IN MANY ways, Russia today does not resemble the Soviet Union, which heaved its last breath 28 years ago. The dreary ideology of communism is nearly forgotten, and the party bosses of old would be shocked at today’s gleaming Moscow skyscrapers. Russians are free to travel, unlike Soviet Jews whose mere application for exit visas got them in trouble. But Russia remains very much like the Soviet Union in one respect: It still has prisoners of conscience, incarcerated for their beliefs and subject to criminal prosecution for what they say.

Consider the worsening plight of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Ever since they were wrongly declared an extremist group in 2017, the pace of criminal investigations and detentions has quickened. In 2018, there were 44 new cases and 281 homes searched; in 2019, 98 new cases and 480 searches. Overall, 300 people have been charged, 26 are still in pretrial detention and 25 are under house arrest. On Dec. 13, a court in Penza convicted a parishioner, Vladimir Alushkin, of organizing an extremist group and sentenced him to six years in prison and five other people to two years’ probation. Earlier last year, another believer, Dennis Christensen, got a six-year prison sentence in Oryol along similar lines. These are not trivial — lives are being wrecked by the state, all for exercising rights guaranteed by Russia’s constitution.

Memorial, the Russian human rights monitoring group, has identified another group of political prisoners in the prosecution of anti-fascists in Penza and St. Petersburg. According to Memorial, the eight young men had created an organization called Network in which they trained for possible confrontation with radical nationalists in street disturbances. They have all been charged with setting up or belonging to a banned terrorist and anarchist association, and some face weapons charges as well as possession of drugs and explosives. But Memorial reports all the defendants and four witnesses against them were subject to torture by Russian authorities; the case was “wholly built on the testimony obtained under torture.” The evidence includes planted weapons and fabricated documents, Memorial said. Moreover, the Network was just talk; the group never actually did anything. “In studying their cases, we found no evidence that their actions constituted any danger to the public,” Memorial declared. The criminal cases are “a complete fabrication.”

Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner and vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, was jailed last year on trumped-up charges. On Dec. 26, police raided his office in Moscow in blatant harassment over a 2017 documentary video by Mr. Navalny and his group raising corruption questions about former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. Mr. Navalny has refused to take down the video, which has received 32 million views. Meanwhile, one of Mr. Navalny’s deputies was forcibly conscripted into military service. This is how the state crushes free speech and dissent.

Memorial now estimates there are at least 314 prisoners of conscience in Russia: 250 in connection with their religious beliefs and 64 for other political reasons. This is an ugly continuity.

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