March 1, 2024 – Russia jails Jehovah's Witness for eight years after ‘mole’ secretly films worship meeting

Reuters – A court in southwestern Russia has sentenced a Jehovah's Witness to eight years in prison after finding him guilty of organizing “extremist activities,” according to a spokesman for the group.

Russia's Supreme Court designated the Christian denomination as “extremist” in 2017, liquidating and banning its nearly 400 chapters across the country.

Russia counted roughly 175,000 active believers at the time of the ban, according to the group's Russian website. Since then, raids, interrogations and jailings of adherents have occurred with some regularity.

Feb. 29, 2024 – Regional Court upholds suspended sentence for Bible talks for elderly believer from Kostroma

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JW – On Feb. 21, 2024, Valentina Samus, 74, appeared before the Court of Appeal for her faith. The Collegium of the Kostroma Regional Court approved the sentence of the first instance – six years suspended. The believer can appeal this decision to the court of cassation.

According to Samus, her actions were peaceful, and the charge does not contain any indication of any calls for violence or religious hatred and enmity.

“The court found me guilty not for committing a crime, but for my religious beliefs, for my peaceful and law-abiding way of life, for a sincere desire to selflessly help other people, talking about what I myself learned from the Bible,” Valentina said in her final statement. “In fact, the court forbade me to practice the unforbidden religion of Jehovah's Witnesses and to worship God according to biblical canons.”

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Feb. 27, 2024 – Russian beaten by Chechen leader's son is jailed for Koran burning

Reuters – A Russian man who publicly burnt a copy of the Koran was jailed for three and a half years on Tuesday in the Russian region of Chechnya.

The case of Nikita Zhuravel drew international attention last year when Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov published a video in which his son Adam was shown beating and kicking the defendant while he was in prison awaiting trial.

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Russian media outlet SOTA Vision published video showing Zhuravel standing in a white-barred courtroom cage to listen to the sentence.

Feb. 27, 2024 - The state prosecutor requested punishment for Jehovah's Witnesses from the Krasnodar region

Sova – The state prosecutor asked that Pavel Sidorenko be sentenced to three years of suspended imprisonment.

On Feb. 21, 2024, in the Goryacheklyuchevsky City Court of the Krasnodar Territory, a debate was held between the parties in the case of Jehovah's Witness Pavel Sidorenko, accused under Part 2 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an extremist organization). The state prosecutor asked that he be given a suspended sentence of three years in prison.

Feb. 23, 2024 – Conservative anti-Putin Orthodox group raided in Russia, 40 arrested

Bitter Winter – It was called, as is fashionable in Russia, a “special operation.” On Feb. 14, a SWAT police team broke through the windows into a private residence, used as a church, in the village of Aibashi, in the Ulyanovsk Oblast, and arrested some forty persons. The aim of the special operation was to “destroy” a “cult” headed by one Leonid Vlasov, known to his followers as Father Zosima. 

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But what kind of “cult” exactly? Police footage shows icons very similar to those one may find in a normal Russian Orthodox Church. Yet, Vlasov’s group, known as the Russian Orthodox Church of the Tsarist Empire (ROC-CI), has been for years a bête noire of Russian anti-cultists such as Alexander Dvorkin who regard it as an “apocalyptic cult led by an imposter.”

Feb. 22, 2023 – Appeal in Kemerovo upholds suspended sentence for faith for Vladimir Baykalov

JW – On Feb. 21, 2024, Vladimir Baykalov's sentence — six years suspended for talking about the Bible — came into force by decision of the judge of the Kemerovo Regional Court Natalya Vorobyeva. The believer still insists on his innocence of extremism and has the right to appeal this decision to the court of cassation.

During the trial, Vladimir Baykalov stated: “It became obvious that I was convicted not for any extremist actions or statements, but for my peaceful religious beliefs, for faith not prohibited by law, which is expressed in the fact that I pray to God, read, study and apply the Holy Scriptures in my life for the benefit of people and society.” In his appeal, Baykalov pointed out that reading sacred texts, participating in joint worship services, and participating in the life of the community are among the ways of expressing faith and cannot be considered a crime in themselves.

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Feb. 22, 2024 – A call for Christian leaders to denounce the Russian Orthodox Church

Religion news – A critical explanation for congressional Republicans’ current resistance to providing aid to Ukraine is the belief among the GOP’s religious right influencers that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a partner in evangelical Christianity’s ongoing support for traditional family values.

Since his invasion of Ukraine, Putin has encouraged that belief by cracking down on abortion access and LGBT rights and even excusing his invasion of Russia’s neighbor as a defense against the encroachment of Western liberal culture.

Feb. 21, 2024 – Dissident Orthodox Bishop arrested for trying to hold memorial service for Navalny

Bitter Winter – The Solovetsky Stone in Saint Petersburg is a monument to the victims of the Soviet repression. Completed in 2002, it consists of a large stone taken from the infamous Solovki Detention Camp on the White Sea’s Solovetsky Islands.

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Archbishop Grigory Mikhnov-Vaitenko of the Apostolic Orthodox Church announced on social media that on Feb. 17 he will hold at this highly symbolic location a memorial service for the dissident Alexei Navalny, who died on Feb. 16, yet another victim of the brutality of Putin’s criminal regime.

Feb. 19, 2024 – Russia’s Christian dissidents

European Conservative – Russian dissident Alexei Navalny must have known he was a dead man when he boarded a flight back to Russia in Jan. 2021. In Aug. 2020, he’d been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent and medically evacuated to Berlin, where he miraculously survived. Navalny was the most prominent opponent of the Putin regime, an anti-corruption activist and politician who had organized anti-government protests and boasted millions of YouTube followers. He’d been arrested and jailed on fabricated charges before, and upon returning to Russia was promptly imprisoned again. He went missing in Dec. 2023 for several weeks, reappearing in the brutal “Polar Wolf” penal colony in the Arctic Circle.

Feb. 19, 2024 – New searches of Jehovah's Witnesses in Vladivostok

JW – On Feb. 14, 2024, at 6 a.m., searches of believers were carried out in Vladivostok. Electronic devices, photographs and personal records were seized, after which they were interrogated in the local department of the Investigative Committee.

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In one of the cases, during the search, a decision of the Frunzensky Court of Vladivostok dated Feb. 12, 2024 was presented.

Since 2017, 27 residents of Vladivostok have faced criminal prosecution for their faith.

Feb. 16, 2024 – In the Sverdlovsk region, a case was opened against a preacher for justifying terrorism

Sova – On Feb. 15, 2024, it became known that a criminal case was opened against a preacher from the Sverdlovsk region, Eduard Charov, under Part 2 of Art. 205.2 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism committed using the media or electronic or information and telecommunication networks, including the Internet).

The case was initiated due to a comment on VKontakte under a post about an arsonist at the military registration and enlistment office: Charov proposed awarding the arsonist a medal “For Courage.”

Feb. 16, 2024 – A court in Smolensk gave two elderly women a 2-year suspended sentence — they "participated in joint prayers to Jehovah and discussion of Bible interpretations"

JW – Tatyana Galkevich, 64, and Valentina Vladimirova, 67, Jehovah's Witnesses from Smolensk, received two years of suspended sentence with restriction of freedom for a year each for their faith. This decision was made by the Industrial District Court of Smolensk on Feb. 14, 2024. The believers deny the guilt of extremism, and the verdict is considered groundless.

“Jehovah's Witnesses, as law-abiding citizens, have stopped using premises for worship, but they cannot stop worshiping God and keeping silent about the beautiful Bible truths,” Vladimirova said. Galkevich commented on the process as follows: “The example of Jesus Christ himself helps me ... not to be embittered under the circumstances, when I am unjustifiably persecuted and terribly labeled an extremist.”

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