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Little Victims of Big Injustice. Children of Jehovah's Witnesses Are Detained, Interrogated, Humiliated

Sverdlovsk Region,   Stavropol Territory,   Smolensk Region,   Krasnodar Territory

Since 2016, at least 18 cases of harassment of the children of Jehovah's Witnesses have been recorded in various regions of Russia. Five such episodes occurred in January 2020. Dozens of minors suffered from religious persecution.

Under the pretext of "treatment for coronavirus", in the early morning of March 30, 2020, in the city of Volchansk (Sverdlovsk region), security forces invaded the apartment of the Zalyayev family. Investigator Vladimir Sudin kept the spouses and their 2 minor children naked in the corridor until he read out the search warrant and seized the phones of all family members. After the search, Ruslan Zalyaev, the father of the family, was taken to the police station for interrogation. There he was interrogated about his attitude towards Jehovah's Witnesses, threatened with a prison term for his faith and an unenviable fate for his children: "Think, you will be imprisoned, and the children will be sent to an orphanage."

On January 17, 2020, a man and two women, one of whom was in the uniform of a law enforcement officer, interrogated a sixth-grader during a break in one of the schools in Georgievsk. In violation of the law, the interrogation was conducted without the presence of parents or legal representatives. The child was asked questions on a tape recording, asking if he or his parents were Jehovah's Witnesses and if he knew any of the representatives of this faith. Four days later, on January 21, this student was interrogated during the lesson - the boy was asked the same questions. Earlier, a series of searches took place in Georgievsk, and a criminal case was opened on suspicion of believers of extremism. The schoolboy's mother, who is raising him alone, is very alarmed by the situation. According to her, she has almost stopped sleeping at night and is afraid to let the child go to school.

Another interrogation of a minor took place on January 16, 2020 in one of the western regions of Russia. Before that, the investigator intended to come to school and interrogate the child "in front of everyone." The boy's parents came with him for questioning at the law enforcement department. The child was asked if he knew any of the believers, including those who are now accused of extremism. Earlier, the security forces interrogated the relatives of the teenager, consolidating the trend of religious persecution of entire families. Now the child's relatives are very concerned about the possible development of events.

According to one of the lawyers, in the Smolensk region, parents were often frightened by deprivation of parental rights. "There was an attempt to interrogate a minor in Smolensk in May 2019. Then the police came to the school, took the mobile phone from the teenage girl and tried to interrogate her with the participation of the school psychologist. This was avoided thanks to the intervention of the mother, "says a lawyer with knowledge of the situation in the region.

On January 19, 2020, two children , aged 9 and 12, were interrogated in Kazan after security forces broke into the apartment of a local resident, Tatyana Obizhestvit. All her guests, including children, were taken for interrogation to the Department for Combating Organized Crime. During the interrogations, the security forces intimidated believers.

Often, security forces invade residential buildings with searches in the morning and evening, greatly frightening sleeping children. This is exactly what happened in Sochi in October 2019, when a group of armed special forces broke into Vyacheslav Popov's house through a balcony, breaking the handrails and breaking the windows.

In some cases, law enforcement officers acted disproportionately harshly. In July 2019, in Kaluga, during the arrest of Roman Makhnev, the security forces put his 15-year-old daughter barefoot on the street. For a long time, the girl stood in the rain while the search was going on. At this time, publications from the Federal List of Extremist Materials were planted under her bed.

In the spring of 2019, in Yemanzhelinsk (Chelyabinsk region), after a search, law enforcement officers detained parents, leaving the children under the supervision of acquaintances. Under similar circumstances, in November 2018, in Nevinnomyssk (Stavropol Territory), security forces took away the parents of a one-year-old child for interrogation, leaving the baby with his grandmother.

In December 2018, during a search in Neftekumsk (Stavropol Territory), the security forces stripped the minor to his underwear.

On June 26, 2018, in Shuya (Ivanovo region), security forces took a 10-year-old girl to the branch of the Investigative Committee and interrogated her. In the presence of the school psychologist, the child was forced to reveal the religion of the family, she burst into tears from stress. Law enforcement officers put pressure on the girl's mother, threatening to open a case on involving minors in "committing a crime" - reading the Bible, praying, meeting with fellow believers.

During a special operation in Polyarny (Murmansk region) in May 2018, special forces soldiers broke down the door to Roman Markin's apartment. At gunpoint, they laid him and his 16-year-old daughter face down on the floor. After the search, Markin's daughter was taken away and interrogated until 3 a.m.

In August 2017, during a raid on believers in Neftekumsk, security forces arrested a group of 18 people, including children. The police brought them to tears, interrogating them for 3 hours about their attitude to religion. The interrogations were conducted despite the protests of the parents, without explaining the rights and obligations of minors.

Shortly after the Supreme Court's decision to ban the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses legal entities in April 2017, three cases of pressure on children in schools in Bashkortostan, Rostov and Kirov regions became known at once. In the suburbs, the school principal threatened to transfer the parents of an 8-year-old girl to another form of education. As it turned out, the girl was singing songs of Jehovah's Witnesses, and also talked about God with a classmate.

Children of believers faced harassment on religious grounds even before the Supreme Court's decision. In 2016, at least 25 law enforcement officers disrupted a worship service in a local community in St. Petersburg. Among those present were minors who were interrogated by the security forces.

It is generally accepted that children and the elderly require special care from society and the state. However, in Russia, a misinterpretation of the legislation on extremism jeopardizes not only the religious freedoms of these categories of citizens, but also their physical and emotional health.