Three members of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia have been detained and ordered held for 27 days in Kursk, the group said hours after Russian authorities reported they had launched a probe against a member of the religious group in another region of the country.
In an online statement on October 23, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia said that after “mass searches and subsequent interrogations of believers in Kursk” on October 16, criminal cases had been brought against a married couple and another man.
It said that Andrei Andreev and Artem and Alevtina Bagratyan had been ordered detained until November 11 and that a criminal case against them has been initiated.
Andreev is accused of "continuing the activities" of the Jehovah's Witnesses Management Center in the western city of Kursk, while the Bagratyans are charged with participation in the activities of the organization.
In 2017, Russia banned the religious group and deemed it an “extremist organization,” a designation the U.S. State Department says is “wrong.”
Since the faith was outlawed, several Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia, including Danish national Dennis Christensen, who was sentenced to 6 years in prison in February in the western city of Oryol in a case condemned both in Russia and abroad.
Also on October 23, Russian authorities said they launched a probe against another member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Investigative Committee said that the 47-year-old leader of the Jehovah's Witnesses community in the frigid mining city of Norilsk, 400 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, had been charged with "organizing activities of an extremist organization."
The man's identity was not disclosed in the statement.
"The suspect has organized gatherings of the followers and members of the group and propagated the activities of the banned organization," the statement says, adding that the man refused to admit any guilt and was ordered not to leave the city.
Last month, the United States banned two high-ranking regional officers in the Investigative Committee from entering the country for allegedly torturing seven Jehovah’s Witnesses believers.
The religious group said last month that 251 of its members faced criminal charges, 41 were either in pretrial detention or prison, 23 were under house arrest, and more than 100 had their freedom restricted.
Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia for decades for its members' views about military service, voting, and government authority.