Relatively light, but unjustified, sentences for Jehovah's Witnesses in south Russia


Kavkazskii Uzel, 19 December 2020


A court in Sochi found Jehovah's Witnesses Viacheslav Popov and Nikolai Kuzichkin guilty of arranging the activity of an extremist organization. Popov was sentenced to one year and ten months in a penal colony and Kuzichkin to a year and a month incarceration. Taking into account time spend in detention, Kuzichkin was released from serving the sentence.


As Kavkazskii Uzel has written, Sochi residents Nikolai Kuzichkin and Viacheslav Popov were arrested on suspicion of participating in an organization that is forbidden in Russia and subsequently Kuzichkin was placed under house arrest. On 15 December the court began considering the cases of Nikolai Kuzichkin and Viacheslav Popov. Both declared that they do not agree with the accusations against them. In letters home, Viacheslav Popov complained about the conditions of his confinement in the SIZO, his wife, Julia, explained.


According to the account of the investigation, over the course of two years, the Jehovah's Witnesses Viacheslav Popov and Nikolai Kuzichkin organized meetings and religious events, attracting new members into the organization, which has been ruled to be extremist and was forbidden in Russia by a court decision. On 10 October 2019, they were placed in custody. In detaining the believers, the security personnel were obeying orders from above, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, Yaroslav Sivulsky, and rights activist Lev Levinson declared.


Judge Yury Pilipenko of the Khostinsky district court on 18 December announced the verdict on Nikolai Kuzichkin and Viacheslav Popov, a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent relates.


Around thirty persons arrived at the court to support the defendants but none of the visitors was allowed into the court room because of the quarantine for the coronavirus. The session lasted less than an hour.


The prosecutor suggested sentencing Popov to two years in prison and Kuzichkin to one year and one month in prison.


In the end, both defendants were found guilty of arranging the activity of an extremist organization (part 1 of article 282.2 of the CC RF). The court sentenced Popov to one year and ten months in a penal colony of ordinary regime, and Kuzichkin to one year and one month incarceration, but he was released for time served, including the time the believer was in detention.


"Crediting the time N.N. Kuzichkin served in custody in the period from 10 October 2019 to 21 April 2019 [sic—2020?] inclusively, and also the time under house arrest in the period from 22 April 2019 [sic—2020?] to 18 December 2020, in accordance with article 72 of the Russian Criminal Code, counting one day in custody as a day and a half incarceration, and also two days of house arrest as one day of incarceration," the judge stated in the verdict.


We note that the sanctions of the article provide for up to 10 years incarceration. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 December 2020)



Kavkazskii Uzel, 19 December 2020


Jehovah's Witnesses Nikolai Kuzichkin and Viacheslav Popov, whom a Sochi court found guilty of arranging the activity of an extremist organization, decided not to appeal the verdict. The sentence's taking legal effect will permit Popov, who remained in custody, to be released more quickly, his attorney explained. [. . .]


Believers and their family rejoiced at the quick outcome of the judicial proceedings


Nikolai Kuzichkin and Viacheslav Popov made the decision not to appeal the sentence. The decision by the Jehovah's Witnesses is a correct one, since there are no prospects of the appeal's being granted, Popov's attorney, Sergei Yakovsky, thinks. The sentence on the basis of the article of the Russian Criminal Code, which provides for up to ten years incarceration, could be revised in the direction of harsher punishment, he explained.


"We thought that if the court's decision stands, and none of the participants in the trial files an appeal within ten days, then my client will be released from custody by New Year's, since the period spent in the SIZO is calculated as one day in custody equates to a day and a half incarceration," Yanovsky told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.


The wife of Viacheslav Popov, Yulia Popova, explained for Kavkazskii Uzel why her husband declined to appeal the sentence. "If an appeal is filed, then Slava would remain in the SIZO until its consideration, which could take a very long time, and he would still not be acquitted," she figures.


Popova said that she fears that the prosecutor may appeal the sentence, since the judge sentenced her spouse to a month less than the sentence the prosecution requested.


The wife of Nikolai Kuzichkin, Olga Chekhova, described for Kavkazskii Uzel how everybody who arrived to support the defendants on 18 December rejoiced along with the convicts and their relatives that they will finally be able to see one another at liberty.


"None of us expected that after such torments that our husbands experienced in prison the court would decide their fate in two sessions and set them free. Naturally, our family is happy that our husband and father is finally free. He [Kuzichkin] was released from house arrest in the courtroom. After the trial, we immediately drove to the penal service with the verdict, and the bracelet tracking his whereabouts was removed from his leg. Now my husband and I also will be able to deal with our health. We have had to survive very much," Chekhova said.


According to the verdict of the Khostinsky district court of Sochi, a copy of which Kavkazskii has at its disposal, the measure of restriction for Popov, who was in custody, will remain without change until the verdict takes legal effect, after which it will be cancelled. The term of his sentence will be calculated from 10 October 2019 until the sentence takes legal effect as one day of detention equates to a day and a half of incarceration.


The court changed Kuzichkin's measure of restriction to house arrest, which he has been under since 22 April 2020. The court calculated the period he was in the SIZO from 10 October 2019 to 21 April 2020 as one day in custody for a day and a half in prison, and also the period of house arrest as two days for one day in prison.


Court ruled Popov and Kuzichkin organized 16 Jehovah's Witnesses groups


The court found that Popov and Kuzichkin arranged the activity of an extremist organization. They, as well as a person regarding whom a decision was made to separate out a criminal case into another proceeding, acting deliberately as part of a group by preliminary agreement, no later than 25 March 2019 arranged on the territory of Sochi "the revival and continuation in the period from 25 March 2019 to 10 October 2019 of forbidden extremist activity of a religious association of Jehovah's Witnesses."


As the verdict indicates, the convicts, exploiting their authority as spiritual leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses' teaching, created no fewer than 16 religious groups, consisting of no less than 29 adherents of Jehovah's Witnesses, and they convened and personally participated in the conduct of no fewer than 25 meetings of the local religious association of Jehovah's Witnesses in Sochi "using conspiratorial methods by means of video-conferencing with the aid of technological equipment on which the Zoom application was installed," and they conducted "briefings about conduct with agents of law enforcement agencies in detecting their forbidden extremist activity."


The court also referenced the conclusion of a complex psycho-linguistic and religious studies authorship expert analysis of audio and video recordings obtained during operational search events of "operational implementation." The expert analysis indicated that, in this Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization, Kuzichkin, Popov, and the person, regarding whom a decision was made to separate out a criminal case into another proceeding, "conducted activities of an organizational nature and performed the role of leaders," and "in the materials presented there is evidence indicating the concealment of activity constituting measures identified in the materials as necessitating a conspiracy."


Agent feigned interest in religion in order to gather information against the believers


In court the testimony of the witness R.A. Sokolov was given, who is a senior agent of the department of operational implementation of the directorate of the Russian interior ministry for Krasnodar territory, who within the framework of the devised plan was injected in December 2018 into the "Adler Jehovah's Witnesses" religious association, for documenting the activity of the association, and who established contact with a member of the association, Velizhanina, who recommended a mobile application for study of the Bible and instructed him on using this application.


From 8 December 2018, the secret M.V.D. agent met frequently with Velizhanina and discussed the topic of the religious teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses and she described meetings with members of the Jehovah's Witnesses. According to the agent's testimony, Velizhanina often talked about the necessity of drawing people into the religious association and the need to begin with one's family, kin, and acquaintances, and she also reported that it had become more difficult to make donations to the association of Jehovah's Witnesses because of the persecution on the part of law enforcement agencies.


Sokolov said that in his presence one of the Jehovah's Witnesses discussed with Popov the question of transferring Velizhanina into a different congregation, based on her residence, from which the agent drew the conclusion that Popov was an "elder," who had organizational and administrative functions in the association of Jehovah's Witnesses in Sochi. Later Velizhanina introduced him to Kuzichkin, with whom the witness "studied and discussed topics of the Jehovah's Witnesses' teaching."


"From 19 April 2019 to 10 October 2019, on the territories of the Khostinsky and Central districts of the city of Sochi, N.N. Kuzichkin, V.A. Popov, and V.N. Rybakov conducted intense activities aimed at holding these meetings of the religious association of Jehovah's Witnesses by means of preaching the religious teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses for purposes of promoting the forbidden extremist activity of the religious association of Jehovah's Witnesses," according to Sokolov's testimony quoted in the verdict.


The court took into account the advanced age of Kuzichkin and Popov's minor-aged children


"When the defendants V.A. Popov and N.N. Kuzichkin were questioned in the trial, they did not admit they were guilty of committing the crime specified in part 1 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the R.F., while they indicated that they profess the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. In the period indicated in the indictment, they actually did participate with other persons in meetings of religious groups, which were conducted in various neighborhoods, where they talked about religious topics and studied the Bible, although they did not engage in extremist activity," the verdict says.


In passing sentence, the court considered as a mitigating circumstance that Popov has two children and the condition of Kuzichkin's health, that he has a disease, he needs an operation, and he is elderly. As an aggravating circumstance, the court considered that both committed the crime within a group of persons by preliminary agreement. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 December 2020)

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