JEHOVAH'S WITNESS PONOMARENKO SENTENCED BY ROSTOV COURT TO SUSPENDED TERM
Kavkazskii Uzel, 18 May 2021
Today a court in Rostov-on-Don found the Jehovah's Witness Liudmila Ponomarenko guilty of participating in an extremist organization and sentenced her to a suspended term of two years imprisonment.
As Kavkazskii Uzel has written, the Jehovah's Witness from Rostov-on-Don Liudmila Ponomarenko stated during questioning in court on 26 March that she did not participate in the activity of a legal entity that had been banned by a court but she merely professed a religion and participated in worship services. During the debates on 14 May, the prosecutor demanded a two-year suspended prison sentence for Liudmila Ponomarenko. The defense asked for her to be acquitted, and in her final statement Ponomarenko declared her innocence.
Liudmila Ponomarenko was sentenced to a two-year suspended prison term with a probationary term of one year, a representative of the press service of the Lenin district of Rostov-on-Don told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent today.
According to the account of the investigation, from 12 November 2017 to 18 September 2018, Ponomarenko "personally participated in the activity of the local 'Central, Rostov-on-Don' religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, which was a 'structural subdivision of the forbidden Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia'" (part 2, article 282.2 CC RF). In particular, she "participated in illegal religious meetings of the organization" and distributed religious literature, the investigator concludes. The indictment also posits that in meetings "calls were voiced for encouraging refusal to participate in elections, refusal to respect state symbols, and refusal of medical treatment."
Ponopmarenko will make a final decision with regard to appealing the sentence after she receives it and familiarizes herself with its full text, her appointed lawyer, Sergei Zaikin, explained. "Most likely, yes, she will write an appeal; the sentence will be delivered tomorrow," he said.
"Not that [the sentence] wasn't expected, rather there were no other alternatives. In essence, only singing was recorded by the video," the lawyer noted. He said that the materials of the case say that singing was conducted by the elders of the organization, and that the Jehovah's Witnesses organization was functioning. "That isn't the case. The legal entity had ceased to exist by decision of a court, and such an organization did not exist any longer," Zaikin said.
In April 2017, the Ministry of Justice sought a decision in the Supreme Court for the liquidation of all organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia as extremist. The court gave assurances that the decision for the liquidation of the legal entities would not affect in any way the right of individual believers to profess the religion. But law enforcement practice based on this judicial decision became a wave of criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses. Already 417 believers of this confession have been faced with criminal prosecution in Russia, including 30 in the southern and north Caucasus federal districts. Rostov oblast leads among regions of south Russia in the number of believers who have been criminally prosecuted, according to the article "Jehovah's Witnesses—Extremists or Victims of Lawlessness?"
Kavkazskii Uzel also has written that in Rostov oblast, criminal cases on the basis of the judicial decision in the lawsuit of the Ministry of Justice for liquidation of all structural subdivision of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia were opened against 16 believers. On 17 December 2020, the Rostov Jehovah's Witness Ruslan Alyev was sentenced to a two and a half year suspended sentence; the court ruled that he was a member of an extremist organization. His fellow believer Semen Baibak was sentenced on 21 December 2020 to a three and a half year suspended term. Alexander Parkov's wife, Galina, was sentenced on 26 January to a suspended prison term of two years and three months. All three believers appealed the decisions, but the Rostov oblast court left the sentences without change. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 May 2021)
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