The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (ISCIRF), akin to one supportive of Jehovah’s Witnesses argument in “Rights and Science: Persecution of and by Jehovah’s Witnesses” on the rights violations against the Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Russian Federation, “condemned” the increase in harsh prison sentences handed to the members of the “Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.” The USCIRF is a bipartisan, independent federal government entity. It was established by the Congress in the United States for the analyzing, monitoring, and reporting of threats to religious freedom outside of the United States.
This does not negate the issues of the rejection of some medical treatments grounded in non-science or theological reasoning and premises, i.e., quoting scripture as the basis for rejection of a series of medical treatments, or the cover-up of child abuse for decades as in many other religious sects or denominations. It’s a mixed bag, as with many religions and religious groups. I know believers and non-believers alike realize this based on correspondence. However, one side wants only to condemn the religious believers’ poor blood transfusion policy and cover-up of child abuse; while, another only wants to focus on rights violations against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both matter and reflect the complicated nature of many of these affairs.
To the right to freedom of belief, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression, Jehovah’s Witnesses have full rights to these, as with other Christians, or Hindus, Muslims, Jewish peoples, Native American spiritualists, and atheist, agnostics, Unitarian Universalists, and the like. Thus, the violation of the human rights of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is an important thing to stop in order for the free practice of religion for them.
The USCIRF focused on the harsh prison sentences, but this follows a long series of negative impacts on Jehovah’s Witnesses all over the Russian Federation. Take the case of Artem Gerasimov, who is a resident of occupied Crimea, he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment based on personal faith. Is this not unjust and unfair? It is based on fundamental rights to freedom of religion and belief. Yet, he is imprisoned because of it.
A few days after the last one on June 4 with Gerasimov; there was the June 9 case of a 61-year-old man named Gennady Shpakovsky to even more time at 6.5 years based on religious views and sharing religious views of others. Could this be applied to other religions, say the Russian Orthodox Church? It is unjust and unfair in and of itself. It should stop, as it should stop for others all around the world.
Commissioner Gary Bauer said, “Russia’s vicious targeting of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, guilty only of practicing their peaceful religious beliefs, clearly illustrates the government’s contempt for the international human rights treaties to which it is a party.”
The 2020 Annual Report from the USCIRF listed a recommendation to the State Department of the United States for the Russian Federation as a country of concern based on the repression – rights violations – of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious belief systems’ adherents.
Vice Chair Gayle Manchin stated, “The ongoing campaign against the peaceful Jehovah’s Witnesses is one of the many reasons why USCIRF considers Russia worthy of being designated a ‘country of particular concern’ for systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations… We sincerely hope that the State Department will reach the same conclusion later this year.”
With files from the USCIRF