VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- A court in Russia has acquitted a Jehovah's Witness charged with extremism despite an ongoing crackdown on the followers of the religious group.
The website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said that the Pervorechensk district court in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on November 22 acquitted Dmitry Barmakin, who was charged with organizing the activities of an extremist group.
The court's verdict says that Barmakin "is subject to acquittal due to the absence of corpus delicti (proof of a crime) by the defendant's actions" just because he had "exercised the right to freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution of Russia."
According to the group, Barmakin is the first Jehovah’s Witness acquitted by a Russian court since the religious denomination was labeled as extremist and banned in Russia in 2017.
Barmakin was arrested in July 2018 and spent 15 months in pretrial detention before he was released and ordered not to leave Vladivostok.
The charge against Barmakin was based on the testimony of Yekaterina Petrova, a college teacher in Vladivostok, who recorded sessions of Bible studies led by Barmakin. She said she did so on the orders of the Federal Security Service officers.
The court's move to acquit Barmakin comes less than a week after the U.S. State Department officially added Russia to its register of the world's “worst violators” of religious freedoms, a list that includes Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and five other countries.
The blacklisting paves the way for sanctions if the countries included do not improve their records.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses say more than 70 of its members are currently incarcerated across Russia, while 265 probes have been launched against 574 Jehovah’s Witnesses since 2017.