Case of Ponomarenko in Rostov-on-Don

Case history

At the age of 70, Lyudmila Ponomarenko from Rostov-on-Don unexpectedly found herself in the dock on charges of extremist activity. In the spring of 2019, law enforcement officers came to the apartment of a pensioner caring for her seriously ill husband with a search. The First Investigation Department (based in Rostov-on-Don) of the Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation opened a criminal case against the believer under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code for participation in worship services and preaching. In the fall of 2020, hearings began in the Leninsky District Court under the chairmanship of Judge Alexander Osipov. During the hearing, one of the prosecution witnesses stated that his testimony had been falsified and that investigator A. A. Chaikin had made threats. On May 18, 2021, the judge of the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don, Alexander Osipov, sentenced the elderly believer to 2 years of suspended imprisonment.

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    May 21, 2019

    The court orders a search of the home of 70-year-old Lyudmila Ponomarenko.

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    May 22, 2019

    Early in the morning, in the apartment of Lyudmila Ponomarenko, on the basis of a court order, a search is carried out under the direction of police major A. Y. Nikolaenko. During the search, law enforcement officers seized a mobile phone, a tablet, Bibles in various translations, as well as a Bible dictionary, a Bible reference book and a religious studies monograph.

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    June 6, 2019

    The First Investigation Department (based in Rostov-on-Don) of the Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation initiates criminal cases for faith under Part 2 of Article 282.2 against Olga Ganush (born in 1961), Lyudmila Ponomarenko (born in 1950) and Galina Parkova (born in 1970). According to the investigation, they participated in religious meetings, including religious services; provided living quarters for meetings; made donations; engaged in agitation among persons who are not followers of the religious teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    The reason for initiating a criminal case against Lyudmila Ponomarenko is the report of the head of the CPE of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia Arthur Metzger. According to Mikhail Antipov, a senior investigator for especially important cases, the believer "had the intent to participate in the activities of an extremist organization ... bringing to the attention of the population of Rostov-on-Don the content of religious literature.

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    June 20, 2020

    Lyudmila Ponomarenko is being interrogated, at which she is present with her lawyer. The rights and obligations are explained to her.

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    August 17, 2020

    The cases of Olga Ganush, Lyudmila Ponomarenko and Galina Parkova are combined into one proceeding. They choose a measure of restraint in the form of a written undertaking not to leave. All women are formally charged under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code.

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    September 9, 2020

    Investigator Kalnitsky singles out the case of Lyudmila Ponomarenko in a separate proceeding. In the relevant ruling, he points to the "guilt" of the believer: she communicated with fellow believers, "participated in reading prayers, discussing them, singing," which is allegedly propaganda of the superiority of religion at the expense of humiliating other religions.

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    December 1, 2020

    Interrogation of the prosecution witness. The witness explains that all the time she attended the services, she did not hear anything about the legal entity or its activities. At religious meetings, believers discussed the Bible, not the activities of a legal entity. The presence was voluntary and was not controlled by anyone. When asked by the prosecutor whether anyone had established prohibitions for believers, she replied that each Jehovah's Witness determines for himself how to take care of himself in terms of health and what decisions to make in other areas of life.

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    December 25, 2020

    At the next court session, a petition for attaching a resolution to the meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is considered, and witness Andriy Okhrimchuk is also being interrogated. He states that he refuses the testimony that he had previously given during the interrogation, explaining this by the state of shock and the fact that the investigator put pressure on him. The witness claims that his testimony was falsified (for example, about an "organization" that he did not even mention). Interestingly, a similar situation was described by Okhrimchuk's wife, acting as a witness in another criminal case against believers.

    When asked by the judge about the pressure exerted, the witness explains that investigator Antipov, as well as operative Chaikin, threatened him and instilled a sense of guilt in him.

    The next court hearing is scheduled for January 14, 2021 at 14:00. It is planned to interrogate prosecution witnesses and examine material evidence.

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    January 15, 2021

    The court is interrogating detective Aleksandr Chaikin, an employee of the Center for Countering Extremism, who participated in hidden ORMs from November 2017 to May 2019. During the observation of believers, it was established that Lyudmila Ponomarenko was present at divine services, discussed the Bible with fellow believers, sang songs and prayed. An employee of the Center for Counteracting Extremism cannot cite any specific facts of the unlawful activity of the believer.

    Chaikin explains to the court that, in his opinion, prayers, singing psalms and reading the Bible are forms of participation in an extremist organization.

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    January 20, 2021

    The court interrogates the witness E. A. Bakulina, who says that the defendant is "a wonderful mother, a caring wife, one raises a sick husband, a wonderful comrade." According to the witness, Lyudmila Ponomarenko never called anyone to extremist actions, religious hatred or refusal of medical treatment. "It's hard to imagine," she adds.

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    February 20, 2021

    The court rejects Lyudmila Ponomarenko's petition for publicity of the trial.

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    May 14, 2021 Prosecutor requested punishment

    The court proceeds to the stage of deliberations. The prosecutor requests a sentence of 2 years probation and 1 year of probation for the elderly believer.

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    May 18, 2021 First Instance Sentence

    The judge of the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don, Alexander Osipov, sentences Lyudmila Ponomarenko to be found guilty of participating in extremist activities and sentenced to 2 years of suspended imprisonment.