The United States has called on the Russian Government to immediately release all political and religious prisoners.
In a written statement, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said the United States is “deeply concerned over the growing number of individuals – now more than 150 – identified by credible human rights organizations as political and religious prisoners held by the Government of the Russian Federation.”
Ms. Nauert voiced particular concern over the welfare of four Ukrainians “unjustly imprisoned who are currently on hunger strike.” All four had expressed opposition to Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea or had otherwise supported Ukrainian identity or sovereignty.
The four Ukrainian prisoners are filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, serving a 20-year sentence in a remote penal colony above the Arctic Circle; Stanislav Klykh, also sentenced to 20 years in prison and who suffers from serious mental health problems after allegedly being subjected to severe torture; Oleksandr Shumkov, one of several imprisoned Ukrainians apparently abducted by Russia or lured into traveling there on false pretenses; and Volodymyr Balukh, who was imprisoned in retaliation for flying the Ukrainian flag in Russian-occupied Crimea.
In addition, Spokesperson Nauert said the United States is “troubled by the case of Oyub Titiyev, a human rights activist prosecuted on trumped–up drug charges in Chechnya, whose pre-trial detention was recently extended.”
Ms. Nauert also deplored the detention of religious prisoners in Russia, including Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen, who is one of 20 Jehovah’s witnesses detained by Russian authorities since May 2017 in retaliation for their peaceful religious practice; five church of Scientology leaders subjected to detention without trial since June 2017; and more than a dozen Muslim followers of Turkish theologian Said Nursi.
“We call on Russia to release all those identified as political or religious prisoners immediately and cease its use of the legal system to suppress dissent and peaceful religious practice,” State Department Spokesperson Nauert said. “The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve equal treatment under the law and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.”