Case of Lokhvitskiy in Birobidzhan

Case history

In July 2019, the Federal Security Service of the Jewish Autonomous Region opened a criminal case under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code against 33-year-old Artur Lokhvitsky from Birobidzhan. Arthur was followed by his wife, Anna, and mother, Irina. During the debate in the Birobidzhan District Court, the prosecutor admitted that he did not find anything extremist in the video recordings of the services with the participation of the accused, but he still considered them to be evidence of the continuation of the activities of the banned organization. The prosecutor also admitted that the testimony of prosecution witnesses did not confirm Lokhvitsky’s guilt, but nevertheless they could be used as evidence of the continuation of socially dangerous activities. The prosecution demanded 4 years in a general regime colony for a peaceful believer. In February 2021, Judge Olga Klyuchikova handed down a sentence: 2.5 years of suspended imprisonment. The regional court held in April 2021, as well as the court of cassation held in December, upheld the verdict.

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    July 31, 2019

    The Federal Security Service of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region is initiating a criminal case against 33-year-old Artur Lokhvitsky for his faith under Article 282.2 (2).  According to the investigation, "in order to disseminate the doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses by improving the skills of preaching and other religious activities, a study was carried out ... the publication of Jehovah's Witnesses "Holy Scripture - New World Translation", recognized as extremist.

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    December 24, 2019

    The case goes to the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region and is referred to Judge Olga Klyuchikova, who is also hearing the case of Yevgeny Golik. The criminal case is assigned the number 1-51/2020.

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    January 29, 2020

    The preliminary hearing of the case was postponed due to the failure of the lawyer to appear.

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    January 30, 2020

    The preliminary hearing is ongoing. Lokhvitsky submits 3 petitions. A court-appointed lawyer supports the accused and assists him during the hearing. The court satisfies the request for familiarization with the materials of the criminal case and rejects the petitions for the disqualification of a lawyer and the consolidation of 10 criminal cases.

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    February 4, 2020

    The Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region is hosting the first hearing in the criminal case for faith against Artur Lokhvitsky. About 25 people come to the courtroom to support the believer. The case is being heard by Judge Olga Klyuchikova, the state prosecutor is being heard by N.N. Breycher.

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    February 11, 2020

    The next meeting is attended by 15 listeners. The court refused to satisfy a number of petitions, including the connection of cases and the attachment of characteristics.

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    February 26, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    18 people come to the preliminary hearing. The prosecutor asks the court to remove three from the courtroom as potential witnesses in the case, to which the lawyer objects. He writes down their names in order to appeal this decision, unless these people are later called as witnesses.

    Lokhvitsyky re-submits a petition to attach to the case the characteristics - the gratitude issued to him. The judge attaches them to the case.

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    March 6, 2020

    About 15 listeners come to the hearings. The prosecutor reads out the evidence of the prosecution: materials from the criminal case. Among them is correspondence between believers, in particular, that it is necessary to rely not on the justice of the judicial system, but on Jehovah. The prosecutor also reads out passages from the Bible.

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    March 13, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    There are 10 people in the hall. The court is reviewing discs with recordings of worship services that took place in 2017.

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    December 15, 2020

    The court is reviewing video recordings of the services that underlie the charges against Lokhvitsky. One of the records mentions the importance of maintaining spiritual, moral and physical purity. The defendant emphasizes that there is nothing in the video that confirms his extremist activities, with which even the prosecutor agrees.

    The next hearing is scheduled for December 22 at 2:30 p.m. It is planned to continue watching the video and hear the testimony of the defendant. If they are not, the court will immediately proceed to the debate.

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    December 29, 2020 Prosecutor requested punishment

    During the debate in the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region, the prosecutor admits that nothing extremist was committed during the religious meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses with the participation of Artur Lokhvitsky. Immediately, the prosecutor interprets the believer's speeches to fellow believers as a continuation of the activities of a banned legal entity, which, in her opinion, indicates the "public danger and severity" of his actions by Artur Lokhvitsky.

    The prosecutor is forced to admit that the prosecution witnesses did not provide any evidence of Lokhvitsky's guilt on the charges against him, but immediately reports that their testimony can be interpreted as confirmation of the continuation of socially dangerous activities.

    As a punishment for Artur Lokhvitskiy, the prosecutor requests 4 years of imprisonment in a general regime colony, 1 year of restriction of freedom with the obligation to report twice a month to register with the police.

    "Draconian" calls the demands of the prosecutor the lawyer of the believer. Speaking in the debate of the parties, he recalled the Russian Constitution, which guarantees citizens freedom of religion, namely the right to communicate with other people on religious topics. During religious meetings, believers did not use forbidden literature, the lawyer emphasizes.

    "What to punish for? For believing in God? For coming together? They're friends. Who else should they gather with? Their whole life is based on the gospel. Artur Lokhvitsky is not guilty," the lawyer declares and asks the court to acquit the believer.

    Artur Lokhvitsky's last speech is scheduled for January 15, 2021.

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    January 21, 2021 Final statement

    At the next court session, the prosecutor shall apply for the resumption of investigative actions. Despite the objections of the defense and the defendant, Judge Olga Klyuchikova supports the motion. The court additionally examines 6 of the 25 volumes of the criminal case of Artur Lokhvitsky (recordings of telephone conversations of believers, conclusions of technical and religious examinations). On this basis, she concludes that the believer participated in the activities of an extremist organization, although the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses is not prohibited in Russia.

    The debate of the parties was resumed. The prosecutor repeats the earlier charge for Artur Lokhvitsky - 4 years in prison. The defense argues that the accusation has not been proven and asks the court to acquit the believer.

    The believer's final speech is scheduled for February 2, 2021.

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    February 2, 2021 Final statement First Instance Sentence

    Olga Klyuchikova, judge of the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region, announces the verdict: guilty. The court sentences 35-year-old Artur Lokhvitskiy to 2.5 years of suspended imprisonment with a 3-year probation period and the obligation to report to the police once a month. The verdict has not entered into force and can be appealed.

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    April 8, 2021 Court of Appeal

    The court of the Jewish Autonomous Region does not satisfy the appeal of Artur Lokhvitsky, the verdict comes into force.

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    December 6, 2021

    The Ninth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction is holding a hearing of the case of Artur Lokhvitsky via videoconference. The believer continues to insist on his innocence, but the panel of judges chaired by Vera Gorenko upholds the decision of the court of first instance.