Following mass searches and arrests near the Siberian city of Surgut earlier this month, several Jehovah’s Witnesses being held in the city said they had been tortured by law enforcement officers. On February 20, seven adherents of the religious group, which is banned in Russia, reported that officers caused them prolonged pain in an effort to discover where the group met and who attended meetings as well as the identities of local elders.
Both the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and individual adherents who were arrested said they were beaten, suffocated, and given electric shocks to their genitals. Among other sources, both TV Rain and OVD-Info interviewed Jehovah’s Witnesses and their attorneys to confirm that information in detail. OVD-Info’s report indicated that the group of 40 or so people arrested this month included minors. It also revealed that while those who said they were tortured sought medical help and asked for a record of their injuries to be created, their attorney, Dmitry Kolobov, said medical staff were insufficiently trained to locate electric shock marks and recorded large hematomas as minor bruises.
Russia’s Investigative Committee denied that members of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been tortured in Surgut. Officials said no member of the group had made an official complaint regarding torture and that because the organization is banned in Russia, reports of torture that appeared on its website should never have been published in the country.
The reports of torture come amid an ongoing crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Officials at the highest levels of government have defended the country’s ban on the organization, and in other parts of Russia, efforts to prosecute its members or transfer its former property to the state are ongoing.