On 7 April the Prosecutor General’s office denied Russia’s extradition request for Jehovah’s Witness Nikolai Makhalichev. He was immediately released from detention and went to his friend’s house in Viciebsk, northeast Belarus. Nikolai Makhalichev is currently awaiting the decision on his asylum application in Belarus.
Jehovah’s Witnesses face persecution in Russia where their organization was arbitrarily banned as “extremist” in April 2017. The criminal investigation against Nikolai Makhalichev started in January 2019. He was charged under Articles 282.2 (1) and 282.3 (1) of the Russian Criminal Code for purportedly “organizing activities of an extremist organization” and “financing extremist activities” punishable by up to ten and eight years in prison, respectively. Nikolai Makhalichev has never held any formal position with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. According to his representative, he was just a believer who participated in their religious services. During the investigation, Nikolai Makhalichev was put on an interstate wanted list which led to his arrest and detention on 21 February in Haradok, northeast Belarus.
Amnesty International regards the prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia as an arbitrary and discriminatory measure, and a violation of the right to freedom of religion. The organization has called on the Russian authorities to quash the judicial decisions that have criminalized Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings and practices.