Russia must “immediately cease” persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a State Department spokesman told the Daily Caller News Foundation Thursday evening.
The statement is a response to news that Russian agents had arrested five more Jehovah’s Witnesses for their faith days after the United States condemned Russian persecution of religious groups.
“The Russian government’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been marked by mass raids, arrests, detentions, and harsh prison sentences, and by numerous credible allegations of torture,” the spokesman told the DCNF. “The United States condemns Russia’s continued crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities in the strongest possible terms.”
“The United States calls on Russia to immediately cease its persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities under the guise of purported ‘extremism’ and release all prisoners of conscience,” the spokesman continued. “All people should be entitled to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief, without fear of reprisal or government interference.”
A Russian court in Krasnoyarsk sentenced Andrey Stupnikov, 47, to prison for six years, Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman Jarrod A. Lopes said in a press release. Stupnikov had spent almost eight months in pretrial detention and four months under house arrest during the investigation and trial, the press release said.
A court in Kursk also imprisoned four other members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lopes announced. Andrey Andreyev was sentenced to four and a half years and Andrey Ryshkov was sentenced to three years. Artem Bagratyan was sentenced to two and a half years and his wife Alevtina Bagratyan was sentenced to two years.
In Russia and Crimea, there have been 227 criminal cases involving 492 Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lopes said in the press release. Fifty-seven of these Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned, 33 are under house arrest, and 1,456 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been raided since 2017, the press release said.
“Russian authorities are targeting Jehovah’s Witnesses based on tragically poor intel,” Lopes said in a statement Thursday. “The authorities’ mistaken views are obvious not only by their testimonies in court but also by the manner in which they raid the Witnesses’ homes. FSB and local police typically arrive by the van-load in full combat gear—helmets, bullet proof vests, and automatic weapons—merely to arrest peaceful family men and women, including frail elderly believers.”
“Numerous international human rights actors have decried Russia’s baseless assault on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Lopes added. “We hope the Russian authorities will soon come to know what most of the world knows about Jehovah’s Witnesses: they are societally responsible Christians who want nothing more than to have the freedom to worship in Russia as they do in over 200 other lands.”