Case of Ponomareva and Yermak in Kholmskaya

Case history

In April 2021, Olga Ponomareva, a disabled person of group II, and Anna Yermak, the mother of two young children, were searched as part of a criminal case for believing in Jehovah God. Investigator of the Investigative Committee for the Krasnodar Territory Lev Galustyants accused Olga and Anna of involving persons in a banned organization by prior conspiracy. Olga Ponomareva, who has an elderly disabled mother in her care, and Anna Yermak face imprisonment for up to 8 years for peacefully practicing their religion. The case involved the testimony of a woman who feigned an interest in the Bible. According to the investigation, it was her that Ponomareva and Yermak “involved” in their faith. Both believers were given recognizance not to leave. In October 2021, the case was submitted to the Abinsk District Court of the Krasnodar Territory. Soon, on December 2, the court sentenced Ponomareva in absentia to 5, and Yermak to 4.5 years in prison.

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    March 3, 2021

    The Investigative Committee of the Abinsk District for the Krasnodar Territory is initiating a criminal case against 38-year-old Anna Yermak, mother of two young children, and 46-year-old Olga Ponomareva, a disabled person of group II. The case is assigned No. 12107030001000022. For the fact that believers discussed the Bible, they are suspected of committing "a crime against the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the state." They are charged with Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (involvement of a person in the activities of an extremist organization committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy).

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    April 7, 2021

    Early in the morning, as part of a new criminal case, searches are being carried out in the homes of at least 4 peaceful believers in the village of Kholmskaya.

    The FSB detective, Lieutenant I.V. Govorukhin, together with the district police officer, two detectives and two witnesses, searches the house of Anna Yermak and her family. There are two children at the site of the special events, one of them is an infant. Law enforcement officers seize children's coloring books, as well as electronic media belonging to Anna's husband, who is not one of Jehovah's Witnesses. The whole family, especially the older child, is under a lot of stress. After the search, Anna and her husband are summoned for questioning by the Investigative Committee.

    Investigator Vitaliy Kuzmin arrives at Olga Ponomareva's house at 6:30 a.m., accompanied by 2 armed security officers in uniforms with FSB patches and masks, as well as 2 Cossacks and 2 witnesses. They are conducting a search authorized by Judge Aleksandr Kholoshin. The believer lives with her 70-year-old disabled mother, who, as a result of the visit of law enforcement officers, becomes ill with her heart.

    During the search, investigator Vitaliy Kuzmin checks the believer's laptop, opens the Zoom application, which Olga uses for work, and asks to see the last conference. Investigator Kuzmin searches for "American books" in the house, turning over the mattress and throwing things out of the closets on the floor. Operatives also search the veranda, car, bathhouse and greenhouses in the garden. They search for everything "about Jehovah" from the believer, seize her laptop and notebooks with quotes from the Bible, citing the fact that she has "her own Bible." The investigator calls peaceful Bible discussions with other believers meetings of a "forbidden group" that the woman "joined."

    A few hours later, Olga Ponomareva is taken away for interrogation to the Investigative Committee in Abinsk. The head of the investigation team is Lev Galustyants. Investigator Kuzmin also participates in the interrogations, who cannot explain to the believer what exactly her guilt is. Olga uses Article 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which allows citizens not to testify against themselves if they fear that the voiced information will be illegally used against them.

    Despite the fact that the believer has an incurable disease and has undergone several operations, the investigator threatens to send her to a pre-trial detention center, interpreting her position as a refusal to testify. Later, Olga is allowed to go home on her own recognizance.

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    April 14, 2021
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    April 29, 2021

    Investigator Lev Galustyants officially attracts Olga Ponomareva as accused of committing "a crime against the foundations of the constitutional order and state security." She is charged with committing a crime under Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

    According to the investigation, Olga Ponomareva, together with Anna Yermak and other unidentified persons, "resumed and continued her participation in the activities of an extremist organization ... spread the ideology of the extremist organization "Jehovah's Witnesses", conducted and listened to lectures ... read religious books aloud to other participants." Such language is used in the case file despite the authorities' explanations that the Supreme Court did not ban the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses.

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    April 30, 2021

    Galustyants officially prosecutes Anna Yermak as a defendant under Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    June 9, 2021

    The prosecutor of the Abinsk district, I. V. Kosolapov, approves the indictment against the believers.

    The accusation against Olga Ponomareva and Anna Yermak is based on the testimony of FSB officer Bochin, who considers the women guilty of singing biblical songs and studying religious literature recognized as extremist in Russia under the leadership of Aleksandr Ivshin, whom the court sent to a colony for 7.5 years.

    The accusation is also based on the testimony of J. B. Broyan, who since 2012 has communicated with Jehovah's Witnesses, pretending to be interested in the Bible. As follows from the indictment, it was her that Ponomareva and Yermak allegedly "involved" in their faith. The woman herself explains in her testimony that she went to worship services voluntarily.

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    July 16, 2021

    The case of Olga Ponomareva and Anna Yermak is submitted to the Abinsk District Court of the Krasnodar Territory for consideration by Judge Nikolay Surmach, who is also hearing the case of Alexander Nikolaev.

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    August 3, 2021

    20 people come to the courthouse to support the believers.

    The prosecutor reads out the prosecution and the testimony of some witnesses. Anna's husband Yermak is being interrogated. When asked what his wife did and whether she was a member of any organization, he replies that his wife read the Bible.

    The judge does not give Ponomareva and Yermak the opportunity to express their attitude to the charges.

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    August 12, 2021

    Of all the witnesses for the prosecution, only the district police officer is in court. Anna Yermak says she first saw him on April 7, 2021, during a search of her home. However, the interrogation, in which the witness testified against the believer and identified her voice on audio recordings, was dated a month earlier, on March 15, 2021.

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    December 2, 2021 First Instance Sentence

    Judge of the Abinsk District Court of the Krasnodar Territory Nikolay Surmach sentences Anna Yermak and Olga Ponomareva in absentia. Ponomareva was sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment in a penal colony, and Yermak was sentenced to 4 years and 6 months in a penal colony.

    Lawyers for the convicts consider the verdict illegal and file appeals.