Mar 7, 2021 | Freedom of Religion and Belief

Speech delivered by Chargé d’Affaires Courtney Austrian to the Permanent Council, Vienna: US Mission to the OSCE (04.03.2021)/ Excerpt

“In recent months, the Kremlin intensified its efforts to suppress independent voices and viewpoints, including those of members of civil society organizations, human rights defenders, independent journalists, political opposition members, and believers belonging to religious minority communities.  With each repressive action, Russia’s authorities demonstrate an abiding contempt for their international legal obligations and OSCE commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Wielding overly broad “anti-extremism” and “anti-terrorism” laws as political weapons, authorities continue to raid, arrest, and prosecute peaceful believers, including members of certain Muslim groups and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  On February 24, a Russian court handed down a two-year prison sentence to 69-year-old Valentina Baranovskaya—the first time a court has consigned a female Jehovah’s Witness to a prison term.  Her son, Roman Baranovsky, received a six-year sentence.

According to credible reports, Russia now imprisons 51 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the human rights group Memorial currently recognizes 298 individuals in Russia as prisoners held due to their religious beliefs.”

Speech delivered by UK Ambassador Neil Bush at the OSCE Permanent Council (04.03.2021)/ Excerpt

“(…) We must also highlight – unfortunately not for the first time – the concerning situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation. The 2017 ruling of the Russian Supreme Court, which rejected the appeal against the decision to categorise Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists”, criminalised the peaceful worship of 175,000 Russian citizens and contravened the right to religious freedom that is enshrined in the Russian Constitution, and in multiple OSCE commitments.

Since that 2017 ruling, we have witnessed an increasing number of detentions, criminal investigations and prosecutions of Jehovah’s Witnesses across Russia, including the arrest and sentencing of Valentina Baranovskaya and Roman Baranovskiy on 24 February, and the sentencing of Aleksandr Ivshin on 10 February. Such cases reinforce the impression of an organised campaign of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Other recent statements from the U.S. this year:

February 25, Ned Price, State Dept Spokesperson

February 24, USCIRF Commissioner Bauer

February 11, Ned Price, State Dept Spokesperson