of the FSB of Russia for the Saratov Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
Case History