Fifth Jehovah’s Witness convicted in Rostov-on-Don


Kavkazskii Uzel, 13 July 2021


A court in Rostov-on-Don found that Jehovah’s Witness Olga Ganusha is a member of an extremist organization and sentenced her to a two-year suspended prison term. The believer declared that she intends to appeal the sentence.


As Kavkazskii Uzel has written, Olga Ganusha petitioned for the termination of the criminal case against her, but she was completely refused this, just as she was refused the return of her confiscated telephone and laptop. She also appealed to the ombudsmen of Russia and Rostov oblast, but she received the answer that “it is impossible to provide any assistance in resolving the issues raised in the appeal.” On 4 March, Ganusha declared in court that she had not participated in the activity of a legal entity that has been forbidden by a court, but she exercised her constitutional right to freedom of religious confession. An agent who was questioned by the court found it difficult to respond to questions of the defense as to how and where Ganusha promoted extremism. During the debates on 24 June, the prosecutor demanded that Olga Ganusha be given a three-year suspended prison term. The defense asked that the believer be acquitted.


In the Voroshilov district court of Rostov-on-Don on 12 July, the 60-year-old Olga Ganusha delivered her final speech in which she thanked all participants in the trial and fellow believers who were not able to be present in the courtroom because of restrictions connected with the pandemic. “Whatever the verdict, I will remain a Jehovah’s Witness,” the defendant said, adding that she was “not certain” that a verdict of acquittal would be issued.


On 13 July, the Voroshilov district court found Olga Ganusha guilty of participating in the activity of an extremist organization in accordance with part 2 of article 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code and sentenced her to a two-year suspended prison term with a probation term of one year and six months, a Kavkazskii Uzdel correspondent was told by a representative of the press service of the district court. The court applied article 64 of the Criminal Code (issuing a milder punishment than provided for a given crime—K.U. note), the press service representative noted.


Olga Ganusha herself reported her intention to appeal the verdict. “Yes, I will appeal, first in appellate court and then, probably, in cassation court,” she told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.


“I live alone. I have a son, but he went abroad because his wife is very sick and she wasn’t being treated here and these events also spurred them on. The agent who was investigating me got to my son and wanted to meet with him about me. My son was already prepared to depart and this also hastened his departure. If they were to begin to question him, then possibly he could be put into a SIZO, who knows. His wife needed support. She is weak. Her blood count fell and therefore she left in urgency. She was treated and got on her feet,” Olga Ganusha explained.


The believer described how previously she worked as an engineer in a tobacco factory and as a janitor in a school, and she also was a cleaning worker in several places. The criminal prosecution impacted the woman’s life negatively and she had to quit the job she was doing because her pension ran out.


“All my chronic diseases worsened and my eyesight weakened. I also caught the coronavirus and I had to buy medicine. My pension card was blocked by Rosfinmonitoring and I lived a month without my pension, but thanks to fellow believers; they helped me materially with groceries. I had to go to the pension fund and arrange delivery at home. All of this—the search, interrogation—resulted in stress, my blood pressure went up, sugar went up, this is a great burden on the organism and it greatly undermined my health. At night I dreamed that there was a knock at the door and I woke up in a cold sweat,” Olga Ganusha narrated.


Olga Ganusha’s sentence is the fifth decision in cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Rostov oblast since the decision by the Supreme Court of 20 April 2017. On 17 December 2020, a Jehovah’s Witness from Rostov, Ruslan Alyev, was sentenced to a two-year suspended prison sentence; the court found that he was a member of an extremist organization. On 21 December 2020, his fellow believer Semen Baibak received a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence. On 26 January, Alexander Parkov’s wife, Galina, received a suspended prison term of two years and three months. All three believers have appealed these decisions, but the Rostov oblast court has left the sentences without changes.


On 18 May, the Lenin district court of Rostov-on-Don found 71-year-old Jehovah’s Witness Liudmila Ponomarenko guilty of membership in an extremist organization and sentenced her to two years of prison, suspended. Ponomarenko’s sentence took legal effect on 29 May. It may be noted that courts in Rostov oblast are sentencing members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization to suspended sentences of incarceration and giving them relatively short terms. At the same time, a trend toward mitigation or greater harshness in punishment is not noticeable in decisions rendered. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 July 2021)

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