Case of Scholner in Birobidzhan

Case History

There were many upheavals in the life of Tatyana Sholner from Birobidzhan: the death of her father, the death of her 12-year-old cousin, and then also criminal prosecution for her faith. In February 2020, the Federal Security Service for the Jewish Autonomous Region opened criminal cases against Tatyana and 5 other women for participating in the activities of an extremist organization. According to the investigation, the believers “resumed the activities of the local religious organization liquidated in 2016 … as well as the “Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.” This is how the investigator interpreted the usual ways of expressing faith: singing songs, praying, and discussing the Bible. In June 2021, the court sentenced Tatyana Sholner to 2.5 years of suspended imprisonment. The Court of Appeal and Cassation upheld this decision.

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    February 6, 2020

    D. Yankin, a senior investigator-criminalist of the investigative department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region, initiates 6 criminal cases for faith against 6 women at once: 57-year-old Irina Lokhvitskaya, 26-year-old Anna Lokhvitskaya, 26-year-old Tatyana Sholner, 35-year-old Tatyana Zagulina, 40-year-old Anastasia Guzeva and 41-year-old Nataliya Kriger . All six women are charged with part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. According to investigators, they resumed the activities of the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in Birobidzhan, which was liquidated in 2016, as well as the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. (Earlier, the defendants in the criminal case under similar articles were the husbands of Natalia Krieger, Tatyana Zagulina and Anastasia Guzeva - Valery Krieger, Dmitry Zagulin and Konstantin Guzev. And Irina and Anna Lokhvitsky were prosecuted after their son and husband Artur Lokhvitsky.)

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    April 6, 2020

    Yankin, a senior investigator-criminalist of the investigation department of the Directorate for the Jewish Autonomous Region of the FSB of Russia, by his decision, suspended the preliminary investigation in the criminal case against Tatyana Sholner. (The suspension of the preliminary investigation is a necessary measure due to the inability to complete the preliminary investigation without the participation of the accused or suspect due to the threat of the spread of coronavirus infection.)

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    June 15, 2020

    Investigator D. Yankin informs Tatyana Sholner about the resumption of proceedings in her criminal case. After a phone call, he calls Tatiana to his office the next day.

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    August 12, 2020

    Acting Prosecutor of the Jewish Autonomous Region Andrei Kolesnikov approves the indictment against Tatyana Sholner. The believer is charged with attending peaceful services.

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    August 19, 2020

    The case goes to the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region. Referee: Yulia Tsykina.

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    January 19, 2021

    A prosecution witness, police officer Yulia Zvereva, is being questioned in court. She cannot say anything about the services, participation in which is imputed to Tatiana Scholner, since on these dates she was at work or on vacation.

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    March 11, 2021

    The prosecution finishes presenting material evidence, most of which is video recordings of believers discussing the Bible, praying and singing religious chants.

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    May 26, 2021

    Tatiana shows the court a video of a liturgical meeting, during which believers pray, sing a song, discuss the Gospel of Mark and listen to a speech on the topic of forgiveness. She comments: "We have just seen how the meeting begins. It begins with a song called "Forgive Each Other." It is based on the Bible and sets our minds and hearts to imitate God and forgive. And prayer encourages us to strengthen our faith and help each other in this. From the speech, we saw the motivation not to hold a grudge.

    Tatiana testifies in court. She says: "As a believer, extremism is alien to me, as well as any manifestation of hatred or enmity. [...] My life in general, as well as the actions that I am charged with, were exclusively peaceful and exclusively religious in nature. [...] Thanks to all that I have learned from the Bible, I try to treat people with kindness, I learn to forgive. Biblical principles encourage me to treat my work conscientiously, to treat my employer with respect. Therefore, I do not understand what socially dangerous nature of my actions is attributed to me. [...] In fact, I am accused of believing in God, reading and discussing the Bible with my friends. [...] The courts in Russia did not ban the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. All the videos show that it is the worship service of believers that is taking place, and not some extremist action. Any Christian religion practices joint worship. [...] It is impossible to profess the Christian faith and not gather together with fellow believers."

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    June 3, 2021

    During the debate, the prosecutor requests for Tatyana Sholner a sentence of 4 years in prison to be served in a penal colony of general regime, followed by restriction of freedom for a period of 2 years and other restrictions (not to change the place of residence without notifying the specialized body, not to travel outside the municipality, twice a month to appear in a specialized body for registration and report on their behavior).

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    June 17, 2021 Prosecutor requested punishment Final statement

    Tatiana Sholner speaks in the debate. She draws the court's attention to the fact that, under the European Convention, a State does not have the right to decide which beliefs may or may not be taught.

    According to the defendant, the state prosecution focused on proving the existence of some kind of organization among believers and their belonging to the denomination of Jehovah's Witnesses instead of specifying specific facts of criminal activity. Therefore, Tatyana emphasizes: "All the actions imputed to me are fully consistent with the constitutional norm: 'everyone is guaranteed... the right to profess... together with others... religion." And my actions were legitimate... I did not disseminate extremist materials, did not call for violence, aggression, discord, hatred, enmity."

    Tatyana also mentions that prosecution witness Yulia Zvereva, who participates in many trials of Birobidzhan believers, gave false testimony. For example, she said that she had known Scholner since 2015, but Tatiana became one of Jehovah's Witnesses only in 2017 and saw Zvereva for the first time in the courtroom.

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    June 25, 2021 First Instance Sentence

    Referee: Yulia Tsykina. Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region (Birobidzhan, Pionerskaya St., 32).

    The verdict is announced: 2 years and 6 months of suspended imprisonment with a probationary period of 2 years and an additional 1 year of restriction of freedom. The verdict is announced: 2 years and 6 months of suspended imprisonment with a probationary period of 2 years and an additional 1 year of restriction of freedom.

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    December 16, 2021 Court of Appeal

    The court of the Jewish Autonomous Region approves the decision of the lower court. The verdict comes into force.

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    September 14, 2022