Russian authorities armed with assault rifles raided 110 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Voronezh Region on July 13, 2020, according to an official press release by the Voronezh Region Investigative Committee. This is the largest series of raids conducted in one day on Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern Russia. Preliminary reports from my colleagues indicates that at least two Witnesses were beaten.
Some Witnesses reported that when the officers stormed into their houses to conduct the searches, they would force people to the ground and press their faces to the floor. Additionally, the law enforcement officers did not wear masks or take any precautions against the spread of COVID-19.
Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, states: “This month, the total number of Witnesses’ homes raided has surged to over 1,000 since 2017. For reasons passing understanding, heavily armed officers—as if being deployed for combat—are storming into the homes of peaceful Christians, many of whom are elderly. Human rights advocates and international judicial bodies continue to publicly condemn Russia for targetting Jehovah’s Witnesses. We hope Russian leaders will halt the persecution and uphold the freedom of religion and belief that is enshrined in its Constitution.”
My colleagues are still gathering information on this mass raid operation. So far, we’ve confirmed with some 60 Witness families that their homes were searched. Our confirmation process has been slow because the authorities confiscated the Witnesses’ phones.
The previous record for the highest number of searches in one day was on February 10, 2020, when the authorities raided 50 Witness homes in the Transbaikal Region. Other notable mass raids were in Sochi (35 searches, October 2019) and Nizhny Novgorod (35 searches, July 2019). Since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling to ban our activities, over 1,000 homes of our fellow worshippers have been raided (this does not yet include the raids in Voronezh).