Jehovah's Witnesses' sentences pile up in south of Russia


Kavkazskii Uzel, 2 August 2021


A court in Rostov-on-Don found Andrei Okhrimchuk guilty of participating in activity of a local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses and also of financing it. The believer intends to appeal the verdict.


As Kavkazskii Uzel has written, the independent businessman, resident of Rostov-on-Don Andrei Okhrimchuk was questioned in court in the case of the Jehovah's Witness Galina Parkova on 25 November 2020. During questioning, Okhrimchuk indicated that he also is a Jehovah's Witness and a criminal case on a similar article was opened against him. On 12 July he declared in court that he did not participate in the activity of a legal entity that has been banned by a court but he merely professed the religion and met with fellow believers. During debates on 29 July, the state prosecutor demanded a suspended four-year prison term for Andrei Okhrimchuk; the defendant himself asked that he be acquitted.


A search was conducted in Andrei Okhrimchuk's home on 22 May 2019 and a case on both articles was opened on 29 October 2020. The investigation concluded that financial transfers were made from Okhrimvhuk's bank card to the cards of Jehovah's Witnesses Semen Baibak and Arsen Avanesov; the funds were intended to pay for rental of premises and purchase of computer equipment and office and household supplies for support of the activity of the extremist organization. Okhrimchuk was entered by Rosfinmonitoring into the list of persons regarding whom there exists information concerning their participation in extremist activity or terrorism.


The announcement of the sentence in the Lenin district court of Rostov-on-Don took about three hours, a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent relates. The judge agreed with the version of the investigation according to which the 42-year-old Andrei Okhrimchuk "personally participated in the activity of the local 'Central, Rostov-on-Don' religious  organization, which was a structural subdivision of the 'Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia,' which is banned in Russia." The court also agreed with the investigator's position that financial transfers were made from the bank card of Okrimchuk for the purpose of financing the activity of the extremist organization.


The court sentenced Andrei Okhrimchuk to a four-year suspended prison term with a four year probationary term. He also was sentenced to a year of restriction of liberty: after serving his term, Okhrimchuk will not be able to leave his home between 22.00 and 06.00, nor visit bars and restaurants, nor leave the territory of the municipality, nor attend mass events, nor change his place of residence or work without permission from oversight agencies. He also is required "to appear at specialized state agencies twice a month for registration." The sentence requires that Okhrimchuk's computer tablet, laptop, electronic book, and cell phone will be "confiscated as state revenue."


The believer took the verdict calmly. Okhrimchuk intends to file an appeal, he told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.


The convict also complained about the inconvenience following his inclusion in Rosfinmonitoring's list in November 2020. "I had a military social pension. I want to go and figure out whether it is reasonable to seize it. Some money was left in the account, less than the pension, but still it is unpleasant. I went to the bank and talked with them and they said 'write an application and we will see.' I wrote an application, but there was no response," Andrei Okhrimchuk explained.


The blocking of the bank card by Rosfinmonitoring affected the family's income, Okhrimchuk's wife, Ekagerina, reported. "He is not receiving his pension. The money was blocked, including his wages. Of course, it is inconvenient," she told a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent.


In her opinion, her husband was convicted merely for his faith. "It is unpleasant when armed persons enter the apartment (during a search) suddenly, especially when we have not committed any crime. Naturally it was a shock. Our minor-aged daughter saw all of this and it also was stressful for her; she cried and thought that both papa and mama would be taken away. With time, of course, we adjusted and began to feel normal, but it is still unpleasant to face such injustice. My husband is convicted only for his faith," Ekaterina emphasized.


The verdict for Andrei Okhrimchuk was the seventh decision, since the Supreme Court's decision of 20 April 2017, with regard to cases of Jehovah's Witnesses in Rostov oblast. On 17 December 2020, the Rostov Jehovah's Witness Ruslan Alyev was sentenced to a suspended prison term of two and a half years. 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 suspended three and a half year term. The wife of Alexander Parkov, Galina, was given a suspended two years and three months sentence on 26 January. All three believers appealed these decisions, but the Rostov oblast court left the sentences without change.


On 18 May, the Lenin district court of Rostov-on-Don found the 71-year-old Jehovah's Witness Liudmila Ponomarenko guilty of participating in an extremist organization and gave her a suspended two-year prison term; Ponomarenko's sentence took effect on 29 May. On 13 July the Voroshilov district court of Rostov-on-Don gave a similar sentence to the Jehovah's Witness Olga Ganusha. On 29 July a court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Vilen Avanesov to six years in a penal colony and Alexander Parkov and Vilen Avanesov's son, Arsen, to six and a half years in a penal colony of ordinary regime, having found them guilty of arranging the activity of an extremist organization. (tr. by PDS, posted 3 August 2021)

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