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HEALTH OF DEATH ROW PRISONER IN SHARP DECLINE

Health of death row prisoner in sharp decline

Shafqat and Shagufta
59
days left to take action

According to a 2014 medical assessment, Shafqat was diagnosed as a paraplegic and suffered from large pressure sores. His lawyers say that he has never received appropriate medical treatment for his injuries, some of which originated from a gunshot wound (unrelated to the events that led to his imprisonment and death sentence). Shafqat’s family stated that he was in a coma for three days in March 2021 but was not shifted to a proper medical facility.

The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health including preventative, curative and palliative health care, is enshrined in international human rights law and standards. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), ratified by Pakistan in 2008, stipulates the obligation under Article 12 “to respect, protect and fulfill the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including those who are imprisoned or detained.”

In addition to Shafqat’s health, his death sentence makes the situation even more precarious. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are notoriously vague and carry heavy penalties. Based on evidence that fails to meet the standard of proof of “beyond reasonable doubt.”, the accused can face a death sentence. The blasphemy laws violate Pakistan’s obligations to respect human rights and pave the way for other abuses, including death threats and killings. Judges are pressured and intimidated into sentencing the accused, lest they become the next target. Defence lawyers have been killed in court. Witnesses and families of victims have had to go into hiding. 

When charges are levelled under most of these laws, the police have the authority to arrest the alleged offender without a warrant and can commence their investigation without orders from the magistrate’s court. Bowing to public pressure from angry crowds, including religious clerics and their supporters, they frequently pass cases on to prosecutors without scrutinising the evidence. And once someone is charged, they can be denied bail and face lengthy and unfair trials.

The threat of violence follows many people accused of blasphemy, with groups or individuals taking the law into their own hands to threaten or kill the accused and other people associated with them, including their lawyers, members of their families, and members of their own community.

A pall of fear also hangs over those working in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, preventing lawyers, police, prosecutors and judges from carrying out their jobs effectively, impartially, and free of fear. A concerning pattern of delaying tactics in Shafqat and Shagufta’s trial appears to be emerging, where at their last two hearings – one scheduled on 15 February, and the latest on 24 February – the judges have excused themselves from hearing their appeal, citing that court hours for the day had come to an end. Amnesty International has documented that postponements have been a common factor in several other cases of people accused of “blasphemy”, with judges often suspected of employing these tactics out of reluctance to pass judgments exonerating the accused. Indeed, trials of people accused of serious charges, including blasphemy, can take many years to conclude in Pakistan’s criminal justice system.

In a report published in 2016 Amnesty International showed how the blasphemy laws enable abuse and violate Pakistan’s international legal obligations to respect and protect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and of opinion and expression. It also showed how the laws have been used to target some of the most vulnerable people in society, including members of religious minorities. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acknowledged that “the majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations” and are driven by ulterior motives. Amnesty International has found that such motives are rarely scrutinized by the authorities and can vary, from professional rivalry, to personal or religious disputes, to seeking economic gain.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or the circumstances of the crime; the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.
 

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CHRISTIAN COUPLE ON DEATH ROW FOR ‘BLASPHEMY’

Christian couple on death row for "blasphemy"

Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel
20
days left to take action

A concerning pattern of delaying tactics in Shafqat and Shagufta’s trial appears to be emerging, where at their last two hearings – one scheduled on 15 February, and the latest on 24 February – the judges have excused themselves from hearing their appeal, citing that court hours for the day had come to an end. Amnesty International has documented that postponements have been a common factor in several other cases of people accused of “blasphemy”, with judges often suspected of employing these tactics out of reluctance to pass judgments exonerating the accused. Indeed, trials of people accused of serious charges, including blasphemy, can take many years to conclude in Pakistan’s criminal justice system.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are notoriously vague and carry heavy penalties. Based on evidence that fails to meet the standard of proof of “beyond reasonable doubt.”, the accused can face a death sentence. The blasphemy laws violate Pakistan’s obligations to respect human rights and pave the way for other abuses, including death threats and killings. Judges are pressured and intimidated into sentencing the accused, lest they become the next target. Defence lawyers have been killed in court. Witnesses and families of victims have had to go into hiding. 
When charges are levelled under most of these laws, the police have the authority to arrest the alleged offender without a warrant and can commence their investigation without orders from the magistrate’s court. Bowing to public pressure from angry crowds, including religious clerics and their supporters, they frequently pass cases on to prosecutors without scrutinising the evidence. And once someone is charged, they can be denied bail and face lengthy and unfair trials.

The threat of violence follows many people accused of blasphemy, with groups or individuals taking the law into their own hands to threaten or kill the accused and other people associated with them, including their lawyers, members of their families, and members of their own community.

A pall of fear also hangs over those working in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, preventing lawyers, police, prosecutors and judges from carrying out their jobs effectively, impartially, and free of fear. 

In a report published in 2016 Amnesty International showed how the blasphemy laws enable abuse and violate Pakistan’s international legal obligations to respect and protect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and of opinion and expression. It also showed how the laws have been used to target some of the most vulnerable people in society, including members of religious minorities. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acknowledged that “the majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations” and are driven by ulterior motives. Amnesty International has found that such motives are rarely scrutinized by the authorities and can vary, from professional rivalry, to personal or religious disputes, to seeking economic gain.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or the circumstances of the crime; the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.
 

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KAZAKH FAMILY AT RISK OF TORTURE IN DETENTION

Kazakh family at risk of torture in detention

Weilina Muhatai
0
days left to take action

Weilina Muhatai and her late husband Haliyoula Tuerxun are retired civil servants. Their sons Muheyati Haliyoula and Parisati Haliyoula are a businessman and music teacher, respectively. Their eldest son is currently living in Kazakhstan. 

Haliyoula Tuerxun, Weilina Muhatai, Muheyati Haliyoula and Parisati Haliyoula were all put into “transformation-through-education” facilities in March 2018. Weilina Muhatai, Muheyati Haliyoula and Parisati Haliyoula were released in early 2019 and have been closely monitored by the authorities ever since. 

Haliyoula Tuerxun’s family was informed that he was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in a secret trial, however no details about the crime that he had supposedly committed has ever been shared. In December 2020, his family was told by a trusted source that he had died while in detention. The Chinese authorities have never disclosed anything about Haliyoula Tuerxun’s death to his family. His son living in Kazakhstan is worried that his death may have been caused by torture or ill-treatment during detention, as there have been allegations of torture and ill-treatment in Xinjiang’s detention facilities. Before he had been detained in March 2018, he exposed the death of an ethnic Kazakh in a “transformation-through-education” facility. 

Xinjiang is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in China. More than half of the region’s population of 22 million people belong to mostly Turkic and predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, including Uyghurs (around 11.3 million), Kazakhs (around 1.6 million) and other populations whose languages, cultures and ways of life vary distinctly from those of the Han who are the majority in “interior” China. 

In March 2017, the Xinjiang government enacted the “De-extremification Regulation” that identifies and prohibits a wide range of behaviours labelled “extremist”, such as “spreading extremist thought”, denigrating or refusing to watch public radio and TV programmes, wearing burkas, having an “abnormal” beard, resisting national policies, and publishing, downloading, storing, or reading articles, publications, or audio-visual materials containing “extremist content”. The regulation also set up a “responsibility system” for government cadres for “anti-extremism” work and established annual reviews of their performance. 

It is estimated that up to a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim people have been held in the “transformation-through-education” centres. The Chinese authorities had denied the existence of such facilities until October 2018, when they began describing them as voluntary, free “vocational training” centres. They claim that the objective of this vocational training is to provide people with technical and vocational education to enable them to find jobs and become “useful” citizens. China’s explanation, however, contradicts reports of beatings, food deprivation and solitary confinement that have been collected from former detainees. China has rejected calls from the international community, including Amnesty, to allow independent experts unrestricted access to Xinjiang. Instead, China has made efforts to silence criticism by inviting delegations from different countries to visit Xinjiang for carefully orchestrated and closely monitored tours.
 

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LENGTHY IMPRISONMENT FOR RETIRED UYGHUR DOCTOR

Lengthy imprisonment for retired Uyghur doctor

Gulshan Abbas
0
days left to take action

Gulshan Abbas is a retired doctor from the Xinjiang Oil Field Company Ming Yuan Workers Hospital in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang). She had an early retirement because of her health problems.

It is believed that Gulshan Abbas was taken away just days after her sister Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur activist in the US, made a speech about the mass detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Rushan has since come under attack by Chinese official media, such as the Global Times, which has accused her of being a “separatist” and spreading rumours about the detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This would not be the first time that relatives of activists have been targeted, as Amnesty International has documented several cases of harassment and intimidation of Uyghurs overseas by the Chinese authorities. 

Xinjiang is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in China. More than half of the region’s population of 22 million people belong to mostly Turkic and predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, including Uyghurs (around 11.3 million), Kazakhs (around 1.6 million) and other populations whose languages, cultures and ways of life vary distinctly from those of the Han who are the majority in “interior” China. 

In March 2017, the Xinjiang government enacted the “De-extremification Regulation” that identifies and prohibits a wide range of behaviours labelled “extremist”, such as “spreading extremist thought”, denigrating or refusing to watch public radio and TV programmes, wearing burkas, having an “abnormal” beard, resisting national policies, and publishing, downloading, storing, or reading articles, publications, or audio-visual materials containing “extremist content”. The regulation also set up a “responsibility system” for government cadres for “anti-extremism” work and established annual reviews of their performance.

It is estimated that up to a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim people have been held in the “transformation-through-education” centres. The Chinese authorities had denied the existence of such facilities until October 2018, when they began describing them as voluntary, free “vocational training” centres. They claim that the objective of this vocational training is to provide people with technical and vocational education to enable them to find jobs and become “useful” citizens. China’s explanation, however, contradicts reports of beatings, food deprivation and solitary confinement that have been collected from former detainees. China has rejected calls from the international community, including Amnesty, to allow independent experts unrestricted access to Xinjiang.

Instead, China has made efforts to silence criticism by inviting delegations from different countries to visit Xinjiang for carefully orchestrated and closely monitored tours.
 

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UYGHUR DETAINED INCOMMUNICADO AGAIN

Uyghur detained incommunicado again

Mahira Yakub
0
days left to take action

Mahira Yakub worked at China Life Insurance Co. She also sold walnuts in local markets and taught Uyghur children Mandarin Chinese at night. After Mahira Yakub went missing in April 2019, her sister who was living in Australia reached out to the Australian authorities for their help. It was only in September 2019 that she learned, through communications between the Australian authorities and the Chinese embassy in Canberra, that Mahira Yakub had been arrested on 15 May 2019 and “prosecuted in July 2019 for allegedly financing terrorist activities and is currently in good health”. 

Mahira Yakub’s parents are accused by the Chinese authorities of being “fleeing terrorists” despite being able to visit China without incident in 2015 and 2016. They have not been targeted in any way by the Australian authorities for suspected criminal activities. 

According to her sister, Mahira Yakub transferred money to her parents in June and July 2013 to help them pay for a house in Australia. Mahira Yakub’s sister has kept the documentation, including the bank transfer receipts and records of the house purchase. The Chinese authorities also claimed that Mahira Yakub possessed items, including 66 photos, that promoted extremism. Mahira Yakub’s sister believes that the photos were of herself, Mahira and their mother wearing headscarves. No reasons were provided for Mahira Yakub’s detention in a “transformation-through-education” facility from March to December 2018. It is unclear if this detention was related to her money transfers to her parents.

When Mahira Yakub was taken away on 5 September 2020, her family members were told that she would be taken to Yining People’s Hospital for unknown reasons. However, her family members were not able to speak to her even on phone. According to her sister, Mahira Yakub has not been able to engage a lawyer because she is a Uyghur. Amnesty International has documented cases in which members of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang were unable to hire lawyers because the lawyers feared retaliation for representing them. Mahira Yakub’s aunt and uncle, Gulbekram Memtimin (麦米提敏‧古勒拜克热木) and Qasim Tohti (托合提‧哈斯木), were indicted on the same charges. They are currently released on bail.

Xinjiang is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in China. More than half of the region’s population of 22 million people belong to mostly Turkic and predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, including Uyghurs (around 11.3 million), Kazakhs (around 1.6 million) and other populations whose languages, cultures and ways of life vary distinctly from those of the Han who are the majority in “interior” China. 

In March 2017, the Xinjiang government enacted the “De-extremification Regulation” that identifies and prohibits a wide range of behaviours labelled “extremist”, such as “spreading extremist thought”, denigrating or refusing to watch public radio and TV programmes, wearing burkas, having an “abnormal” beard, resisting national policies, and publishing, downloading, storing, or reading articles, publications, or audio-visual materials containing “extremist content”. The regulation also set up a “responsibility system” for government cadres for “anti-extremism” work and established annual reviews of their performance. 

It is estimated that up to a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim people have been held in the “transformation-through-education” centres. The Chinese authorities had denied the existence of such facilities until October 2018, when they began describing them as voluntary, free “vocational training” centres. They claim that the objective of this vocational training is to provide people with technical and vocational education to enable them to find jobs and become “useful” citizens. China’s explanation, however, contradicts reports of beatings, food deprivation and solitary confinement that have been collected from former detainees. China has rejected calls from the international community, including Amnesty, to allow independent experts unrestricted access to Xinjiang.

Instead, China has made efforts to silence criticism by inviting delegations from different countries to visit Xinjiang for carefully orchestrated and closely monitored tours.
 

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TORTURED SUFI PRISONER MUST BE RELEASED

Tortured Sufi prisoner must be released

Behnam Mahjoubi Social media graphic
0
days left to take action

Behnam Mahjoubi was arrested following a violent crackdown by security forces on hundreds of Gonabadi Dervishes, both men and women, who had gathered peacefully on 19 February 2018. The peaceful gathering was outside the residence of their spiritual leader Noor Ali Tabandeh, in an area of Tehran known as Golestan-e Haftom, to protest against the authorities’ intensified persecution of their community, prevent the arrest of their leader and call for the release of detained Gonabadi Dervishes. Those present at the protest reported that police and plainclothes Basiji paramilitary forces resorted to beating the protestors with batons, electric cables and sharp objects, and used tear gas, water cannons and live ammunition to disperse the crowd, violently arresting over 300 men and women. Those present reported that security forces raided a nearby five-storey apartment building to which the protesters had escaped, fired tear gas into the staircases, formed a “tunnel” of batons and struck protesters repeatedly on their backs, heads and faces as they violently dragged them down the stairs and into police vans. Pictures and videos from the incident and its aftermath show protesters with lacerations and other wounds to their faces and bodies and bandaged heads and other body parts.

In relation to this incident, more than 200 Gonabadi Dervishes were sentenced to a total of 1,080 years in prison, 5,995 lashes as well as internal “exile”, travel bans, and bans on joining political and social groups. In Behnam Mahjoubi’s court verdict, the prosecution had cited peaceful activities protected under international human rights law as evidence of criminal activity. The court cited activities such as his peaceful participation at the protest, his forced “confessions” admitting his attendance in what the prosecution called an “illegal” protest, and his alleged membership of online groups that report on human rights violations perpetrated against Gonabadi Dervishes to convict him.

Since his imprisonment, Behnam Mahjoubi has undertaken several hunger strikes. Amnesty International understands that the prison authorities often delay giving his medication to him for several weeks after his family have taken it to the prison. He went on his first hunger strike on 31 July 2020 and ended it three days later after the prison authorities promised to provide him with his medication. He went on hunger strike again around mid-August for 12 days in solidarity with human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who was on hunger strike demanding the release of prisoners of conscience amidst the spread of COVID-19 in Iran’s prisons. Earlier in the year, the Iranian authorities had temporarily released around 128,000 prisoners on furlough and pardoned another 10,000 in response to COVID-19, but hundreds of prisoners of conscience were excluded. Behnam Mahjoubi’s 12 day hunger strike in August 2020 severely weakened him and eventually led to him collapsing in prison, after which he was taken to hospital but was returned to prison the same day, despite doctors recommending that he be admitted for several days, according to informed sources with knowledge of his case. During the last week of September 2020, Behnam Mahjoubi suffered from seizures, resulting in his head being knocked to the ground and temporary paralysis on the left side of his body. Sources with knowledge about his case told Amnesty International that a doctor in the prison clinic had pressured him to take sleeping tablets to treat his panic disorder but that they may have been incompatible with his prescription medication and may therefore have contributed to his seizures. Although the prison authorities had promised to take him to a regular hospital to examine him following his seizures, on 27 September 2020, they instead forcibly transferred him to Aminabad psychiatric hospital where he was forcibly injected with chemical substances against his will. He went on hunger strike on 29 September 2020 in protest at his enforced detention in the psychiatric hospital. He was returned to the prison after six days in hospital and ended his hunger strike two days later. Following his return to the prison, his health declined; the left side of his body had become numb, his legs had become swollen, and he was unable to walk without a walking aid. Consequently, on 29 October 2020, he began another hunger strike and, two days later, on 31 October 2020, the prison authorities again forcibly transferred him to Aminabad psychiatric hospital but falsely informed his family that they were taking him to a regular hospital. According to information available to Amnesty International, the doctors in the psychiatric hospital threatened Behnam Mahjoubi that if he did not end his hunger strike, they would give him electric shocks. He was returned to prison on 2 November 2020 and ended his hunger strike the next day. His health has continued to decline since.

The Gonabadi Dervish religious minority are members of Iran’s largest Sufi order and consider themselves Shi’a Muslims. They describe Sufism as neither a religion nor a sect, but rather a way of life by which people – from any religion – may find God. The Iranian authorities have persecuted them because of their faith, and they have persistently subjected them to discrimination, harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, imprisonment and flogging sentences, and attacks on their sacred or important sites, including prayer houses.
 

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EARLY RELEASE OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESS REVERTED

Early release of Jehovah's Witness reverted

Dennis Christensen
0
days left to take action

Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced persecution and harassment in modern Russia since 2009, when a court in Rostov Region in southern Russia banned the local Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (JW) organization and declared 34 of JW’s publications “extremist”. In subsequent years, several Jehovah’s Witnesses’ groups across Russia were pronounced “extremist” by local courts. The relevant decisions relied on the vague definition of “extremism” in Russian law and were consistent with the growing practice of its vague application which increasingly targeted political, but also religious and other forms of dissent. In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the central Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Russia should be closed, its activities stopped, and its property confiscated. This effectively banned all local groups. Since then, any activity on behalf of a local Jehovah’s Witnesses group has been regarded as criminal. 

Dennis Christensen – a Danish national who has been living in Russia for over 20 years – was arrested a month after the Supreme Court’s decision, becoming the first Jehovah’s Witness to be detained in Russia following the ban.

On 6 February 2019, the Zheleznodorznyi District Court in Orel found Dennis Christensen guilty of “organizing activities of an extremist organization” (Article 282.2 (1) of the Russian Criminal Code) and sentenced him to six years in prison. According to the prosecution, Dennis Christensen was organizing local worship by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and as evidence of his “crime” he was collecting donations and organizing cleaning of the venue used by the worshipers. On 23 May, the Orel Regional Court upheld the sentence and he was then transported to correctional penal colony No 3 in Kursk region, some 200 km away from his home in Orel. 

There, Dennis Christensen has reportedly faced harassment of the penal colony administration, including via unsubstantiated reprimands for alleged regime violations. Although Dennis Christensen was still feeling the after effects of pneumonia, the penal colony administration was not giving him the needed medicines and have reportedly “lost” his medical file. In June 2017, Dennis filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights against his arrest. Subsequently, the Kingdom of Denmark joined Christensen v. Russia as the third party. His application has passed the communication stage.

Dennis Christensen’s multiple applications for parole or easing of the regime had been rejected, and only his fourth application reached the court. On 23 June 2020, the Lgov District Court ruled to commute Dennis Christensen’s sentence and release him subject to a RUB 400,000 (USD 5,304) fine. However, this decision was appealed by the prosecution. On 4 September, Kursk Regional Court quashed Lgov Court’s decision and sent the case back for a new consideration. Following this, Dennis Christensen has been subjected to further harassment by the penal colony administration and has spent 27 days in the punishment cell for purported disciplinary offences. 

According to the data provided by the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, since Dennis Christensen’s conviction, persecution of its members in Russia has intensified. As of 7 September, criminal proceedings have been opened against at least 384 Jehovah’s Witnesses under “extremism” charges. Ten people have been convicted. At least 36 people were remanded in custody, and a further 27 people were under house arrest. At least 1130 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been raided since 2017 Supreme Court ruling.  

Amnesty International regards the Russian authorities’ decision to criminalise JW’s teachings and practices an arbitrary and discriminatory measure, and a violation of the right to freedom of religion. The organization has called on the authorities to quash these decisions. It has also consistently stressed that anti-extremism legislation in Russia is often applied arbitrarily and has called on the authorities to review the relevant legislation and practice and bring them in line with international standards. Amnesty International considers Dennis Christensen and any Jehovah’s Witness deprived of their liberty solely in connection with the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of religion to be prisoners of conscience. They must be immediately and unconditionally released, all convictions quashed and all pending charges against them dropped.
 

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JEHOVAH’S WITNESS APPEALS LONG SENTENCE

Jehovah's Witness appeals long sentence

Gennady Shpakovsky
0
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Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced persecution and harassment in modern Russia since 2009, when a court in Rostov Region in southern Russia banned the local Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organization and declared 34 of their publications “extremist”. In subsequent years, several Jehovah’s Witnesses’ groups across Russia were pronounced “extremist” by local courts. Their prosecution was based on the vague definition of “extremism” in Russian law, in line with the growing practice of its vague application which increasingly targeted political, but also religious and other forms of dissent. In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the central Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Russia should be closed, its activities stopped, and its property confiscated. This effectively banned all local groups. Since then, any activity on behalf of a local Jehovah’s Witnesses group has been regarded as criminal. 

The first Jehovah’s Witness sentenced in Russia to imprisonment is Danish citizen Dennis Christensen who was arrested just a month after the Supreme Court’s decision in 2017. On 6 February 2019, the Zheleznodorznyi District Court in Orel found him guilty of “organizing activities of an extremist organization” (Article 282.2 (1) of the Russian Criminal Code) and sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment. On 23 June, Lgov District Court in Kursk region where Dennis Christensen has been serving his sentence, approved his early release. The court ordered him to pay RUB 400,000 (USD 5,809) for the unserved part of his sentence. Unless the prosecution appeals this decision, Dennis Christensen should be promptly released.

Gennady Shpakovsky became the eleventh Jehovah’s Witness sentenced to jail by Russian courts (including two individuals in occupied Crimea). A criminal case against him was initiated on 31 May 2018. Prior to this, according to information from the international Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, he had been under surveillance by the security services. Gennady Shpakovsky was detained on 3 June 2018 when he was discussing the Bible with his friends.

Armed security services and riot police officers (OMON) broke the door into the flat and conducted a six-hour search of the premises. Gennady Shpakovsky and his friends were then subjected to questioning about their activities for several hours. They reported being threatened and harassed during the questioning. Gennady Shpakovsky was charged with and then convicted for “organization of the activities of an extremist organization” (Article 282.2 (1) of the Russian Criminal Code) and “financing of extremist activity” (Article 282.3 (1) of the Russian Criminal Code). 

According to the data provided by the international Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, as of 9 June, criminal proceedings have been opened against at least 346 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia under “extremism” charges, and at least 170 individuals have spent time in pre-trial detention. Ten people have been convicted. At least 20 people were remanded in custody as of 9 June, and 22 individuals were under house arrest. At least 927 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been raided since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling, including 126 homes raided in 2020, at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Amnesty International considers the Russian authorities’ decision to criminalise Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings and practices an arbitrary and discriminatory measure, and a violation of the right to freedom of religion. The organization has called on the authorities to quash these decisions. It has also consistently stressed that anti-extremism legislation in Russia is often applied arbitrarily and has called on the authorities to review the relevant legislation and practice and bring them in line with international standards. Amnesty International considers any Jehovah’s Witness deprived of their liberty solely in connection with the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of religion to be prisoners of conscience. They must be immediately and unconditionally released, all convictions quashed and all pending charges against them dropped.
 

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PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE MUST BE RELEASED

Prisoner of conscience must be released

RUSSIA-RIGHTS-RELIGION-TRIAL - © MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
0
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Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced persecution and harassment in modern Russia since 2009, when a court in Rostov Region in southern Russia banned the local Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organization and declared 34 of their publications “extremist”. In subsequent years, several Jehovah’s Witnesses’ groups across Russia were pronounced “extremist” by local courts. Their prosecution was based on the vague definition of “extremism” in Russian law, in line with the growing practice of its vague application which increasingly targeted political, but also religious and other forms of dissent. In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the central Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Russia should be closed, its activities stopped, and its property confiscated. This effectively banned all local groups. Since then, any activity on behalf of a local Jehovah’s Witnesses group has been regarded as criminal. 

Dennis Christensen – a Danish national who has been living in Russia for over 20 years – was arrested a month after the Supreme Court’s decision in 2017, becoming the first Jehovah’s Witness to be detained in Russia following the ban. On 6 February 2019, the Zheleznodorznyi District Court in Orel found Dennis Christensen guilty of “organizing activities of an extremist organization” (Article 282.2 (1) of the Russian Criminal Code) and sentenced him to six years in prison. According to the prosecution, Dennis Christensen was organizing local worship by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and as evidence of his “crime” he was collecting donations and organizing cleaning of the venue used by the worshipers. On 23 May, the Orel Regional Court upheld the sentence and he was then transported to the correctional penal colony No 3 in Kursk region, some 200 km away from his home in Orel. 

There, Dennis Christensen has reportedly faced harassment by the penal colony administration, including via unsubstantiated reprimands for alleged regime violations. His previous applications for parole or easing of the regime have been rejected. Although Dennis has not fully recovered from a pneumonia he suffered at the end of 2019, the prison administration is not providing him with the adequate medical care he requires and has reportedly “lost” his medical file. 

In June 2017, Dennis Christensen filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights against his arrest. Subsequently, the Kingdom of Denmark joined Christensen v. Russia as the third party. The complaint is known to have passed the communication stage.

According to the data provided by the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, since Dennis Christensen’s conviction, the reprisals against its members in Russia have intensified. As of 9 June, criminal proceedings have been opened against at least 346 Jehovah’s Witnesses under “extremism” charges, and at least 170 individuals have spent time in pre-trial detention. Ten people have been convicted. At least 20 people were remanded in custody as of 9 June, and 22 individuals were under house arrest. At least 927 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been raided since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling, including 126 homes raided in 2020 – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Amnesty International considers the Russian authorities’ decision to criminalise Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings and practices an arbitrary and discriminatory measure, and a violation of the right to freedom of religion. The organization has called on the authorities to quash these decisions. It has also consistently stressed that anti-extremism legislation in Russia is often applied arbitrarily and has called on the authorities to review the relevant legislation and practice and bring them in line with international standards. Amnesty International considers Dennis Christensen and any Jehovah’s Witness deprived of their liberty solely in connection with the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of religion to be prisoners of conscience. They must be immediately and unconditionally released, all convictions quashed and all pending charges against them dropped.
 

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SHAMAN IN PSYCHIATRIC DETENTION FOR CRITICIZING PUTIN

Shaman in psychiatric detention for crticizing Putin

Aleksandr Gabyshev, Siberian shaman
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Aleksandr Gabyshev is a follower of a traditional local religion in his native Yakutia, and a political activist. After his first attempt to march 8,500 kilometres from Yakutsk to Moscow to “purge” Russian President Vladimir Putin from Kremlin in 2019, Aleksandr Gabyshev has faced multiple instances of harassment and persecution by the authorities. On 19 September 2019, armed and masked law enforcement officials encircled the site near the village of Vydrino, 3,000 kilometres west of Yakutsk, where Aleksandr Gabyshev was camping with his companions. They took away the shaman, without revealing who they were or explaining their actions. He was transferred to Yakutsk and held incommunicado at the Yakut Republican Psychoneurological Dispensary. After he refused to undergo psychiatric examination, he was released but only to be charged with “public calls for extremist activity” (Part 1 of Article 280 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Aleksandr Gabyshev was then placed under covert police surveillance.

Meanwhile, some of his supporters have been repeatedly arrested and fined for allegedly committing minor offenses.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Russia is a State party, forbids the deprivation of liberty based on the existence of any disability, including mental or intellectual. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur on torture has said that medical treatment administered in the absence of free and informed consent may amount to torture or other ill-treatment.
 

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