The case of Kuzhelkov and Prokhorov in Kirsanov

Case history

In December 2020, the Investigative Committee opened criminal cases for their faith against Anton Kuzhelkov and Nikolai Prokhorov. On the same day, the cases were merged into one proceeding. The security forces conducted searches at 19 addresses of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kirsanov, as well as at Kuzhelkov’s place of actual residence in the city of Lukhovitsy (Moscow Region). Nikolay was ordered not to leave the place. Anton was placed in a pre-trial detention center, where he stayed for 430 days, after which he was released under a ban on certain actions. In September 2021, the case went to court.

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    December 21, 2020

    Deputy Head of the Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Tambov Region, Colonel of Justice Mikhail Medyulyanov initiates a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation against Anton Kuzhelkov. The investigation sees signs of extremism in "convening meetings, organizing religious speeches and worship ... carrying out preaching activities" (from the decision to initiate a criminal case).

    The head of the interdistrict investigation department of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Tambov Region, Colonel of Justice Askar Bupegaliev, on the basis of the report of the senior detective of the CPE of the Ministry of Internal Affairs V. Tsyplakov, initiates criminal case No. 12002680003000030 against Nikolai Prokhorov under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

    The cases against Prokhorov and Kuzhelkov are combined into one proceeding. The case is assigned a 12002680011000017 number. The investigation sees in peaceful worship "undermining the foundations of the constitutional order and ... incitement of religious discord."

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    December 22, 2020

    Judge of the Leninsky District Court of Tambov Denis Lipatov, with the participation of Senior Assistant Prosecutor A. Sapelkin, in a closed session, satisfies the petition of investigator Mikhail Medyulyanov to search the actual address of Anton Kuzhelkov's residence in the Moscow Region. The investigator believes that at this address there are "instruments of crime, objects, documents and valuables that may be relevant to the criminal case."

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    December 24, 2020

    In the morning, at least 19 searches of believers take place in Kirsanov. One of the searches takes place at Anton Kuzhelkov's home in the town of Lukhovitsy, Moscow Region. He was taken for interrogation 350 kilometers from his home - to the investigative department of the Investigative Committee in Tambov. After the interrogation, the investigator for especially important cases of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee, Major of Justice Ivan Morozov, detains the believer.

    The investigator for especially important cases of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation P. Salnikov, in the presence of witnesses and a lawyer, seizes a mobile phone and a laptop with a charger from Nikolai Prokhorov. The seizure is carried out in the office at the address: Tambov, st. Karl Marx, 156. Photographs are taken during the seizure.

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    December 25, 2020

    Judge of the Leninsky District Court of Tambov Denis Lipatov, the one who authorized the searches, sends Anton Kuzhelkov to the pre-trial detention center for 2 months, until February 20, 2021.

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    December 29, 2020

    The lawyer visits Anton Kuzhelkov in the pre-trial detention center. The believer tries to maintain a positive attitude, not to give up and not to lose heart.

    Mikhail Medyulyanov attracts Nikolai Prokhorov as a defendant in a criminal case.

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    March 24, 2021

    Kuzhelkov received letters from 73 countries, and some of them began correspondence. Anton has a Bible, he is also very happy that he has the opportunity. The cell became warmer.

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    August 30, 2021

    Anton Kuzhelkov is being transferred from SIZO-1 in Tambov to SIZO No. 3 in Zeleny Gai, located in the Michurinsky District of the Tambov Region. The believer has been behind bars for 250 days. He can write letters.

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    September 7, 2021

    The case against Anton Kuzhelkov and Nikolai Prokhorov is submitted to the Kirsanovsky District Court of the Tambov Region.

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    September 10, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Judge Nikolai Glistin refuses to return the criminal case to the prosecutor, although, in the opinion of the defense, inadmissible evidence of the prosecution appears in the case, for example, the opinion of the expert Y. Aseeva (Aseeva, according to the defense, does not have a specialized education, and she is the founder of one of the local Islamic religious organizations; answering the questions posed by the investigator, Aseeva went beyond her competence).

    The question of the further measure of restraint for Anton Kuzhelkov, who is in jail, is being raised. State prosecutor A.A. Kostik sees no reason to mitigate the measure of restraint. Judge Nikolai Glistin extends Kuzhelkov's detention for six months at once, until March 6, 2022. He also leaves the measure of restraint to Nikolai Prokhorov in the form of a written undertaking not to leave the place.

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    September 22, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The Kirsanovsky District Court of the Tambov Region is holding the first open court hearing in the criminal case against Anton Kuzhelkov and Nikolai Prokhorov.

    Kuzhelkov's lawyer is requesting that he and his client be given the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the case materials and that the hearing be postponed. The judge grants the request.

    The prosecutor announces the charges, after which Anton Kuzhelkov and Nikolai Prokhorov express their attitude to the charges against them. The believers do not admit guilt, drawing the court's attention to the fact that they have the right to profess the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, as this is guaranteed by Article 28 of the Constitution. In addition, they emphasize that their position is in line with the official position of the Russian Federation on this issue.

    Anton Kuzhelkov in his speech draws attention to the fact that in the indictment on 31 pages his name is mentioned only 1 time, and the name of God 168 times, in connection with which he has a question: "And who is being judged - me or God, in whom I believe?".

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    October 20, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The defense files a motion to attach certain documents: the appellate ruling of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on the administrative claim of the Ministry of Justice against the RO UC SI in Russia, the commentary of the Russian Federation to the report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the Opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in the Mikhailov case. The court grants the request.

    Six witnesses are being questioned. Three of them use Article 51 of the Constitution.

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    November 11, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Prosecution witnesses are being questioned. One of them refuses to testify. The prosecutor then requests that his testimony be read. The defense objects and the court refuses the prosecutor.

    Another witness, Nikolai Prokhorov's boss, gave him a positive characterization. He notes that in his ten years of working together, he often and willingly talked with the accused about the Bible on his own initiative, and that Nicholas never agitated him.

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    November 23, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court interrogates Nikolai Aparshev, an employee of the FSB of Russia in the Tambov region. He cannot say what kind of activity Kuzhelkov posed a danger to Russia. At the same time, he claims that holding worship services, refusing blood transfusions and military service are extremist actions. However, after a clarifying question from the lawyer, Aparshev admits his mistake.

    Also, this FSB officer states that screenshots were recorded on the believer's computer at intervals of 10 seconds. Aparshev claims that they depict facts of extremist activity. But he cannot point out signs of extremism in these screenshots or explain how they confirm the continuation of the LRO's activities.

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    December 8, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court interrogates FSB officer Tsyplakov. According to him, the ORM against Prokhorov was carried out because he has been a Jehovah's Witness for a long time. Another reason is that in the videos provided by a secret FSB informant, Nikolai Prokhorov sings songs from the website of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    At the same time, he notes that during the services "no one was injured ... There was nothing life-threatening there."

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    February 2, 2022

    The 9th court hearing in the case is already underway. To support the believers, 10 people come to the meeting, but only Anton Kuzhelkov's wife is allowed into the hall.

    Witnesses for the prosecution are questioned at the hearing, including the priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Shcherbakov, who was involved in the case as an expert (he retells the history of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, and explains that the form of this name is in the Synodal translation of the Bible). The testimonies of those who did not appear are announced, and the case materials are also examined.

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    March 1, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Another hearing is being held in the case of two believers. The court gets acquainted with the material evidence, audio recordings are listened to.

    Judge Nikolai Glistin changes the measure of restraint for Anton Kuzhelkov from imprisonment. He was released from the pre-trial detention center on the same day. In total, the believer spent 430 days in custody.

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    March 21, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court considers material evidence - video recordings of worship services.

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    March 23, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The Tambov Regional Court considers the prosecutor's complaint about the mitigation of the preventive measure for Anton Kuzhelkov and rejects it. The believer remains prohibited from certain actions.

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    March 31, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The Kirsanovsky District Court suspends consideration of the case in connection with the serious illness of Nikolai Prokhorov. The hearings will continue after his recovery.

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    June 21, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court is interrogating a well-known religious scholar, Doctor of Philosophy, State Counselor of the Russian Federation S. I. Ivanenko, who explains that the individual spiritual activity of Jehovah's Witnesses is carried out according to the model left by Christians of the first century. The congregation, according to Ivanenko, is a religious group, not an LRO.

    2 defense witnesses are interrogated, who give Kuzhelkov positive characteristics.

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    June 30, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecution is petitioning for the appointment of a comprehensive linguistic, psychological and religious examination. The defence requests that the hearing be adjourned in order to prepare its questions.

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    August 9, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The defense objects to the appointment of a comprehensive psychological, linguistic and religious examination, which was previously requested by the prosecution. The court rejects the objection, but satisfies the defense's petition to include its issues in the general list and appoint an examination to the Federal Center for Forensic Examination. The court also allows Anton Kuzhelnikov to be present during the examination.

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    December 15, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court rejects the petition of the head of the Russian Federal Center for Forensic Expertise under the Ministry of Justice to involve religious expert Ekaterina Elbakyan in the process. He justifies this by the fact that Elbakyan works at the Russian Academy of Education, and not at the RFTSSE.

    The court satisfies the petition of the state prosecutor for the appointment of an examination in the Autonomous Non-Profit Organization "Kirov Regional Center for Research and Expertise of Vyatka State University".

    To support the believers, 15 people who came from Tambov come to the hearing.

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

    The case begins to be considered by a new judge, Elena Shubakina.

    Anton Kuzhelkov recuses his lawyer. The court accepts it and adjourns the hearing because of this.

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    January 24, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    The prosecutor reads out the indictment. Defendants Kuzhelkov and Prokhorov express their attitude to the charge, stating that they do not agree with him.

    The interrogation of prosecution witnesses begins, including senior commissioner of the Ministry of Internal Affairs D. Kursky, former senior commissioner S. Sablin, employee of the Federal Security Service of Russia in the Tambov region N. V. Aparshin, head of the economic security department Tsyplakov (who worked at the Center for Countering Extremism during the ORM), as well as senior district police officer Sergey Kuznetsov. The testimonies of several witnesses shall be read out.