Case of Verhoturov in Nizhniy Novgorod

Case history

In the summer of 2019, security forces in the Nizhny Novgorod region staged mass raids on local Jehovah’s Witnesses on the basis of their religion. One of them was Sergey Verkhoturov. A year earlier, his telephone conversations began to be tapped. In June 2019, an investigator of the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened a criminal case against the believer for organizing the activities of an extremist organization, after he found out that he had discussed texts from the Bible with friends. A few months later, Sergey’s wife, Victoria, was also accused of extremism for her faith. In September 2020, the court began considering the Verkhoturov case. The prosecutor requested 7 years in prison for the believer. In March 2021, the court sentenced him to 6 years of probation with a probation period of 4 years. The appeal, and then the cassation, upheld this verdict. In September 2023, Sergey was released on parole.

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    May 25, 2018

    Judge of the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court Vedernikov A. A. satisfies the petition of the Deputy Chief of Police of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Nizhny Novgorod Region Yaremchuk V. G. to conduct operational-search measures against Sergei Verkhoturov.

    On the basis of a court order, the police have the right to listen to the believer's telephone conversations for 90 days, as well as to remove information from technical communication channels - a cell phone and a social network page.

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    June 4, 2019

    Lieutenant Colonel of Justice O. V. Makerov, senior investigator of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Nizhny Novgorod Region, initiates criminal case No. 11901220089000242 against Sergey Verkhoturov under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. According to the investigation, Verkhoturov, together with other persons, "deliberately organized and led an autonomous unit of a banned religious organization."

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    July 17, 2019

    In Nizhny Novgorod and the city of Pavlovo (Nizhny Novgorod region), searches are being conducted in the homes of believers.

    Investigator in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Lieutenant of Justice Chesebieva Aliya Marsovna detains Sergey Verkhoturov. Lieutenant Colonel of Justice O. V. Makerov, Senior Investigator for Particularly Important Cases, issues a decision to bring Sergey Verkhoturov as a defendant under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. He is explained his rights and obligations, and also reminded of the possibility of cooperation with the investigation, during which he is obliged to expose other "participants in the crime".

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    July 18, 2019

    The Nizhny Novgorod District Court of Nizhny Novgorod rejects the investigator's request for the arrest of Sergey Verkhoturov and decides to immediately release him from custody in the courtroom. The court chooses a milder measure of restraint for Sergey - a ban on certain actions. The believer is forbidden to leave the home after 21:00, use means of communication and communicate with other citizens.

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    February 5, 2020

    Criminal case No. 11901220089000242 against Sergei Verkhoturov is accepted for its proceedings by the senior investigator of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Nizhny Novgorod Region, Lieutenant Colonel of Justice O. V. Makerov.

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    March 26, 2020
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    June 4, 2020

    Lieutenant Colonel of Justice O. V. Makerov, senior investigator of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Nizhny Novgorod Region, brings an official charge against Sergey Verkhoturov of committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation in criminal case No. 11901220089000242.

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    July 30, 2020

    The Prioksky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod receives a criminal case initiated more than a year ago against Sergey Verkhoturov. Within 30 days, Judge Denis Kiselev must schedule a preliminary hearing or a court hearing.

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    September 9, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    About 30 people come to the building of the Prioksky District Court for the first hearing in the case of Sergey Verkhoturov, but they do not enter the hall due to the epidemiological situation.

    The prosecutor announces the charges. Verhoturov objects and notes that he is being judged for believing in God and observing the biblical principle of Hebrews 10:25: "Let us not forsake our congregation..."

    The defendant refuses the services of a lawyer, wanting to defend himself. Judge Denis Kiselev rejects his request.

    The court is questioning 4 witnesses. The judge wonders if Jehovah's Witnesses really have "their" Bible. The defendant and witnesses indicate that they use different translations of the Holy Scriptures, including the Synodal translation, which is widespread among Russians. The judge concludes: "So the Bible is one, but the translations are different."

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    February 3, 2021

    20 people come to the courthouse to support Sergei Verkhoturov, but no one is allowed inside.

    The court is reviewing fragments of video recordings. One of them is a discussion of the behavior of Christians during ethnic, religious and political conflicts. Believers learn to show love for all people, to obey the authorities, not to repay evil for evil, and to forgive. "All this is strange for an extremist organization," the believer emphasizes.

    The defendant's objection to the judge's actions is satisfied.

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    February 12, 2021

    25 people come to support Sergey, but no one is allowed to attend the meeting again.

    Sergey Verhoturov testifies. He declares that he does not consider himself guilty of committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. "This is an unfounded accusation that insults my dignity," says Sergey. The believer tells the court that it was thanks to his acquaintance with Jehovah's Witnesses and the study of the Bible that he became a respectable citizen of his country, abandoned bad habits and stopped showing aggression towards others. "I am a peacemaker and I am proud of it," the defendant emphasizes.

    Regarding the accusation that he allegedly organized the activities of a religious association, the believer explains: "I became a Jehovah's Witness, and I did not care at all that there was an Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. Accordingly, I did not get acquainted with any of the goals and principles of this organization. I was only interested in the teachings of the Bible." Sergei continues: "Divine services were held before the ban, so they were held after the ban and will be held, I assure you, in prison. No one can deprive us of the worship of God. And legal organizations have absolutely nothing to do with it. [...] The fact of being present at worship services does not constitute a crime, but is the exercise of the right given by Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

    Judge Denis Kiselyov grants the request for the presence of the defendant's wife at subsequent hearings.

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    February 19, 2021

    For the fact that Sergey Verhoturov gathered with fellow believers to discuss the Bible and the principles of Christian life, the prosecutor requested for him imprisonment for 7 years and a year of restriction of freedom.

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    March 1, 2021 Final statement

    Verhoturov makes his last speech. The believer explains to the court that the worship of God as it is set forth in the Bible has nothing to do with the extremism incriminated to him. On the contrary, he has always encouraged and will continue to "encourage all people to love each other, avoid any violence, strengthen family relationships."

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    March 5, 2021 First Instance Sentence

    Judge of the Prioksky District Court Denis Kiselyov finds Sergey Verkhoturov guilty of organizing the activities of a banned community and assigns him 6 years of suspended sentence with a probationary period of 4 years.

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    June 16, 2021 Court of Appeal

    Judge of the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court Ksenia Chipiga refuses to satisfy the appeal of the believer. The verdict of the lower court shall enter into force.

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    June 17, 2021
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    May 19, 2022 Court of Cassation

    The First Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction (Saratov) approves the verdict against Sergey Verkhoturov.