Appeals court defies instructions from Supreme Court in Jehovah's Witnesses case


Kavkazskii Uzel, 12 January 2022


The cassation court in Krasnodar left in force the decision in the case of the Jehovah's Witness Semen Baibak from Rostov-on-Don, who was sentenced to three and a half years in a case about participation in an extremist organization and its financing.


As Kavkazskii Uzel has written, Semen Baibak was arrested in June 2019. On 21 December 2020 a court sentenced him to a suspended sentence of 3.5 years in prison, having found him to be a member of an extremist organization (part 2, article 282.2 of CC RF) and guilty of financing its activity (part 1, article 282.3 CC RF). Baibak did not admit guilt, having declared that he has been subjected to persecution for exercising his constitutional right to religious confession, and he decided to appeal the verdict. In March 2021 an appellate court in Rostov-on-Don refused to acquit the believer.


Semen Baibak is one of 16 Jehovah's Witnesses in Rostov oblast against whom criminal cases were introduced on the basis of a judicial decision in a lawsuit by the Ministry of Justice for liquidation of all structural subdivisions of the "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia." Rostov oblast leads among regions of the south of Russia in number of believers who have been criminally prosecuted.


On 11 January, a panel of three judges of the Fourth cassation court of ordinary jurisdiction in Krasnodar reviewed Semen Baibak's appeal. The hearing was conducted by video link with the Lenin district court of Rostov-on-Don. Two fellow believers arrived to support him, a Kavkazskii Uzel correspondent related.


In his appeal, Semen Baibak asked for an end to his criminal prosecution and an acknowledgment of his right to rehabilitation. He declared that the investigation and trial did not establish in his case any motive and intent to commit the actions he is accused of. "I am a peaceful man," Baibak added.


He noted especially the circumstances of the questioning of a witness for the prosecution, Davud Avad Allah Abdel Mallek Yussef. "He was the only witness who recognized my voice on a video recording of worship services. Actually this is the only evidence that shows that I was anywhere. His testimony given in the trial differs markedly from the evidence that was presented by the investigator in the materials of the case. The video recordings last about 40 hours, but, as was shown, two interrogations lasted an hour and a half each. The question arises: how could he (the witness) view 40 hours of video in three hours? A translator answered this question: she stated directly that the investigator included the video recordings at the right moment so that the witness could recognize my voice," Baibak described.


Davud Avad Allah Abdel Mallek Yussef on 2 September 2020 confirmed for the court that Semen Baibak was a teacher of the Chinese language in his school a few years ago, and they conversed "two or three times." The witness described Semen Baibak as "a normal person," who did not advocate the overthrow of the government. The school director reported that the investigator gave him a disk with a video and speech of a person. He said that he recognized Baibak on one of these videos and with regard to one of the audio recordings he said that "the voice is similar," although he could not confirm that it was the voice of the defendant, since he had talked little with him and "I listen to 30 to 50 persons a day"


"That is like bringing a person to a line-up and pointing a finger at one of the people and saying 'here, you need to point to this man,'" the believer said.


Baibak emphasized that what the security forces showed in a video of the worship service "is standard practice for believers and for Jehovah's Witnesses in particular." He also pointed out that he had earlier performed alternative civilian service instead of military service, which "confirms the peaceful nature of his convictions."


Baibak's lawyer Roman Kakasiev also requested that the verdict be quashed. "Participation in just one worship service is insufficient for characterizing activities as criminal. His activities should be illegal ones, that is, like those for which the organization had been liquidated," he said.


The defense attorney cited the ruling [of the plenum of the Supreme Court of 28 October 2021—note by Kavkazskii Uzel] and he stressed that the materials of the case lack an indication of any kind of extremist statements by Baibak and that "the ideology of the confession of Jehovah's Witnesses and the right to profess this religion are not forbidden in our country."


A staff member of the prosecutor general's office of the R.F. declared that "contrary to the argument of the appeal, the conclusions by the court regarding Baibak's guilt were based on the scrutinized testimony of witnesses, reports of investigative actions, and conclusions of an expert analysis." "There were no violations of the legal requirements during the conduct of the preliminary investigation, the judicial proceedings were conducted thoroughly and exhaustively, the conclusions about the defendant's actions were correct, and a just sentence was issued," the prosecutor stated. She asked that the verdict be left without change.


The panel of judges decided to leave Baibak's sentence without change and his cassation appeal was left without satisfaction.


Semen Baibak declared that he will appeal this decision.


Kavkazskii Uzel has also written that on 24 November, the Fourth cassation court refused to grant an appeal against the verdict regarding the Jehovah's Witness from Rostov-on-Don Ruslan Alyev, and on 15 December it left without change the decision in the case of the Jehovah's Witness Galina Parkova. Alyev and Parkova were earlier sentenced to suspended sentences on the article about participation in an extremist organization. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 January 2022)

Background articles:
Jehovah's Witnesses to appeal their convictions in south Russia
December 22, 2020
Jehovah's Witnesses frustrated in Rostov courts
March 29, 2021
Jehovah's Witness loses appeal in Rostov
March 1, 2021

Jehovah's Witnesses family harassed by authorities
March 23, 2021
Jehovah's Witnesses' sentences pile up in south of Russia
August 2, 2021

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