2019-09-10 18:48:00

State Dept. announces sanctions against 2 high-ranking Surgut investigators over Jehovah's Witnesses case (updated)

Washington, September 10, Interfax - The United States Department of State said on Tuesday that it has imposed sanctions on two Russian investigators over the case involving Jehovah's Witnesses, a religious sect banned in Russia.

The sanctioned investigators are Vladimir Yermolayev, the head of the investigative committee in Surgut, and Stepan Tkach, who was referred to by the Department as a "Senior Investigator."

The two, together with their close relatives, are banned from entering the U.S., the statement said.

"The Department has credible information that Yermolayev and Tkach were involved in torture and/or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of Jehovah's Witnesses in Surgut," the State Department said.

On February 15, 2019, Surgut investigative officers, led by Yermolayev and Tkach, "subjected at least seven Jehovah's Witnesses to suffocation, electric shocks, and severe beatings," the department said.

In February, Surgut law enforcement agencies shut down a local Jehovah's Witness cell. Its most active members were arrested and charged with a criminal offense. Later local media, citing the group's website, said that during interrogation the suspects were subjected to violence, in particular, an electric shocker. On March 27, the press service for the Russian investigative committee's branch for the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District said that the injuries sustained by the Jehovah's Witnesses in Surgut were inflicted not on the day they were being questioned.