Russian Jehovah’s Witness Member Sentenced to Prison for "Extremism"

On October 11, Monday, the Pavlovsky District Court of the Krasnodar territory in southern Russia sentenced the disabled 59-year old Vladimir Skachidub to more than four years in prison. Skachidub's sentence came from 2020 criminal charges for preaching his religious faith. 

In June 2020, the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) in the Krasnodar Territory charged Skachidub and another JW, Maxim Beltikov, for violating Article 282.2 Part II of Russia's Criminal Code. Article 282.2's title is Organizing the Activity of an Extremist Community. Skachidub and Belikov were conducting bible studies. RadioFreeEurope reported that Skachidub was conducting bible study sessions in his village in Pavlovskaya.

Skachidub's charges are just one of the few series of religiously inspired arrests and charges carried out by the Russian government. The International Institute for Religious Freedom's (IIRF) report on the "misuse of the anti-extremism legislation" in Russia listed three targeted religions.

Last July, Jehova's Witnesses' father and son members in Russia were also sentenced to prison. Vilen and Arsen Avanesov and their companion Aleksandr Parkov were arrested in May 2019 and charged with scheming extremism. The three were sentenced to more than five years in prison each.

In a statement from JW's headquarters, Skachidub said he was "being prosecuted solely for my peaceful religious activities." "I simply exercised my right to profess religion," Skachidub added.

Jarrod Lopes, the spokesman for JWs, insisted that Skachidub was arrested on baseless charges and that the sentence "is a mockery of the rule of law." "Jehovah's Witnesses want nothing more than to peacefully worship in Russia and Crimea as they do in over 200 other lands," Lopes added.

Sir Andrew Wood, the former ambassador of the United Kingdom to Russia, in an interview with ReligionNews, said that the series of cases is "a stain on Russia." It also translates to the "further moral degradation of its ruling regime," Sir Andrew added.

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