Russian Court Nullifies Acquittal Of Jehovah’s Witness

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VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- A court in Russia has nullified the acquittal of a Jehovah's Witness and sent his case for retrial amid an ongoing crackdown on the followers of the religious group.

The Primorye regional court in Russia's Far East ruled on April 8 that Dmitry Barmakin's acquittal in November was wrong, claiming that materials collected by investigators suggest he was involved in the "organization of an extremist group's activities."

The court's decision was made public on April 9.

Barmakin was the first Jehovah's Witness in Russia who had been acquitted in court of "extremism" charges since the religious denomination was labeled as "extremist" and banned in Russia in 2017.

The court's ruled at the time that Barmakin "is subject to acquittal due to the absence of corpus delicti [proof of a crime] by the defendant's actions" just because he had "exercised the right to freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution of Russia."

Barmakin was arrested in July 2018 and spent 15 months in pretrial detention before he was released and ordered not to leave Vladivostok.

The charge against Barmakin was based on the testimony of Yekaterina Petrova, a college teacher in Vladivostok, who recorded sessions of Bible studies led by Barmakin. She said she did so on orders from Federal Security Service officers.

The court's move to acquit Barmakin came a week after the U.S. State Department officially added Russia to its register of the world's "worst violators" of religious freedoms, a list that includes Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and five other countries.

The blacklisting paves the way for sanctions if the countries included do not improve their records.

The Jehovah's Witnesses say more than 70 members are currently incarcerated across Russia, while 265 probes have been launched against 574 Jehovah's Witnesses since 2017.

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