"WITNESSES" CONVICTED FOR CONSPIRACY
In Kursk, adherents of a forbidden religious organization received real time.
by Sergei Tolmachev
Kommersant, 4 June 2021
A court in Kursk has completed consideration of a criminal case of extremism involving five adherents of the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, which is forbidden in Russia. Four of them received real time in prison and one received a suspended sentence. Taking into account detention in a SIZO, at the present moment three men remain in custody. The convicts do not admit guilt and consider themselves to be victims of political repression.
The Promyshleny district court of Kursk sentenced four adherents of the Jehovah's Witnesses, which are banned in Russia, to real time in prison. As Kommersant-Chernozem was told at the court, Andrei Andreev, who is considered the organizer of the local cell (part 1 of article 282.2 of CC RF), received 4 years and 6 months in a penal colony of ordinary regime, and participants (part 2 of article 282.2 of CC RF) Alevtina and Artem Bagratian and Andrei Ryshkov received terms of incarceration of from two to three years. Another subject, Alexander Vospitaniuk, was given a suspended sentence of two years by the court. All of the convicts are forbidden to publish any materials on the internet for several years.
The criminal case against them was opened by the regional directorate of the F.S.B. in September 2019. According to the account of the investigation, the subjects of the case ignored the decision of the Russian Supreme Court liquidating the principal legal entity of the Jehovists—the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia—because of the conduct of extremist activity and they continued holding religious meetings and disseminating their ideas. The investigator concluded that Andrei Andreev, who has been the leader of the official Kursk cell since 2009, performed the leading organizational work and the other defendants cooperated in popularizing the religious denomination, promoting its superiority over other teachings and distributing materials with extremist contents.
The participants sought new devotees of the faith and gave account to the organizer of the ongoing work in introducing the ideology to the public at large, including during "conspiratorial meetings."
A month after the case was opened, the Bagratian couple and Andrei Andreev were placed in detention. Andrei Ryshkov wound up in the SIZO in early 2020. The men have been in the isolation cell until the present, and the woman was placed under house arrest late last year. After the announcement of the verdict, Alevtina Bagratian was not held in detention; she will await the sentence's taking legal effect at home. The prison terms of all the convicts in detention will be calculated on the basis of "a day and a half for a day."
The defendants did not admit guilt. At various stages of the investigation and consideration of the case their defense attorneys spoke about political repression against their clients. Thus, Artem Bagratian's attorney, Elena Bogatyrenko, told Kommersant that the one reason that her client was arrested and held in detention, in her opinion, is his profession of a religion that is unlike the religion of the majority. "He exercised his right, which is provided by the constitution," the attorney is convinced. During his final statement, Andrei Andreev noted that the investigation represented the discussion of the Bible among visiting friends as conspiratorial meetings. In her statement, Alevtina Bagratian declared that while she was in detention letters with religious contents were not delivered to her and she was not allowed to read the Bible.
Her spouse also complained about conditions in the SIZO. According to Ms. Bogatyrenko, because of repeated illnesses, including coronavirus infection, Artem Bagratian and other defendants were periodically placed in quarantine in "unsanitary conditions of the isolation cell," which led to exacerbation of chronic illnesses and pneumonia. All appeals by the subjects of the case were not granted throughout their detention.
The latest determination by an oblast court of the legality of maintaining the men in detention came through precisely on the day the verdict was announced.
Thus far the convicts and their attorneys have not determined whether the verdict will be appealed. In an interview with Kommersant, Ms. Bogatyrenko suggested that she will file an appeal. (tr. by PDS, posted 4 June 2021)
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