Activists protest expected extradition of Jehovah’s Witness to Russia
Belarus should not extradite Nikolai Makhalichev, a Jehovah’s Witness detained in the town of Haradok, to Russia, where he is facing unfounded charges of “extremism” in Russia, and years in prison if convicted, Amnesty International said in an urgent appeal to Belarusian Prosecutor General.
“He will also be at risk of torture and unfair trial. Nikolai Makhalichev should be immediately released and granted international protection,” it said.
Makhalichev was detained on February 21. According to the website run by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, Makhalichev faced criminal charges on January 31 in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District. He is now in a remand prison in Viciebsk. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus is expected to decide whether he will be deported to Russia.
The detainee has applied for a refugee status in the Republic of Belarus.
Amnesty International stresses that Makhalichev “has not committed any internationally recognisable criminal offence or anything which constitutes a crime under Belarusian law and is facing prosecution solely for exercising his right to freedom of religion.”
“If Belarus extradites him to Russia, it will be in violation of its international human rights obligations,” says the appeal.
Unlike Russia, Belarus respects Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to freedom of religion, with 27 communities in the country. By contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses face persecution Russia where their organization was arbitrarily banned as “extremist” in April 2017.
Belarusian human rights organization Human Constanta also calls on the Belarusian authorities not to extradite Nikolai Makhalichev, and demands that the Belarusian legislation and all necessary procedures be strictly observed to prevent the violation of the detainee’s rights.
If enforced, the extradition will violate Belarusian laws.
“Foreign citizens may not be expelled from the territory of the Republic of Belarus to the foreign state where their life or freedom is under the threat owing to their race, religion, citizenship or political opinion,” Human Constanta said citing from Belarusian legislation.
According to the Russian human rights center Memorial, at least 200 Jehovah's Witnesses have been prosecuted under Article 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code for their involvement in a “religious organization dissolved over extremism activity.” The article provides for up to 10 years in prison. According to Memorial, at least 15 Jehovah's Witnesses are currently in custody and 24 are under house arrest. Another 163 have been subjected to other forms of restraint.