Astrakhan, November 18, Interfax - A criminal case on charges of extremism has been opened against three residents of the Astrakhan region who have been detained on suspicion of arranging the activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses, banned in Russia, the Russian Investigative Committee's regional branch told Interfax on Thursday.
"A criminal case has been opened against three local residents aged between 34 and 60 who are suspected of arranging the activities of an extremist organization, Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. They have been detained," it said.
Investigators believe that since the spring of 2018, the suspects have been elders and de facto leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization in the Akhtubinsk District and in Znamensk in the Astrakhan Region. It has been established that they held meetings of the organization despite being aware of the Russian Supreme Court's ban on the organization's activities.
"The suspects promoted the ideas of this religious movement, distributed extremist literature, recruited local residents, and raised money under the guise of donations. They communicated by video link in order to keep their activities secret," it said.
Their activities were uncovered by officers of the Russian Federal Security Service's border guard department for Kalmykia and the Astrakhan Region.
Sixteen searches were conducted during the investigation. Mobile phones, computers, extremist literature, notebooks, and other items with information about their unlawful activities were seized from the suspects' places of residence.
The Russian Supreme Court granted the Justice Ministry's lawsuit designating the Russian Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organization and banning its activities in Russia in April 2017.