Jul 3, 2021 | Freedom of Religion and Belief | HRWF

As of 1 July 2021, JW.ORG reported that 58 Jehovah’s Witnesses were in pretrial detention or sentenced to prison; 33 were under house arrest; 234 criminal cases involving 503 believers have been under investigation. Since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that liquidated the Witnesses’ legal entities, 1,472 homes of Witnesses have been raided by the police.

Convicted, sentenced to prison in 2021

  • 10.02.2021: Aleksandr Ivshin, 7.5 years (prison, lost appeal)
  • 24.02.2021: Roman Baranovskiy, 6 years (prison, lost appeal)
  • 24.02.2021: Valentina Baranovskaya, 2 years (prison, lost appeal)
  • 29.03.2021: Viktor Stashevskiy, 6.5 years (pretrial facility, awaiting appeal)
  • 30.03.2021: Oleg Danilov, 3 years (prison, lost appeal)
  • 06.04.2021: Aleksandr Shcherbina, 3 years (pretrial facility, awaiting appeal)
  • 20.05.2021: Rustam Seidkuliev, 2.5 years (pretrial facility, awaiting appeal)
  • 28.05.2021: Anastasiya Polyakova 2.5 years – Gaukhar Bektemirova, 2 years and 3 months – Dinara Dyusekeyeva, 2 years.
  • 01.06.2021: Ekaterina Pegasheva, 6.5 years (prison)
  • 03.06.2021: Andrei Stupnikov, 6 years (prison)
  • 03.06.2021: Andrei Andreyev, Andrei Ryshkov, Armen Bagratyan, and Alevtina Bagratyan (from 2 to 4.5 years in prison)
  • 30.06.2021: Dmitri Golik (7 years) and Aleksei Berchuk (8 years)

Two long-time Jehovah’s Witnesses given harsh sentences in Blagoveshchensk: seven and eight years

The city court of Blagoveshchensk of Amur oblast sentenced two Jehovah’s Witnesses—30-year-old Dmitry Golik and 43-year-old Aleksei Berchuk—to seven and eight years of medium security imprisonment, Mediazona reports, citing the press service of the religious organization.

Berchuk was given the harshest punishment among all Jehovists who have been convicted in Russia. The previous “record” belonged to 63-year-old Alexander Ivshin from the village of Kholmskaya of Abinsk district of Krasnodar territory, who was sentenced to 7.5 years in February.

Judge Tatiana Studilko issued the sentence. As the file on the case on the court’s website makes clear, the believers were declared guilty on the basis of part 1 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (arranging the activity of an extremist organization). It is known that Golik also was charged on the basis of part 1.1 of article 282.1 (recruitment into the activity of an extremist organization).

The Jehovists were given exactly the terms that the prosecutor requested.

Neither Berchuk nor Golik admitted guilt. In his final statement, Berchuk quoted the Bible, citing the example of the persecution of Christians in the Roman empire, the persecution of Orthodox believers in the U.S.S.R., and the persecution of Jehovists in nazi Germany. “My convictions are exclusively peaceful and therefore there are no victims or injured in the case. For me the demeaning of human dignity is unacceptable, undermining the foundations of the constitutional order and inciting religious or racial strife. And in the whole time of the judicial proceedings, the prosecution has not cited a single bit of evidence indicating otherwise!” he emphasized.

In turn, Golik declared that he does not “need any organization or legal entity in order to worship God,” and he “opposes extremism or its manifestation and the very incitement of religious strife.” “The truth is merely that I am a believer, that I am a Christian. And to be a Christian means to follow the footsteps of Christ, but where has this path led? Jesus was sent to the stake of torment. Now I can be led to unreasonable punishment. And if that happens, it means that I am on the correct path,” he said.

The F.S.B. conducted covert filming of Golik’s life since back in October 2017. In June 2018, a senior investigator of the Amur U.F.S.B., I.A. Beloglazov, opened a case against Berchuk. On 20 July, searches were conducted in the homes of seven Jehovists in Blagoveshchensk. As was explained then, in the apartment where Golik and his wife lived, agents set up a wiretap. On the same day, Beloglazov opened a case against Golik and he was questioned as a defendant.

In January 2019, the charge was also announced against Berchuk. He was arrested in a Moscow airport while going through passport control. Beloglazov accompanied Berchuk to Blagoveshchensk and took from him a written pledge not to leave his place of residence.

In March 2020, the investigator for especially serious cases of the department of the Investigative Committee for Blagoveshchensk, M. V. Semeniak, issued a second charge for Golik: for the fact that he, as Jehovah’s Witnesses affirm, discussed the Bible with a certain young person. The “victim” described in court how he liked to study the Bible with Golik and nobody forced him to become a Jehovah’s Witness.

Berchuk is a native of the city of Kartaly of Cheliabinsk oblast; he later lived in Blagoveshchensk, Saransk, and other cities, and he read the Bible independently in the 1990s. He was employed in construction and finishing work. Golikov was born in the Buriat village of Tokhoi. He became interested in the Bible back in the 1990s. In his youth, he did alternative service instead of the army. He attended law school, but he did not work in the specialty; specifically, he worked as a translator of Chinese. Both believers are married. (tr. by PDS, posted 30 June 2021)