Title

Co-Chairman Wicker Commends Decision by Belarus to Refuse Extradition of Jehovah’s Witness to Russia

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

WASHINGTON—Following the April decision by the Prosecutor General of Belarus to reject the Government of Russia’s request to extradite a Russian national to face criminal charges for being a Jehovah’s Witness, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement:

“I commend the government of President Alexander Lukashenko for releasing Nikolai Makhalichev and rejecting the Kremlin’s request to extradite him. If forced to return to Russia, Mr. Makhalichev would face detention, a criminal trial, certain conviction, and imprisonment—merely for practicing his sincerely-held religious beliefs.

“In keeping with Belarus’ OSCE commitments and other international obligations, Belarusian authorities should continue to resist the extradition of Mr. Makhalichev to Russia, allow him to move freely, and respect his human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of whether the Government of Belarus grants him refugee status or another country gives him legal protection.”

Background

Amendments in 2006 to Russia’s Federal Law on Countering Extremist Activity criminalized a wide range of religious activities as “extremist,” without precisely defining extremism or requiring that such activities have a violent element. The Russian Government invoked the law as it began relentlessly targeting Jehovah’s Witnesses, a peaceful faith community, with investigations, raids, arrests, detention, trials, the closure of local congregations, website and literature bans, and more.

In July 2017, the Supreme Court of Russia upheld an earlier ruling in favor of the Ministry of Justice that Jehovah’s Witnesses are an “extremist” group, criminalizing and effectively banning their activities, and ordering their property to be seized and liquidated. Since then, Russian authorities have conducted criminal investigations into at least 333 Jehovah’s Witnesses, including Makhalichev; courts have convicted at least 32 of them. The authorities have engaged in raids, detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, property confiscations, and even torture.

In February 2020, Belarusian police detained Makhalichev, citing the criminal charges against him in Russia. He then applied for refugee status in Belarus. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office formally requested extradition in March. The Belarusian Ministry of Interior is currently adjudicating Makhalichev's refugee application.

In September 2019, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing highlighting how the Kremlin and other autocratic governments engage in transnational repression against people they perceive as hostile to them: using tools such as INTERPOL to request arrest and extradition, and sometimes even surveilling, abducting, and assassinating targeted persons on foreign soil. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L Hastings (FL-20), Co-Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), and Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) introduced the Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention (TRAP) Act to combat such threats.

Like all participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia and Belarus have repeatedly committed themselves to recognizing, respecting, and protecting freedom of religion or belief. In December 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo redesignated Russia for the Special Watch List of countries that have committed severe violations of religious freedom, per the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. Since 2017, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended designating Russia as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Belarusian law authorizes the government to grant refugee status to a foreigner if he or she has a “well-founded fears of being persecuted in the country of his/her citizenship for the reason… of…religion,” and prohibits the government from expelling the applicant to that country, even if the government denies, revokes, or otherwise removes their refugee status. The law also requires the government to give foreigners requesting refugee status or related legal protection access to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • Summary of the OSCE Rule of Law Seminar

    From November 28 to December 1, 1995, the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) convened a seminar on the rule of law. The meeting was organized by the Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Thirty-eight of the 53 fully participating States attended, along with representatives from two Non-Participating Mediterranean States, six international organizations, and 25 non-governmental organizations. Over the course of two days, a number of emerging democracies described the constitutions and other legislative provisions that had been adopted in their countries to provide for the rule of law, at least on paper. Western participants, for their part, generally spoke of the specific and concrete challenges faced in their countries in actually implementing safeguards for the rule of law. In general, the participation of East-Central European and former Soviet countries—most of which attended this meeting—was more active than at the 1991 Oslo meeting, and Western participants, for their part, avoided the West-West bickering that marred the earlier seminar. At the end of the meeting, the rapporteurs produced summaries of the discussions.

  • Pre-Election Briefing on Russia

    Dorothy Taft, Chief of staff for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, on behalf of Representative Christopher H. Smith and Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, the Chairman and Co-Chairman of the commission, presided the pre-election briefing on Russia. This briefing discussed the Duma and the Presidential elections in Russia, that would determinated the direction that the State will take as to European security and cooperation. Ms. Taft was joined by four recognized specialists in Russian affairs and electoral processes that shared with the Commission their insight on the Duma elections and beyond: Mr. Robert Dahl, an elections specialist with the International Foundation for Electoral System; Dr. Leon Aron, professor of post-Communist transition in Russia; Dr. Peter Stavrakis, Director at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies; and Mr. Paul Goble, special advisor for Soviet Nationality Problems and Baltic Affairs at the State Department.  

  • Pre-Election Briefing on Russia

    This briefing, which then Commission Chief of Staff Dorothy Taft moderated, focused on the Russian Federation’s upcoming Duma elections in December of the same year. Among the implications of these elections was a potential change in the direction that the Russian Federation would take concerning European security and cooperation. Of course, there was also the possibility that the Duma elections would significantly impact the nature of the U.S.’s and the former U.S.S.R.’s bilateral relations. Considering what was at stake in the Duma’s impending elections, not to mention the former U.S.S.R.’s presidential elections in June of the following year, the Commission, understandably, wanted to hold this briefing in order to be acquainted with Russia’s political leaders and the political landscape upon which they operate.

  • Religious Liberty: The State Church and Minority Faiths

    Samuel G. Wise, Director for International Policy at the US Helsinki Commission, presented the second briefing in a series focusing on religious liberty in the participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This particular discussion was intended to evaluate the relationship between state churches or traditional religious and freedom of religion for minority faiths in the OSCE region through an analysis of the effects of certain historical legacies on individual states. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Father Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer of the Orthodox Church in America; Father George Papaioannou, Pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church; Gerard Powers, Foreign Policy Advisor for the U.S. Catholic Conference; Lauren Homer, Founder of Law and Liberty Trust; and Lee Boothby, Vice President of the Council on Religious Freedom – focused on the issue of minority and majority in society as it relates to religion and the potential for this issue to result in conflict. The historical origins of these tensions, especially in Eastern Europe, were particularly emphasized. 

  • Religious Liberty in the OSCE: Present and Future

    Speaking on behalf of Congressman Christopher H. Smith and Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, chairman and co-chairman of the Helsinki Committee, the Committee’s Director for International Policy, Samuel G. Wise, addressed the improvements made by the countries of the OSCE in religious liberty since the demise of communism. Observed deficits in this particular subject were also evaluated, including acts of OSCE governments perpetrating religious intolerance and discrimination against people of faith by passing laws favoring certain religions, turning a blind eye to harassment, and establishing bureaucratic roadblocks to prevent religious minorities from practicing their faith. Each panelist – including Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow of Political Theory for the Institute for Christian Studies; Dr. Khalid Duran, Senior Fellow for the Institute for International Studies; and Micah Naftalin, National Director for the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke to the overall factors affecting religious freedom in the OSCE, including: respect for other freedoms such as freedom of speech and religion, ethno-cultural tensions, and the relevance of old prejudices. These ideas were presented in the context of moving towards a more comprehensive respect for religious freedom among OSCE member states in the future.

  • Trade and Investment in Central Europe and the NIS

    This briefing was the tenth in a series of briefings covering topics such as U.S. assistance to Central and East Europe and the NIS, and free trade unions. Topics of discussion included the economic aspects of efforts to develop institutional networks between the Central and Eastern European countries and the OSCE and the Western European multilateral structures and the progress that has been made by countries in developing association agreements with the European Union. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Harriet Craig Peterson, President of Cornerstone International Group and Thomas Price, Coordinator for OSCE Affairs for the State Department – evaluated regional issues associated with infrastructure, environment, energy, and border procedures that needed to be addressed to produce a smoother flow of goods from an economic perspective.

  • Chechnya

    This hearing focused on the subject of the crisis in Chechnya. It was the third Helsinki Commission hearing on the disastrous policy hatched in Moscow to resolve by armed force the problem of relations between the government of the Russian Federation and Chechnya.  

  • U.S. Assistance to Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS: An Assessment

    This briefing discussed the successes achieved and the difficulties encountered on the road to democratic reform and stabilization are reflected throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and evaluated the impact of these factors in the scope and tenor of U.S. assistance programs. Such programs involve assistance to countries throughout the region in democratic institution building, market reform and restructuring, health care improvement, energy efficiency, environmental policy, and housing sector reform. Witnesses testifying at this briefing addressed the relevance of the crisis in Chechnya, continued conflict in the Balkans, and tensions in various parts of East-Central Europe to United States Interests in the region. They focused on the goals of U.S. assistance to the NIS and East-Central Europe and the effectiveness of current programs in furthering those goals.

  • The Crisis of Chechnya

    Apart from horrendous human rights violations, the war in Chechnya has brought to the fore all the underlying fissures in Russia’s political and economic structures, as well as highlighted the tensions in Russia’s relations with its neighbors and the rest of the international community. Chechnya confronts Russia’s Government, and by extension, all OSCE governments with the key issue of self-determination. Though Principle VIII of the Helsinki Final Act guarantees the equal right of all peoples to self-determination, the international community has never worked out rules and mechanisms for pursuing that right. Since many countries face actual or potential separatist movements based on demands for self-determination, governments have tended to side-step the issue.

  • The Crisis in Chechnya

    This hearing discussed the human right violations conducted by the Russian government against the civilians of the Chechen Republic. The horrendous human rights violations, the war in Chechnya brought to the fore all the underlying fissures in Russia’s political and economic structures, as well as highlighted the tensions in Russia’s relations with its neighbors and the rest of the international community. Chechnya confronted Russia’s Government, and by extension, all OSCE governments with the key issue of self-determination. Though Principle VIII of the Helsinki Final Act guarantees the equal right of all peoples to self-determination, the international community has never worked out rules and mechanisms for pursuing that right. Since many countries face actual or potential separatist movements based on demands for self-determination, governments have tended to side-step the issue.

  • Electoral Reforms in Russia

    John Finerty from the Commission was joined by Richard Soudrette, representative of the International Federation for Electoral Systems, in leading a discussion on the possibility of reforming Russia’s electoral system.  Soudrette focused on the changes that were seen since the previous year’s parliamentary elections and future prospects for change. Panelists - Catherine Barnes, Robert Dahl, Terry Holcomb, Connie McCormack, and Richard Soudrette – spoke of their individual experiences with the Russian electoral system. The highlighted the successes of the International Federation of Electoral Systems programs in Russia, which focused on legal and institutional reform.

  • Status of Media Freedom in Democracies

    This briefing detailed the progress of media freedom in newly democratic states, especially within Eastern Europe. The role of the media in the democratization process and methods for promoting freedom of the media were examined as well. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including David Webster, Chairman of the  Trans-Atlantic Dialogue on European Broadcasting and Sandra Pralong, President of Democracy Works – detailed several major values that a free media promotes in the democratic process, including peaceful social change, education of the democratic electorate, dissenting opinions about the government and society in general, and transparency of political corruption.

  • Nagorno-Karabakh

    In this briefing, which CSCE Staff Director Samuel G. Wise chaired, the focus was on the conflict that had then recently transpired between the countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan. More specifically, the two countries had had a territorial dispute regarding the area of Nagorno-Karabakh. This dispute had manifested itself into all-out violence that had claimed around 15 million lives at the time of the briefing, as well as creating well over a million refugees. The briefing was the fifth in a series of briefings and hearings that the Helsinki Commission had held since 1988 regarding Nagorno-Karabakh. Fortunately, also at the time of this briefing, there had been very few armed clashes for a couple of months, and the warring factions had observed an informal cease fire. Actually, just three days prior to the briefing, the Defense Ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh jointly noted the success of the cease fire and looked forward to a more comprehensive resolution of the conflict. With this decrease in violence, attention had shifted to the international diplomatic plane. The CSCE and the Russians had put forward at least somewhat similar cease fire plans, albeit with competition for adherence. The ultimate end of both approaches was a broader agreement about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and making peace in the region. The purpose of the briefing, then, was to discuss the possible framework of a political settlement.

  • Crime and Corruption in Russia

    The rationale of this briefing, which Commission Staff Director Sam Wise presided over, was that of a marked increase of crime in Russia. At the time of this briefing, crime had become the dominant subject in Russian politics. Unsurprisingly, the extent of crime in Russia had significant implications for its society, specifically for hte viability of the state. In fact, President Yeltsin had called crime the Russian state’s gravest threat. A question that Wise brought up in the briefing was the possibility of criminals taking over the Russian Federation’s government. Another possibility that Wise mentioned was election of authoritarian, repressive leaders who would make Russia safe. Witnesses in the briefing included Dr. Louise Shelly of American University’s Department of Justice, Law and Society, and Stephen Handelman, Associate Fellow at the Harriman Center of Columbia University.

  • Doing Business in Russia and the NIS: Opportunities and Obstacles

    Jane Fisher, Deputy Staff Director of the Helsinki Commission, presided this briefing focused on trade and doing business in the Newly Indipendent States of the former Soviet Union. It was the third in a series of briefings by the Commission on NIS. The Helsinki Accords cover human rights, security, and economic cooperation, and when the countries of the former Soviet Union were making the transition to democracy, the Commission put a greater emphasis on trade and economic cooperation. Russia and the Newly Independent States had a great potential market. They had enormous natural resources, large consumer markets, and a huge potential for trade and investments. Ms. Fisher was joined by a distinguished panel of experts who have been directly involved in business development in the formet Soviet Union: Dr. Richard Rahn, President and Chief executive officer of Novecon; Edward Chow, Director of International Affairs for Chevron Overseas Petroleum; and Joseph Barker, Vice Presidentof Ryland Trading. They described their experiences and shared their views on the opportunities and hazards of doing business in Russia and the NIS.  

  • Human Rights and Democratization in Romania

    Romania's ongoing journey toward democracy is generally viewed, even by the government of Romania, as slower and more circuitous than that of its neighbors. Romania has certainly had farther to go; Nicolae Ceausescu's regime was the most repressive and demoralizing of the Warsaw Pact countries. Yet Romania's gloomy distinctiveness carried into the post-Ceausescu era. The Romanian revolution of December 1989 was the bloodiest of the region. The early months of 1990 were marked by confusion and tension, including violent inter-ethnic clashes. The first free elections of May 1990 were tainted by serious irregularities in the campaign period; one month later, thousands of pro-government miners rampaged through Bucharest, bludgeoning anti-communist demonstrators and ransacking opposition party headquarters. This report examines the developments in the areas of human rights and democracy in post-Ceausescu Romania.

  • Report: The Belarusian Presidential Election

    Belarus, with an area of over 80,000 square miles, is located in east central Europe, between Latvia, Lithuania and Poland on'the West and Northwest, with Russia on the East and Northeast, and Ukraine to the South. Of the approximately 10.3 million population, 78 percent are Belarusian, 13 percent Russian, 4 percent Polish, and 3 percent Ukrainian. A small Lithuanian population is concentrated near the Lithuanian border. Part of the Russian Empire since the second and third partitions of Poland in the latter half of the 18th century, Belarus enjoyed brief independence following the Bolshevik revolution. In November 1918, the Red Army entered Minsk and established the Belarussian SSR. During the Cold War era, Belarus was a quiescent, almost completely Russified Soviet republic. Popular discontent was stirred up in 1986 by the radioactive winds of the Chemobyl nuclear reactor disaster in neighboring Ukraine. and Moscow's incompetence in dealing with the· crisis. A year later, exposure of the mass graves of Stalin's victims at Kuropaty added to anti-Moscow .feelings. Unexpected and uncharacteristic mass strikes and public protests met President Gorbachev's April 1991. prices increases -- only a month after the March 1991 "Referendum on the Union," in which 83 percent of Belarusian voters favored preservation of the USSR.

  • Russia and its Neighbors

    Dennis Deconcini (D-AZ) and other legislators discussed Russia’s relations with its neighboring countries. More specifically, concerning democratic reform, the hearing contrasted the economic criteria of privatization, the rate of inflation, currency emission, and subsidies to enterprises with Moscow’s policies vis-à-vis its neighbors. Of course, Russia’s neighbors are referred to as the New Independent States, and, as Deconcini argues, it is problematic when Russia militarily or economically coerces its neighbors to enter into unwanted, yet inevitable, political, security, or economic relationships.

  • Russia and NATO: Moscow’s Foreign Policy and the Partnership for Peace

    This briefing examined what role Russia would play in the Partnership for Peace and NATO. It also looks at human rights concerns as well as military, security, and economic relations bewteen Russia and the West. Several complexities of this situation in the context of the post-communist period were addressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence DiRita, Deputy Director of Foreign and Defense Policy for the Heritage Foundation and Dr. Phillip Petersen, Principle Researcher for the Potomac Foundation – evaluated the Partnership for Peace Framework, which worked towards establishing partnerships with a number of European country, including those of the former Soviet Union. The role of Russian policy in this partnership was an especially debated topic.

  • CSCE to Examine Repression against Evangelicals in Former Soviet Union

    Chris Smith, ranking Republican on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, addressed both the opportunities for democratic, economic, and social reforms in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and the difficulties of achieving these reforms presented by renewed tensions based on nationality and religion. The rise of extreme nationalism was cited as a key factor in the rise of religious intolerance in this region. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Boris Pechatkin and Edward Zawistowski of the Russian-American Institute for Adaption, and Lauren Homer, Director of Law and Liberty Trust – addressed the difficulties that have been encountered in ending religious prosecution following the fall of the Soviet Union. The impact of a breakdown of law and order in the countries of Eastern Europe was evaluated as a mechanism for religious injustice.

Pages