The case of Martynov and Others in Irkutsk

Case History

In October 2021, a series of searches took place in Irkutsk and the Irkutsk region, which were accompanied by pogroms and brutal beatings of peaceful believers. It turned out that Yaroslav Kalin, Sergey Kosteev, Nikolay Martynov, Mikhail Moysh, Aleksey Solnechny, Andrey Tolmachev, and Sergey Vasilyev are suspected of extremism for practicing the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). After searches and interrogations, the security forces detained seven men, and soon six of them were sent to a pre-trial detention center, and one was placed under house arrest. After 2 months, law enforcement officers conducted two more searches: in the village of Askiz (Republic of Khakassia) in the home of Denis Sarazhakov and in the city of Mezhdurechensk (Kemerovo region) with Igor Popov. Both of them were arrested, taken more than 1500 km to Irkutsk and placed in custody. In December 2022, the case of the believers went to court. In January 2024, the court sentenced them to various terms of imprisonment in a penal colony, from 3 to 7 years, satisfying the prosecutor’s request.

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    October 4, 2021 Search

    Investigators of the 2nd Investigation Department of the 3rd Department for Investigation of Particularly Important Cases of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Irkutsk Region are initiating criminal cases under Part 1 and Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code against Yaroslav Kalin, Sergey Kosteev, Nikolai Martynov, Mikhail Moish, Alexei Solnechny, Andrey Tolmachev, and Sergey Vasilyev.

    On the same day, early in the morning in Irkutsk and the village of Pivovarikha, armed detachments of Rosgvardia officers and soldiers of the Thunder special forces surrounded the houses of Jehovah's Witnesses at 13 addresses.

    The security forces are cruel towards believers - Anatoly Razdobarov, Nikolay Merinov, as well as their spouses are subjected to beatings and torture. The search lasts more than 8 hours. Then the believers are taken for interrogation, where it turns out that Anatoly Razdobarov and Nikolay Merinov are involved as witnesses in the case of other believers.

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    October 5, 2021

    Meetings are held as a measure of restraint. The court sends Yaroslav Kalin, Sergey Kosteev, Nikolay Martynov, Mikhail Moish, Alexei Solnechny and Andrey Tolmachev to pre-trial detention center No. 1 in the Irkutsk region. After 2 days spent in the temporary detention facility, Sergey Vasilyev is placed under house arrest.

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    October 11, 2021
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    November 30, 2021

    A search is underway in the home of 33-year-old Denis Sarazhakov in the village of Askiz (Republic of Khakassia). The believer is suspected of organizing the activities of an extremist community (Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). To get into the apartment, one of the security officials first imitates a drunk driver who allegedly crumpled Denis's car standing in the yard. In the end, they introduce themselves as police officers, and when the owner opens the door, he is knocked to the floor. The search, led by Police Major Vladimir Zimin, takes place in a harsh manner, but without violence: the security forces turn over furniture, open the window slope. They seize all electronic devices and after the end of the search, they take Denis Sarazhakov first to the local branch of the Investigative Committee, and then to Irkutsk, located 1500 km from the village of Askiz.

    In the same case, special events are being held in the city of Mezhdurechensk (Kemerovo Region). At about 3 a.m., the security forces raided the homes of Igor and Mangira Popov with a search, seizing electronic equipment and money from them. After that, the 34-year-old head of the family is detained and taken away in an unknown direction.

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    December 2, 2021

    Denis Sarazhakov and Igor Popov are elected a measure of restraint in the form of detention. They are sent to pre-trial detention center No. 1 in the Irkutsk region (Irkutsk, Barrikad St., 63).

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    December 21, 2021
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    January 18, 2022

    The lawyer visits Denis Sarazhakov in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Irkutsk. The believer tries to maintain a positive attitude, despite the deterioration of his health, caused, among other things, by the conditions of his detention. Sarazhakov is in solitary confinement in a poorly lit basement. It blows from the window, so at night it is cold in the cell, and the mattress is so thin that Denis has to put letters under it (during his time in custody, the believer received about 200 letters of support). Sarazhakov plans to appeal to the administration of the pre-trial detention center with a request to visit a doctor, as well as improve the conditions of detention.

    The believer has the opportunity to read the New Testament given to him in the library of the pre-trial detention center.

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    January 20, 2022

    The lawyer visits Igor Popov in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Irkutsk. The believer is kept in solitary confinement. He manages to read the New Testament, which was given to him in the library of the pre-trial detention center, as well as to keep himself in good physical shape. Popov tries to maintain a positive attitude. During the time spent behind bars, Igor received about 150 letters.

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    December 1, 2022

    The lawyer visits Mikhail Moish and Alexei Solnechny in the pre-trial detention center. Despite the fact that the accused have been detained for more than a year, they are in good emotional and physical condition. The conditions of detention of believers in the pre-trial detention center are satisfactory. Both are being held in solitary confinement.

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    December 21, 2022 Case went to court

    "Some circumstances knock the ground out from under my feet, but letters, prayers and songs strengthen me a lot," Yaroslav Kalin tells his lawyer. He is grateful to relatives, friends and fellow believers for letters of support.

    Previously, the believer was kept in the basement, where he often caught cold, and now he is in a dry and warm solitary confinement cell. In general, Yaroslav's state of health is not worried, but he needs vitamins, which the employees of the pre-trial detention center do not transfer.

    According to the lawyer, Yaroslav misses his large family very much, especially his parents who live far away. He also worries about his friends: "Right now I have no way to help others except to write them letters. That's the only thing I can do for now."

    The case goes to the Oktyabrsky District Court of Irkutsk. He will be heard by judge Andrei Slavinsky.

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    December 29, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court rejects several petitions: to return the case to the prosecutor, to challenge the composition of the court, as well as to mitigate the measure of restraint. It is extended to all defendants until June 20, 2023.

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    January 29, 2023 Detention center

    Andrey Tolmachev, Denis Sarazhakov, Igor Popov, Alexey Solnechny and Nikolay Martynov are in a good emotional state. However, they have health difficulties - they periodically suffer from colds, as the cells are damp and cold. Andrey Tolmachev worries about his elderly parents, who were left without his care.

    Believers thank their fellow believers for the letters that each of them receives 150-200 per month. They say: "Assurances of love give us strength and help us endure the hardships of unjust detention. We would like to respond to every letter, but it is physically impossible."

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    January 30, 2023 Detention center

    Mikhail Moish does not complain about his state of health. He spent several days in the same cell with a mentally unstable young man. In addition, it was cold in this cell and he had to sleep in a jacket. However, after his written request, he was transferred to a cell with better conditions.

    On the part of the administration, the attitude is normal, there were no penalties.

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    February 22, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court satisfies the request of the defense for the admission of a public defender. The prosecutor begins to read out the indictment.

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    February 27 – March 6, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor shall present the evidence of the prosecution. He pays special attention to the decision of the Supreme Court to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in 2017. In response, one of the lawyers points out that the religious group of Jehovah's Witnesses itself was not banned by that decision.

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    March 13 — 15, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The state prosecutor continues to present evidence. He focuses on the material evidence seized from the defendants, in particular the books of religious scholars Ivanenko, Gordienko and Odintsov.

    Yaroslav Kalin, commenting on the investigative actions carried out in his house, says that during the search the witnesses behaved like police officers, which raises doubts about their impartiality.

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    March 20 — 27, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Denis Sarazhakov is accused of collusion, which he allegedly entered into with other defendants in 2018. However, Sarazhakov draws the court's attention to the fact that from the materials announced by the prosecutor it follows that he met the defendants only in 2021 at a worship service held via video conferencing, so he could not physically enter into any collusion with them in 2018.

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    April 3, 2023 Detention center

    Alexei Solnechny is transferred from solitary confinement to a common cell, designed for 4 people. Despite worries about his family, he maintains a positive attitude.

    Sergey Kosteev is still in solitary confinement. He has already spent a year and a half in prison, but his emotional state is good. Sergey is grateful to his fellow believers for their letters of support — he receives about 40 pieces a week.

    Nikolay Martynov is also in solitary confinement, but this does not affect his positive attitude. He regularly receives letters from friends and family.

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    April 5 — 12, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor continues to study the written materials of the case: secret audio recordings of worship services, as well as the registration file of the LRO for the period up to 2017.

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    April 14, 2023 Detention center

    Mikhail Moish and Igor Popov, like most of their fellow believers, are held in solitary confinement. Igor has hypertension. Although he receives the necessary medications, it is not yet possible to stabilize blood pressure.

    Denis Sarazhakov is kept in a cell with a mentally unstable young man. According to him, the conditions are difficult, it can be emotionally difficult, but he is warmed by letters from relatives and visits with relatives.

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    April 17, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor continues to study the written materials of the case: protocols of the investigator's inspection of items and office equipment seized from the defendants during searches in 2021.

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    May 22, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Health risk Detention center House arrest

    State prosecutor Melnikov continues to present evidence for the prosecution. He submits a motion to extend the measure of restraint to all the defendants. Believers express their disagreement and ask to soften their preventive measure, citing poor conditions of detention: it is cold in the detention center, in Denis Sarazhakov's cell there is a corpse smell from a dead rat from under the floor, and everyone's health has deteriorated. The defendants state that they have no intention of hiding.

    The judge extends the house arrest of Sergey Vasilyev, and the detention of all the rest until September 20, 2023.

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    July 17, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Prosecution witness D. V. Novikov, Kosteev's employee at work, is being interrogated, who explains that the believer is a reliable employee, they did not talk about religion.

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    July 24, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    At the request of the prosecutor, Melnikov interrogated four witnesses (Martynov's employees), and then the protocols of the interrogations of these witnesses are read out.

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    July 26, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court is questioning an operative, V. S. Shabanov, who says that he did not personally carry out operational-search measures against Jehovah's Witnesses in Irkutsk.

    The bailiff delivers to the court the prosecution witness E. N. Kiselev, who is in a state of alcoholic intoxication. The judge rejects the defense's motion to postpone the examination of the witness due to his alcohol intoxication.

    Kiselev informs the judge that he attended a service in Irkutsk, but does not know who headed it. He says that Jehovah's Witnesses are not against higher education.

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    August 28, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Sergey Kosteev and Alexei Solnechny testify to the court. They do not admit guilt and believe that "the accusation is not true," since their "actions do not violate the legislation of the Russian Federation in any way and do not pose any danger to anyone."

    "It sounds absurd, but I'm accused of reading the Bible. Yes, I am a believer, and this book helps me maintain my faith, gain knowledge about God," Kosteev declares.

    Alexei Solnechny says: "Jehovah's Witnesses use the words 'organization', 'organization of God', 'universal brotherhood' as synonyms. All these words... refers to a large family consisting of millions of Jehovah's Witnesses living around the globe. And the word "organization" in this sense ... is understood as a denomination of Jehovah's Witnesses, not a legal entity."

    The believer also notes that there were no calls for extremism at the services. He points to one of the transcripts that discusses the biblical quote: "Seek peace and seek it." Alexei comments on this as follows: "This quote shows that we strive for peace in our services. And for some reason I am accused of extremism for participating in these services. Isn't that a paradox?"

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    September 4, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Michael Moish testifies. He talks about his parents, who themselves lived according to God's standards and raised nine children in the spirit of Christian values: "The upbringing that my parents gave me was to always strive for peace and respect for others, regardless of circumstances and skin color."

    Mikhail emphasizes that the video conferences, which he is accused of organizing, recorded divine services, that is, meetings of a group of Christian believers who sang, prayed and discussed religious topics.

    Moish expresses regret that the investigation and the prosecutor's office did not understand the concept of "elder", considering him a position in a local religious organization, and not a canonical term: "Because of this mistake, I am in the dock."

    Nikolay Martynov testifies. "When I met with my fellow believers at worship services, I just wanted to follow the commandment to be attentive to each other, encouraging to love and good deeds," says the believer.

    The court is also questioning a witness who has known Yaroslav Kalin since childhood. She characterizes him exclusively on the positive side and says that, although she professes a different religion, relations between them are friendly.

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    September 6, 2023 House arrest Detention center

    Judge of the Oktyabrsky District Court Andrey Slavinsky grants the petition of the state prosecutor A. I. Melnikov and extends the current preventive measures for all defendants until December 20, 2023.

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    September 20, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Interrogation of two sons of Sergei Kosteev. They say that despite their different religious views, they have a warm family relationship with their father. They characterize the father on the positive side and express bewilderment at the accusations of extremism.

    Further, the defendant Denis Sarazhakov testifies. He consistently refutes all counts of the indictment. In particular, he says: "I do not agree with the prosecution that it considers the performance of songs and our prayers a crime ... the joint singing of songs by believers and their prayers to God is not a crime, but an integral part of the worship of God, which cannot be considered extremist activity... none of the songs and prayers of Jehovah's Witnesses are recognized as extremist."

    Sarazhakov gives an example showing that believing in Jehovah God after the closure of the legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses does not mean continuing the activities of an extremist organization: "If in the city of Irkutsk a legal entity was engaged in charity and provided assistance to homeless people or those who found themselves in difficult life circumstances, but for some reason were liquidated, this does not mean that all residents of Irkutsk, Those who do good deeds on their own behalf and provide assistance to those in need should be accused of continuing the activities of the liquidated organization, because their actions are outwardly similar to the goals and objectives of the liquidated organization.

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    September 25, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Yaroslav Kalin testifies. He recounts how, during a video camera search, he was asked a single question: "Are you one of Jehovah's Witnesses?" He continues: "After that question, I realized that I was 'guilty' only of being one of Jehovah's Witnesses."

    Kalin calls the accusation unfounded and unsubstantiated: "The investigation speculates with standard formulations, without supporting them with anything."

    The accused also talks about how his relatives were exiled to Siberia for their faith in Soviet times. He says: "I was sure that history could not repeat itself. Russia cannot make the same mistakes. He cannot first imprison believers, then apologize to their children and imprison their children and grandchildren again for their faith in God."

    The believer refutes the accusation of extremism: "In the materials of the criminal case there are several transcripts of our liturgical meetings, but in none of them there is even a hint of incitement to hatred. On the contrary, in our meetings we learn to become better not only from the point of view of God, but also from the point of view of the state.

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    September 27, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Sergey Vasilyev appears before the court. He does not admit guilt and says that the testimony given by him during the preliminary investigation is reflected in the protocols with distortions.

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    October 2, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Witnesses for the defence are being questioned. One of them is a former employee of the government of the Irkutsk region, whose duties included interaction with religious organizations. He explains that during the entire existence of the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in Irkutsk, there were no violations of the law on its part.

    The second witness for the defense, the former director of Irkutsk's Trud Stadium, knows Jehovah's Witnesses well, having held annual worship services at the stadium until 2009. He says that the believers, on their own initiative, repaired the stadium and cleaned it up. Thanks to the help of Jehovah's Witnesses, the stadium was able to adequately represent the Irkutsk region at various sports competitions, including the Ice Hockey World Championship, for many years. The witness expresses special gratitude to Yaroslav Kalin, who many times gratuitously serviced electronic scoreboards and other equipment at the stadium.

    Andrey Tolmachev draws the court's attention to the fact that for the prosecution the concepts of "religion of Jehovah's Witnesses" and "legal entity of Jehovah's Witnesses" are equal, although in fact this is not the case. He explains that having religious beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness and being a member of a legal entity of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia are two different things. "I try always, everywhere and with all people [...] to act with kindness and respect, because I am a Christian, this is what my religion teaches," the believer emphasizes.

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    October 4, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Igor Popov is being interrogated. He explains to the court that religious meetings of Jehovah God's servants took place at all times, regardless of the presence of legal entities, and adds: "I still have the right provided for in Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation to have and disseminate my religious beliefs."

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    October 9, 2023 Detention center

    The Irkutsk Regional Court is considering complaints from lawyers and defendants about the extension of the period of detention. Judge Pavel Noskov upholds the ruling of the court of first instance.

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    October 11, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The defense files a motion for the interrogation of religious scholar, professor Ekaterina Elbakyan. Despite the fact that the specialist flew to Irkutsk from Moscow, the court refuses to interrogate her. After that, the defense asks to attach Elbakyan's conclusion to the case file. The court decides to announce the conclusion.

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    November 3, 2023 Detention center Letters

    Igor Popov has been held in solitary confinement for about two years. He has a Bible that he reads daily. It is also strengthened by letters. Regular exercise and medication help the believer maintain health.

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    November 7, 2023 Detention center

    Denis Sarazhakov is being held in a common cell of the pre-trial detention center with those accused of extremism and terrorism. He shows calmness and friendliness to others.

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    November 13, 2023 Detention center Letters Elderly

    Nikolay Martynov is being held in solitary confinement in a pre-trial detention center. He does not lose heart, regularly receives letters from family and friends. He is supported by dates and phone calls to his family.

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    November 15, 2023 Detention center Letters Elderly

    Denis Sarazhakov is being held in a common cell of the pre-trial detention center together with those accused of extremism and terrorism.

    Yaroslav Kalin and Sergey Kosteev are being held in small solitary confinement cells. They are preparing to speak in the debate in court.

    Nikolay Martynov and Andrey Tolmachev are held in solitary confinement cells. Nikolay regularly receives letters from family and friends. He is supported by visits with his relatives and telephone conversations with them. Andrey does not complain about his physical and emotional condition, but he worries about his father with a disability, whom he has not been able to take care of for a long time.

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    December 4, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Prosecutor requested punishment

    The prosecutor asks for all defendants to be sentenced to imprisonment in a penal colony: Yaroslav Kalin, Nikolai Martynov, Aleksey Solnechny and Sergey Kosteev - 7 years each; Mikhail Moish and Andrey Tolmachev — 6 years and 8 months each; Igor Popov and Denis Sarazhakov — 6 years and 4 months each; Sergey Vasilyev is 3 years old.

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    December 6, 2023 Detention center House arrest Closing arguments for the defense

    Judge Andrei Slavinsky grants the state prosecutor's request to extend the current preventive measures for all believers until March 20, 2024: house arrest for Sergey Vasilyev, and detention for the rest of the defendants.

    In Yaroslav's debate, defense lawyer Oksana Pajitnykh, who participates in the case along with her lawyer, says: "My client is being tried for the same thing for which his parents were exiled to Siberia more than 70 years ago. Officially, for anti-state activities and undermining the constitutional order, and de facto, only for the fact that they were and remain Jehovah's Witnesses." She cites the fact that all the exiled Jehovah's Witnesses were later rehabilitated by the state, and now believers are persecuted under the same pretext.

    The defender also says that Kalin has been practicing the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses for more than 40 years and has lived in the village of Pivovarikha all his life: "Yaroslav Kalin always helped everyone, responded to the misfortune of another person, was always ready to provide emotional, moral and physical support, supported the improvement of the village. He is non-conflicting, there have never been quarrels with neighbors ... And then, suddenly, he is tried as an extremist. But it can't be like that! A useful member of society cannot be an extremist."

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    January 24, 2024 Final statement In the courtroom Elderly

    The defendants Vasiliev, Tolmachev, Solnechny and Kalin make their final statements.

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    January 25, 2024 In the courtroom Final statement Elderly

    The defendants Martynov, Sarazhakov, Moish and Popov deliver their final statements.

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    March 4, 2024 In the courtroom Final statement First Instance Sentence

    Referee: Andrey Slavinsky. Oktyabrsky District Court of Irkutsk (287 Baikalskaya St., room No. 312). Time: 10:00.

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    March 5, 2024 First Instance Sentence Deprivation of liberty Art. 282.2 (1) Art. 282.2 (2) Art. 282.3 (1) Violence by law enforcement officers