Russian FSB spied on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bathhouse
Russian intelligence services spied on and filmed Jehovah’s Witnesses in public baths, in the latest example of persecution against the banned Christian group.
The espionage, carried out by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia, was revealed during a trial in the city of Perm in the Urals, where five Jehovah’s Witnesses received suspended sentences for “illegal” religious activities.
Video of group members in the public baths was used as evidence against the defendants in the trial, which lasted nearly three years.
In evidence released to the court, 27 male and female members of the group gathered in a public bath in Perm to baptize new members. The FSB installed video cameras in the public baths where the baptism ceremony was taking place.
For Jehovah’s Witnesses, baptism is considered a declaration of faith. Before the coronavirus pandemic, large public baptisms were common among believers around the world.
For decades, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is defended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Since the group’s ban in 2017, many of its members have been persecuted and sentenced to prison terms. An estimated 170,000 people are followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.
According to The Times of London, Igor Turik, on a seven-year suspended sentence, said: “If only you know what emotional pain these women suffered when they found out their nudity had been videotaped.”
Marked as “ extremists ”
An integral part of Russian culture, the banya is a popular meeting place for friends and colleagues to drink, relax and sometimes receive invigorating leafy massages.
A article on JW.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, encourages its followers to enjoy “sweat baths,” writing about the health benefits of providing “relief from allergies, colds and arthritis pain.”
Four other members of the group were given shorter suspended sentences, with Boris Burylov, Viktor Kuchkov, Aleksandr Inozemtsev and Yury Vaag each receiving two and a half years.
In addition to being convicted of “illegal” religious activities, Perm Jehovah’s Witnesses have also been accused of organizing, financing and participating in the extremist community.
Speaking since the trial, the member of the Turik group said: “I think this case is an illusion on the part of the state… We are very hurt by what is happening in the country.”
The extremism law used to target the group was passed 19 years ago and has undergone numerous amendments. In recent years, he has turned against religious groups, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The same law was also used against the punk rockers of the Pussy Riot show and Falun Gong, the Chinese spiritual movement. More recently, Moscow prosecutors asked a Russian court to recognize the regional network of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, as well as his Anti-Corruption Foundation and Citizens’ Rights Foundation, as extremist organizations.
Known for their door-to-door preaching, in-depth Bible study, and rejection of military service, Jehovah’s Witnesses number approximately 8 million followers worldwide. Members of the group believe that the current world order faces imminent destruction and that only 144,000 people will go to Heaven when Armageddon strikes.
According to independent monitoring group OVD-Info, criminal proceedings were opened against 423 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia in December 2020.
In February 2019, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Khanty-Mansi region of Russia said at least seven members of their congregation had been tortured by investigative committee agents in the city of Surgut, subjected to “shock” electric shock, suffocation and cruel beatings “.
While religious freedom is officially guaranteed in Russia, religious groups based abroad face suspicion and other groups, including Baptists, Mormons and Pentecostals, have been persecuted in the country.
The United States has condemned the ongoing Russian crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities.
In September 2019, Washington banned two officers of the Russian Investigative Committee from entering the United States for the alleged torture of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut.