Two residents of Arkhangelsk are accused of extremism for organizing and participating in meetings of followers of the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses. The defendants themselves call themselves a "friendly company of fellow believers" and do not understand what served as the basis for interrogations and searches.
What have I done?
Kaleria Mamykina – 78 years. On May 7, 2019, she became involved in the criminal case: she was accused of participating in an extremist organization. Investigators met the pensioner with this news right at the station when she returned from vacation.
“I went for a week to my relatives in Vologda, I came from there, and at the station I was met by two men in civilian clothes, presented with certificates and a search warrant,” says Kaleria Mamykina. – They brought me to the car and drove me home. They searched there and drew up a report. Then, without saying anything, they took me in for questioning to the investigator. I do not remember in what condition I was, I was very bad. I was there for over an hour. Then she came home, took the pills, prayed and said [о случившемся] to relatives. I live alone, so it is difficult for me. My [родные] everyone supported me: sisters, brothers, son came too. And then the investigation went.
According to Kaleria Fyodorovna, two notebooks were seized from her during a search, one of which contained entries about the congresses of Jehovah's Witnesses 2011 and 2013, and the second reminders of meetings of a religious group with dates and names.
“The accusations were explained to me by the fact that I am an accomplice, as I provided the premises for meetings: we gathered in a small group at my house,” explained Kaleria Mamykina. – The second time I went to the interrogation with a lawyer. I wrote a statement that I refused the first testimony, since I was in a stressful state. When at the second interrogation I asked to read the protocol, I was horrified. I could not write this. I was offered to cooperate with the investigation, they promised to close the case if I give up my convictions. And I just speculated why I would cooperate with them if I do not want to? What have I done? I will defend my rights.
Kaleria Mamykina is not the only resident of Arkhangelsk who is in the extremism case for participating in meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses. Mamykina’s counterpart Evgeny Yakku is also under investigation. He found out about his criminal case in February 2019.
With machine guns, but in boot covers
One of these days Eugene and Irina Yakku woke up at six in the morning from knocking on the door. Five cars were parked in the courtyard of their private house: 15 masked men with automatic weapons were waiting at the door of the house owners.
– They asked if we had something forbidden: we didn’t find anything, because we had never dealt with something illegal in relation to the state. Jehovah's Witnesses are very respectful of power, ”Yevgeny Yakku recalled the events of that day.
Yevgeny Yakku became a Witness in the 2000s, his wife even earlier – in the 1990s. During the February search, the Bible of the Synodal Translation and Archimandrite Macarius, working notebooks, tablets, telephones, and notebooks were taken from them.
– When there was an interrogation, the investigator even asked: "Did you know that we will come?" I want to note that the staff of the Investigative Committee behaved very correctly, put on shoe covers during the search, although they were at the same time with machine guns, – said Eugene.
Immediately after the search of the house, the Yakka family was taken away for interrogation, where Yevgeny met his acquaintances who occasionally participated in religious meetings. According to Yevgeny Yakku, they did not profess the creed of Jehovah's Witnesses, and perhaps it was their actions that could “provoke” a criminal case.
– There was a couple, they were not Jehovah's Witnesses, we are familiar with the head of the family at work. His wife and child periodically came to our meetings. I find it difficult to speak, but perhaps it was a planned action against us. The child filmed meetings on the phone, video, in the end they became the property of law enforcement, – said Yevgeny Yakku.
For the past ten years, Eugene has been working as a regional representative of various companies producing consumer goods, from confectionery to baby food. His tasks included communication with retail chains and wholesale centers, product control on store shelves. After the criminal case was opened, Yevgeny was fired, and his wife Irina, who had multiple sclerosis aggravated due to stress, had to leave her job as an accountant. Yevgeny is being held in a criminal case as the main defendant, the head of an extremist organization: he cannot go outside of Russia, cars are arrested.
– It was not such that someone organized something. If there was a desire to communicate on biblical topics, then we were going with fellow believers. But when we discussed the Bible, it is clear that someone needed to be a moderator. We watched videos, explored the Bible, sang songs based on psalms. In principle, this is the usual worship, only in a friendly company. We were about 6-7 people, – said Eugene Yakku.
According to Yevgeny Yakku, an examination of the records and literature confiscated from him is underway. At the end of June, he sent a petition to terminate the criminal case to the regional investigative committee for the Arkhangelsk region, the chairman of the Russian investigative committee Alexander Bastrykin and the prosecutor general Yury Chaika. Arguments in his defense Yakku bases on de-believing Dmitry Mikhailov from the Ivanovo region, the prosecution of which the UN recognized religious discrimination.
“The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention strongly condemned the arrests of Jehovah's Witnesses and demanded the immediate release of believers from Russia,” explained the representative of the European Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses (EASI) Yaroslav Sivulsky. – On May 29, 2019, a resolution was received on the basis of the consideration of the complaint of Dmitry Mikhailov. His arrest is recognized as a manifestation of religious discrimination. The paper emphasizes that the conclusions "relate to all other persons who are in circumstances similar to those in which Mr. Mikhailov is in." Complaints about the arrests of Russian Jehovah's Witnesses filed in three different international instances: the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The document on Dmitry Mikhailov was the first decision of an international authority.
According to Yaroslav Sivulsky, such an organization as “Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia” does not exist at all.
– Jehovah's Witnesses are a religion. The creed of Jehovah's Witnesses has never been explored in Russian courts and has not been banned. The activity of the “Administrative Center of the Regional Religious Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia”, as well as local religious organizations, was banned in the Russian Federation. Not Jehovah's Witnesses are prohibited, but the Management Center of Jehovah's Witnesses. The abbreviation of the name of a legal entity banned in Russia to the name Jehovah's Witnesses brings together concepts that are different in meaning and puts at risk more than 170,000 civilians on the basis of their religion, Yaroslav Sivulsky explained.
According to EASI, almost 200 thousand Russians live today under the threat of criminal prosecution or other forms of persecution by the state because of their religious affiliation. Already prosecuted against more than 200 people. The investigating authorities paid close attention to Jehovah's Witnesses after the official ban on the "Administrative Center of the Regional Religious Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" two years ago.
“Persecution for the faith is not new to us, we have already passed all this in the Soviet years,” Yaroslav Sivulsky continued. – Under Stalin, Jehovah's Witnesses were even massively exiled to Siberia. But in 1991, the state officially apologized to Jehovah's Witnesses and rehabilitated them. Many of them today have certificates of victims of political repression, for which they receive benefits and allowances. And now it turns out that the state re-subjects those who have been rehabilitated to reprisals, and on the same basis, faith in Jehovah.
Commenting on the details of the criminal case against Jehovah's Witnesses in the management of the investigative committee in the Arkhangelsk region did not, referring to the fact that "the preliminary investigation of the case continues, the case was not sent to the court." It is also known that two more residents of Arkhangelsk are in this case, but they are not Jehovah's Witnesses.
RADIO "FREEDOM", July 9, 2019