Case of the Raymans in Kostroma

Case history

In July 2018, the life of young spouses Sergey and Valeria Rayman was divided into “before” and “after”. They were accused of extremism under two articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation for participating in worship services. The Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee for the Kostroma Region investigated the case for 1.5 years. During this time, the couple survived imprisonment in solitary confinement, a ban on correspondence and reading the Bible, house arrest, and a restriction on communication even with each other. In August 2019, the court began considering their case, but 1.5 months later returned it to the prosecutor for the unfounded accusation. After re-examining the case, the court sentenced Sergey and Valeriya to 8 and 7 years of probation, respectively. In February 2021, the regional court reduced the terms to 3 and 2 years, but the cassation returned the case to the appeal stage. Based on the results of the reconsideration in the regional court, Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation was excluded from the verdict and the spouses were given 7 and 6.5 years suspended with a probationary period of 2 years. In August 2022, the cassation court finally approved this decision.

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    July 24, 2018

    The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation in Kostroma is initiating criminal proceedings against unidentified persons under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation due to the fact that, according to investigators, "at least two meetings" of Jehovah's Witnesses were held in the city in June 2018.

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    July 25, 2018

    Early in the morning, officers of the Investigation Department for the Central District of Kostroma of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, with the support of riot police, using crowbars, under the sight of television cameras, storm 3 apartments of local residents who are suspected of professing the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. All computers, tablets, Bibles are confiscated from citizens. Law enforcement officers Kuropatkin and Malinin are involved in the search, among others. Law enforcement officers accompany their actions with caustic comments regarding the religion of citizens. Young spouses Rayman, Sergey and Valeria were sent to the isolation ward.

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    July 26, 2018

    The Sverdlovsk District Court chooses a measure of restraint for Sergey Rayman in the form of 2-month detention. In the pre-trial detention center, Sergey is placed in a small solitary confinement cell, no letters are missed, it is impossible to have a Bible under the pretext that it contains maps of ancient Palestine that can be used to prepare for escape. Later, however, the situation changes: it is allowed to have a Bible (cards removed) and receive letters that serve as support for the young man.

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    July 27, 2018

    The Sverdlovsk District Court chose a preventive measure for Valeria Rayman in the form of a ban on certain actions (a ban on leaving the house at night, as well as a ban on the Internet, telephone, mail and communication with "persons professing the teachings of Jehovah").

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    August 3, 2018
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    August 7, 2018

    The appellate court softens the measure of restraint for Valeria Rayman, lifting the ban on communication with her husband.

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    September 20, 2018

    Throughout Kostroma, a new wave of searches is taking place in the homes of citizens who are suspected of practicing the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. Searches are taking place in seven apartments. During the new searches, at least 4 citizens, men and women, were detained and taken for interrogation.

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    September 21, 2018 Search

    The Sverdlovsk District Court of Kostroma, after a 5-hour hearing, changed Sergey Rayman's measure of restraint to house arrest, rejecting the investigator's request to extend his detention. Sergey Rayman was placed under house arrest. Valeria Rayman's preventive measure is left unchanged.

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    September 25, 2018
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    October 24, 2018

    Sergey Rayman is released from house arrest, having imposed a ban on leaving the house at night, as well as a ban on the Internet, telephone, mail and on communication with "persons professing the teachings of Jehovah."

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    December 20, 2018

    Valeria Rayman was charged under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The investigation believes that at least 4 meetings were held at their home for biblical discussions.

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    December 22, 2018

    The court extends the restrictions for Sergey and Valeria until January 24, 2019.

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    December 27, 2018

    Sergey Rayman was charged under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    January 22, 2019

    The court refuses to extend the investigator's preventive measure in the form of a ban on leaving the house at night, using the Internet, telephone, mail and communicating with "persons professing the teachings of Jehovah." Sergey and Valeria Rayman are allowed to live together, to use means of communication. Electronic tracking bracelets have been removed from their legs.

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    January 25, 2019

    Investigator Tsymlyakov N.A. chooses a measure of restraint in relation to both spouses in the form of a written undertaking not to leave and proper behavior.

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    March 20, 2019

    The investigator notifies the believers of the completion of the investigative actions and the transition to the stage of familiarizing the accused with the case materials.

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    March 25, 2019

    The term of the preliminary investigation has been extended until April 25, 2019.

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    April 9, 2019

    The acquaintance of the accused and their defence counsel with the case file has been completed.

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    September 25, 2019

    The court points out that the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia is not prohibited, despite the ban on legal entities - Russian organizations. The court criticizes law enforcement officers for unfounded accusations against believers and returns the case of the Rayman spouses to the prosecutor.

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    October 1, 2019
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    November 14, 2019

    The Kostroma Regional Court approves the decision of the district court to return the criminal case to the prosecutor's office.

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    February 27, 2020

    In the Sverdlovsk District Court of the city of Kostroma, a hearing begins in the case of the Rayman spouses. Judge Dmitry Balayev rejects the motion to challenge state lawyer Valeria Rayman, but attaches to the case the attitude of each defendant to the charge.

    Listeners are admitted to the hall only after applying for access to justice. A schedule of hearings has been drawn up and 34 prosecution witnesses are scheduled to be examined. The next hearing is scheduled for March 5.

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    April 10, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Referee: Dmitry Balaev. Sverdlovsk District Court of Kostroma (14 Dolmatova Street).

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    July 7, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    After a long break in the Sverdlovsk District Court of Kostroma, the consideration of the criminal case against the Rayman spouses continues. Despite the fact that many people come to support the accused, listeners are not allowed into the hall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Valeria Rayman refuses the public lawyer assigned to her, and her interests continue to be defended by a lawyer under the agreement.

    A prosecution witness, an employee of the Center for Countering Extremism (CPE), was questioned in court. According to him, Sergey and Valeria studied the Bible, listened to sermons, sang songs. He explains that the decision of the Supreme Court to liquidate the legal entity does not prohibit Jehovah's Witnesses from practicing their religion: "You can believe in anything, we have freedom of religion, practice whatever you want, but only within the law." The policeman emphasizes that the defendants did not call for violence, the overthrow of the state system, the rupture of family relations.

    The court refuses to interrogate the specialist invited by the prosecutor due to the lack of the necessary educational documents. At the request of the prosecutor, the court selectively reviews discs with video recordings.

    A schedule of meetings for July has been drawn up. The next hearing is scheduled for July 15, 2020. It is planned to interrogate a specialist, as well as the presentation of evidence by the defense.

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    July 15, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    In the Sverdlovsk District Court of Kostroma, hearings on the case of the Rayman spouses continue. Listeners are again not allowed into the hall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    A specialist invited by the prosecutor is being interrogated - Mayorova Natalia Sergeevna, a historian from Kostroma State University. Answering questions, she admitted that she had not conducted practical research, she was not personally acquainted with the believers of this religion, her knowledge was purely theoretical. She knows that Jehovah's Witnesses are apolitical and peaceful. Military service is not accepted, referring to the Bible. Allow alternative civilian service instead of military service. The veneration of the symbols of power is regarded as idolatry, but they do not show aggression. House-to-house preaching has been a tradition since the time of the apostles. I am aware that in the biblical text there is a mention of the prohibition on the use of blood.

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    July 16, 2020

    The court examines the materials of the case. Spouses Sergey and Valeria Rayman give explanations on emerging issues regarding military service, respect for human rights and freedoms in relation to politics and the choice of treatment methods.

    The judge refuses to announce to the defendants all petitions with attachments submitted by him at the investigation stage. Despite the fact that the documents set out the position of the defense, the judge argues that "motions are not evidence." For this reason, it was also refused to announce the decision of the Sverdlovsk District Court of the city of Kostroma to return the criminal case to the prosecutor. At the same time, the judicial act states that the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses became the basis for initiating a criminal case. Any attempt to read out documents or explanations of the defendants is suppressed by the judge.

    The judge also refuses to attach the scientific opinion of the Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law under the Government of the Russian Federation to the Rayman spouses.

    A new prosecutor, Ivan Bogomolov, enters the case.

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    August 27, 2020 Prosecutor requested punishment

    Speaking in the debate in the Sverdlovsk District Court of Kostroma, prosecutor Ivan Bogomolov recommends that Judge Dmitry Balayev impose the same punishment on the Rayman spouses - 7 years of suspended imprisonment with a probationary period of 5 years. The defense is scheduled to speak in the debate on September 8.

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    September 8, 2020

    During the debate in the Sverdlovsk District Court, lawyers of the Rayman family speak, proving that the activities of believers were connected exclusively with the peaceful fulfillment of biblical commandments. In addition, the accused believers themselves speak in the debate. The court postpones the appeal of Valeria and Sergey Rayman with the last word until October 5, 2020. It is not known whether the verdict will be passed on that day.

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    October 5, 2020 Final statement

    Valeria and Sergey Rayman address the court with their last word. Judge Dmitry Balayev sets the date for the announcement of the verdict - October 9, 2020.

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    October 9, 2020 First Instance Sentence

    Dmitry Balayev, judge of the Sverdlovsk District Court of Kostroma, sentences Sergey and Valeriya Rayman to 8 and 7 years of probation, respectively. At the suggestion of the state prosecutor Ivan Bogomolov, the court found them guilty both of organizing and participating in the activities of an extremist organization (parts 1 and 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).

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    December 8, 2020 Court of Appeal

    The Kostroma Regional Court finds that the lawyer of the Rayman spouses was not given the opportunity to familiarize himself with the minutes of the hearings in the court of first instance and to submit his comments on it. After this violation is eliminated, the case will be returned again to the regional court immediately at the appeal stage. The date of the appeal hearing will be announced later.

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    February 26, 2021 Court of Appeal

    At the appeal hearing, the Kostroma Regional Court excluded Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation from the charges and commuted the sentences of Sergey and Valeria Rayman to 3 and 2 years of probation, respectively.

    In the appellate ruling, the court justifies its decision to exclude Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation from the verdict of the Rayman spouses. The panel of judges defines "the actions of Sergey and Valeria Rayman under Part 1 and Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation as identical and homogeneous. The same actions cannot be qualified under two articles at the same time, since the principle of criminal procedure, which prohibits repeated conviction for the same act, enshrined in Part 1 of Article 50 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, is violated. In view of the charges, the believers are found guilty only under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. In addition, as stated in the document, "the verdict did not reflect evidence that reliably testifies to the performance by Sergey and Valeria Raymanam of organizational and administrative functions in the activities of the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in Kostroma."

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    February 10, 2022 Court of Cassation

    The Second Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction, located in Moscow, is considering the prosecutor's submission. After a few minutes in the deliberation room, the court decides to return the case to the appeal stage. The Kostroma Regional Court will consider the case of the Raymans in a new composition of the court.

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    March 30, 2022 Court of Appeal

    The Kostroma Regional Court excludes Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) from the verdict of the Rayman spouses, as well as an indication that they committed a particularly serious crime. Now Sergey and Valeria are considered guilty of organizing the activities of an extremist organization.

    Taking into account the sentences previously served by the believers (9 and 6 months of restriction of liberty), the court assigns them suspended sentences: Sergey - 7 years, and Valeria - 6.5 years with a probationary period of 2 years each. During this time, they must appear monthly in a specialized body and not change their place of residence.

    The court also almost completely exempts spouses from paying procedural costs.

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    August 9, 2022 Court of Cassation

    The Collegium for Criminal Cases of the Second Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction, chaired by Judge Komarova, dismisses the prosecutor's cassation submission and the cassation appeals of the Rayman spouses. The verdict of the Kostroma Regional Court remains in force.