Religious persecution and issues – Bimonthly Digest April 01-15

 15.04.2024 – Archbishop fined for criticising Russia’s war in Ukraine

Forum 18 – A Krasnodar Region court found 87-year-old Archbishop Viktor Pivovarov guilty on 8 April of repeatedly “discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces. The judge fined him 8 months’ local average pension. Archbishop Viktor has repeatedly condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine as “aggressive” and “Satanic”. Many parishioners of Holy Intercession Tikhonite Church in Slavyansk “have been scared away by recent events”, says a church member. Archbishop Viktor is the fifth person criminally convicted for criticising Russia’s war from a religious perspective. Many more have been punished administratively.

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Eighty-seven-year-old Archbishop Viktor Pivovarov has become the fifth person to receive a criminal conviction for criticising Russia’s war in Ukraine from a religious perspective. Slavyansk City Court in the southern Krasnodar Region found him guilty on 8 April of repeatedly “discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces, and fined him 150,000 Roubles, nearly eight times the local average monthly pension.

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15.04.2024 – Security forces raid on Cheboksary mosque

Sova – On April 12, 2024, on the third day of Eid al-Fitr, about 20 armed people in balaclavas and with dogs entered the Bulgar mosque in Cheboksary. There were no identifying marks on those who came; they refused to introduce themselves.

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Those who came blocked the exits from the mosque and began checking the documents of those present at the Juma prayer. Immigrants from Tajikistan with Russian passports were taken to the military registration and enlistment office to check their status.

13.04.2024- In Prokopyevsk, Yelena Chernykh, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was given a 3-year suspended sentence for her faith.

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J.W- Yelena Chernykh, a 47-year-old Jehovah’s Witness from Prokopyevsk, was found guilty of extremism for continuing to practice her faith. The corresponding verdict was passed on April 12, 2024 by the judge of the Tsentralniy District Court of Prokopyevsk, Yelena Karamova, who sentenced the believer to 3 years of suspended imprisonment.

In 2020, Yelena and her husband Yuriy, parents of three children, one of whom is a minor, were searched, after which they were interrogated as witnesses in the case of Andrey Vlasov (now he is serving time in a colony for his faith). The Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Kemerovo Region opened a criminal case against Yelena under Part 2 of Article 282.2. of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The investigation and the court considered the usual practice for all Jehovah’s Witnesses in the world of joint discussions of the Bible and Christian teachings “participation in the activities of a banned religious organization.” According to the investigation, Yelena’s actions posed a threat to the state and society, incited interreligious discord, although during the trial not a single fact of a real crime or evidence of intention to commit it was presented.

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11.04.2024 – An appeal in Moscow upheld the verdict of five Jehovah’s Witnesses.

JW – By decision of the Moscow City Court, on April 10, 2024, the sentence came into force for Ivan Chaikovskiy, Yuriy Chernyshev, Vitaliy Komarov, Sergey Shatalov and Vardan Zakaryan. More than 150 people came to support the believers at the courthouse, but only about 20 were allowed into the courtroom.

The criminal prosecution has been going on for about three and a half years. In November 2020, law enforcers staged a high-profile mass raid on the homes of Muscovites. One of them, Vardan Zakaryan, was beaten during the raid and ended up in hospital. The men were accused of organizing the activities of an extremist organization and involving others in it because of conversations about the Bible with an embedded agent who feigned interest in this book.

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10.04.2024 – The verdict of three Jehovah’s Witnesses from Orel was confirmed

Sova – Previously, the court sentenced the believers to six years in prison.

On April 8, 2024, the Oryol Regional Court confirmed the verdict of Jehovah’s Witnesses Vladimir Piskarev, Vladimir Melnik and Artur Putintsev under Part 1 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code on organizing the activities of an extremist organization. Earlier, on October 13, 2023, the Sovetsky District Court of Orel sentenced the believers to six years in a general regime colony with one and a half years of restriction of freedom.

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A criminal case against Piskarev, Melnik and Putintsev was initiated on December 8, 2020. Since December 11 of the same year, they were all under arrest. 67-year-old Piskarev suffered two hypertensive crises and a stroke in a pre-trial detention center; he was diagnosed with coronary vascular disease of the brain.

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10.04.2024 – The verdict against three believers in Oryol came into force after an appeal. 

JW – On April 8, 2024, a panel of judges of the Oryol Regional Court, chaired by Judge Yuliya Orlovskaya, approved six years in prison for the faith of Piskarev, Melnik and Putintsev. Taking into account the 3 years and 4 months spent in pre-trial detention before the verdict came into force, they may be released in April 2025.

The accusation of organizing the activities of an extremist organization and participating in it was based on audio recordings of a biblical speech that Piskarev rehearsed aloud in his apartment. As a result, on October 13, 2023, the judge of the Sovetskiy District Court of the city of Oryol, Natalya Tishkova, found three believers guilty.

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09.04.2024 – A 66-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, Valeriy Baylo, was detained in the Krasnodar Territory.

JW- On April 2, 2024, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 66-year-old Valeriy Baylo, was detained in the village of Kholmskaya, Krasnodar Territory. According to preliminary data, his apartment was searched.

Two days later, the Abinsk District Court chose a measure of restraint for the believer in the form of detention. Currently, he is in pre-trial detention center No. 3 of Novorossiysk.

Previously, Valeriy Baylo was a witness in the criminal case of Aleksandr Ivshin, who is already serving a sentence for his faith in the colony.

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09.04.2024 – Jehovah’s Witness from Tolyatti sentenced to three years in prison

Sova – Alexander Dolganov was sentenced under Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code.

On April 8, 2024, the Avtozavodsky District Court of Tolyatti sentenced  Jehovah’s Witness Alexander Dolganov. The court found him guilty under Part 2 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) and sentenced him to three years in prison.

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During the debate, which took place on April 1, the state prosecutor asked the court to sentence Dolganov to five years in prison in a general regime colony with a restriction of freedom for 10 months.

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08.04.2024 – A new search on Sakhalin.

JW- On April 3, 2024, in the city of Poronaysk, Sakhalin Region, a search was carried out at the home of Daler Tokhtayev, 33, and his wife. The believer was detained and taken to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. He is accused of extremism.

At about 8 a.m., law enforcement officers, including two FSB officers, came to work for Daler Tokhtayev. From there, they took the believer to his home, where his wife was, and searched there until 11:30 a.m. Electronic devices, personal records and the Bible were seized from the spouses. The search warrant was issued by the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Court on February 22, 2024.

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05.04.2024 – The sentence of Sona Olopova from Tolyatti came into force after an appeal—two years of forced labor for believing in Jehovah God

JW – On April 3, 2024, the Samara Regional Court upheld the conviction of Sonya Olopova—2 years of forced labor. The court considered her participation in collective discussions of the Bible via video link to be extremism.

In her appeal, Sona noted that the court of first instance did not consider ordinary religious practice as an exercise of the right to freedom of religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation did not prohibit. Instead, in the opinion of the believer, only the fact of professing a religion was enough for the court to pass a sentence. The court did not clarify or establish any other circumstances. Speaking with her last word before the judicial board, she said: “The materials of my criminal case do not contain a single criminal act, not a single statement against the state, against people of other religions, against people of other nationalities.”

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04.04.2024 – In Goryachy Klyuch, the Court sentenced Pavel Sidorenko to three years suspended for talking about the Bible. 

JW- Pavel Sidorenko, 66, a resident of a suburb of Krasnodar, received a suspended sentence of 3 years for talking to local residents about the Bible. The decision in his case on April 3, 2024, was made by the judge of the Goryachy Klyuch city court Zhanna Velichko.

In 2019, the believer brought an Orthodox encyclopedia to work to show his colleagues the name “Jehovah” contained in it. An acquaintance of Pavel Sidorenko handed over copies of the pages of this publication to the security forces. After that, the FSB began wiretapping telephone conversations and found out that he had talked about the Bible with several local residents. This was enough to initiate a criminal case against Sidorenko on extremism in January 2022. His house was searched, and the believer was placed under recognizance agreement.

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02.04.2024 – The Court of cassation upheld the verdict of three Jehovah’s Witnesses from Taganrog.

JW – On March 28, 2024, the Fourth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction in Krasnodar finally approved the verdict for believers from Taganrog: Aleksandr Skvortsov and Vladimir Moiseyenko—7 and 6 years in a penal colony, respectively, and Valeriy Tibiy—6 years suspended.

Skvortsov and Moiseyenko attended the hearing via videoconference from the penal colony where they are serving their sentences. In the courtroom were Tibiy and his wife, as well as listeners who came to support the believers. Only Moiseyenko and Tibiy were able to speak before the panel of judges, Skvortsov was not given a word. The judges stayed in the deliberation room for 5 minutes. They dismissed the cassation appeals.

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