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Two Russians given US entry bans for allegedly torturing Jehovah’s Witnesses

Worship at a Kingdom Hall (Steelman/WikiCommons)
September 13, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Two high-ranking regional officers in Russia’s Investigative Committee have been banned from entering the United States for alleged “gross violations of human rights.”

A September 10 State Department statement said Vladimir Yermolayev, head of the Investigative Committee in the city of Surgut; Stepan Tkach, a senior investigator; and their immediate family members “are ineligible for entry into the United States.”

They are suspected of leading a group of Surgut Investigative Committee officers in subjecting at least seven Jehovah’s Witnesses “to suffocation, electric shocks, and severe beatings during interrogation.”

In 2017, Russia outlawed the religious group and labeled it “extremist,” a designation the State Department said was “wrongful.”

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The statement said 60 Jehovah’s Witnessess were currently awaiting trial on criminal charges and that more than 200 individuals were currently imprisoned in Russia “for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.”

A Russian lawmaker denounced the sanctions as arbitrary and accused the United States of interfering in his country’s affairs.

“The United States continues to blindly slap Russian citizens with sanctions,” a move that “brazenly interferes into the affairs of sovereign states to attain its geopolitical goals,” said Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the State Duma.