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How Special Operations Against Religious Believers Are Planned

Source: HRO.org (info), 28/09/11 

· Freedom of Conscience  · Ministry of Internal Affairs   · Moscow City and Moscow Region 

A document describing the methods used by police officers against members of religious minorities has been discovered and made public by Jehovah's Witnesses, writes Irina Borogan of Agentura.ru. The preparations that were made for Operation Apostates are impressive: gathering operational information about participants, surveillance, wiretaps and the monitoring of bank accounts. The Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime used a similar plan in 1990 when it was breaking up gatherings of influential criminals, although it was by no means always possible to attract the same kinds of resources. 

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The case in hand is a directive entitled "On the implementation of operational and preventive measures in Moscow region" issued by Colonel Vitaliy Kovalev, acting head of the Moscow region criminal police department, on 14 March 2011. 

The document, which was passed to the editors of Agentura.ru, deals with the implementation of an operation code-named "Apostates" from 16 to 18 March 2011. The main subdivisions of the Moscow region police department were to take part. These are the Police Department for Combating Extremism (Centre E), the Criminal Investigation Department, the Department for Combating Economic Crimes, the Centre for Operational-Investigative Information, the Bureau for Special Technical Measures (wiretaps) and the Operational Search Bureau (surveillance). 

The document shows that the Operation was to take place in the Moscow region towns of Dubna, Orekhovo-Zuyevo and Istra on 16, 17 and 18 March 2011 respectively, and the criminal police departments in these towns were also to be involved. 

According to Jehovah's Witnesses, religious services in Istra and Dubna were disrupted as a result of the police actions. For example, on 16 March ten police officers entered a building in Dubna in which a religious service was taking place and demanded to see the documents of those present, blocked the room's exits, filmed the proceedings, and took two religious believers without passports to their homes. 

Over the last few years, Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia’s regions have regularly been confronted with visits from the police and such visits always follow the same form: everyone at the gathering is photographed and their names are taken. Until now, however, it has been unclear exactly who plans these operations and how they are carried out. Media coverage assumed that they were the work of officers from regional Departments for Combating Extremism (Centre E), which report to the Ministry of Internal Affair's Main Directorate for Combating Extremism. As can be seen from the copy of the directive obtained by lawyers for the Jehovah's Witnesses, however, the list of agencies involved in monitoring religious believers is much more extensive, and preparation for these types of operations is very thorough. 

Temporary operational headquarters for implementation of Operation Apostates were set up under the control of the head of the Moscow region criminal police on 14 March. According to the plans set out in an addendum to the directive, Centre E was given the task of preparing a list of branches of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Moscow area. 

All units of the city police department involved in the operation were instructed to allocate one officer to each location and for them to form working groups under the command of an officer from Centre E. The day before the operation, information on leaders and preachers was sent to the operational-investigative bureau engaged in surveillance activities, and the Department for Combating Economic Crimes was charged with identifying the owners of premises where Jehovah's Witness meetings were to take place. But this was not the end of the financial part of the operation. 

Jointly with the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, police officers monitored the bank accounts of leaders of "local religious groups" and tracked the funds passing through them. The eighth point of the plan sets out the procedures to be used for inspecting places of worship, identifying those participating and, most interestingly, filing the names of persons "of operational interest" in Centre E's "Extremist" database. (This database was created nearly a year ago and a wide range of categories of citizens have ended up in it, from religious believers to football fanatics.) 

The most alarming measure included in the plan is the order for the Bureau of Special Technical Measures to "implement a package of operational-investigative measures aimed at obtaining additional information about the leaders of local religious groups", which apparently refers to the tapping of telephones and interception of emails. A report detailing the findings of this surveillance was to be given directly to the head of the Moscow Region Police Department. 

All in all, the preparations that were made for Operation Apostates are impressive: gathering operational information about participants, surveillance, wiretaps and the monitoring of bank accounts. The Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime used a similar plan in 1990 when it was breaking up gatherings of influential criminals, although it was by no means always possible to attract the same kinds of resources. 

In this instance, all these resources were used to conduct raids on three gatherings of religious believers in the Moscow region, although the police have never said the Jehovah's Witnesses are an organised crime group and, so far as is known, charges of this nature have never been brought against believers of this religious organisation. 

Translated by: Nicky Brown
ĉ
Rights in Russia,
14 Oct 2011, 08:31
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