A court in Crimea sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to 6.5 years in a penal colony Monday for violation of Russian law on membership in an extremist organization. The accused, Viktor Stashevskiy, was tried in the Gagarinsky District Court of the City of Sevastopol for continuing activities and promoting the ideas of Jehovah’s Witnesses, holding meetings and carrying out religious performances.
Stashevskiy’s case originated in 2019 when he was arrested for holding a Bible study session with other Jehovah’s Witnesses at his home. The law in question is Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which outlaws organizing the activity of an extremist community. Such a violation can result in several years’ prison time or a fine of several hundred thousand rubles. However, Stashevskiy’s sentence is among the highest ever for organizing as a Jehovah’s Witness in Russia. His is the third Jehovah’s Witness case to be prosecuted in Crimea under Russian law since Crimea was annexed in 2014.
The Russian Supreme Court designated Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization in 2017 and ordered the 100,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia to cease practicing their faith. Since 2017, more than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned in penal colonies in Russia. The US State Department has urged the Russian government to lift the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and “respect the right of all to exercise their freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.”
Under Russian law, Stashevskiy could have avoided criminal liability by publicly disavowing his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness, but he stated an intention to keep his faith in court. He now has 10 days to appeal his sentence before it enters into force.