The Case of Ukhov in Sovetskaya Gavan

Case History

In October 2020, a 5-hour search took place in the house of the Ukhovs — graphic artist Aleksey and X-ray technician Liliya — after which Aleksey was detained and five days later sent 540 kilometers from home to Khabarovsk SIZO No. 1 for a forced psychiatric examination. The reason for treating a peaceful believer from Sovetskaya Gavan like this, was that the day before an FSB investigator had initiated a criminal case against Ukhov under an article for extremism. According to the investigation, he “performed actions aimed at reading prayers… studying and citing texts of the Holy Scriptures… and the Psalms.” While behind bars, Aleksey was illegally deprived of letters of support from relatives and friends for about 3 months. In July 2021, Aleksey was released from the detention center under a recognizance agreement, and in August the case went to court. In March 2023, the believer was sentenced to 6.5 years in a penal colony. However, in July, the court of appeal replaced the actual imprisonment with a suspended one for the same duration.

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    October 16, 2020

    Presumably a police officer comes to one of the residents of the city of Sovetskaya Gavan. He tries to get her to talk about how local Jehovah's Witnesses meet to discuss the Bible and preach. Later, the woman is interrogated at the police station.

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    October 19, 2020

    Another local believer is being interrogated.

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    October 21, 2020

    Senior Investigator for Particularly Important Cases of the FSB of Russia in the Khabarovsk Territory Y. A. Nelyubin initiates criminal case No. 12007080001000073 against 40-year-old Alexei Ukhov under Part 1 of Article 282.2. According to the investigation, he "performed actions aimed at reading prayers ... studying and quoting the texts of the Holy Scriptures ... and psalm songs."

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    October 22, 2020

    To search the home of Alexei Ukhov, FSB officers arrive from Komsomolsk-on-Amur, located more than 500 km from the place of residence of the believer. Among them are the detective of the FSB of the Khabarovsk Territory V.A. Shkurko, specialist D.A. Avilov.

    The search of the Ukhov spouses lasts 5 hours, electronic devices, flash drives, SIM cards, bank cards, personal records and printed publications are seized from them - a total of 117 items. Witnesses actively participate in the search: they offer and submit things to the operatives for seizure, they hold a video camera of FSB officers.

    After the search, Aleksey Ukhov was detained and placed in a temporary detention facility in the neighboring village of Vanino.

    A search is also taking place at the home of one of the local believers. At about 2:00 p.m., 8 law enforcement officers burst in, one of whom is wearing a mask and holding a machine gun. They confiscate the Bible and electronic devices, as well as a TV and modem. According to the woman, the authorities plant and immediately "find" a videotape and a printed publication in the apartment. During the search, the believer is interrogated about her religious beliefs and fellow believers.

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    October 23, 2020 Search

    The Vanino District Court chooses a measure of restraint for Aleksey Ukhov in the form of detention for 2 months. The meeting is being held behind closed doors.

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    October 27, 2020

    Alexey Ukhov was transferred to Khabarovsk pre-trial detention center No. 1 (6 Znamenshchikova Street), located 540 km from the believer's place of residence. There, Aleksey will undergo a compulsory psychiatric examination.

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    November 16, 2020

    Alexey Ukhov is transferred to Detention Center No. 2 in Komsomolsk-on-Amur (Pionerskaya St., 23, building 2). This is 400 kilometers from pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Khabarovsk, where he stayed earlier. The investigator believes that Alexei will be at this address for the entire duration of the investigation.

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    November 17, 2020

    The Kirovsky District Court of Khabarovsk seizes postal correspondence that arrives at the pre-trial detention center for Alexei Ukhov. In this regard, the administration of the detention center does not send the believer dozens of letters of support from relatives and fellow believers from all over the country. The reason for the ban was the petition of the senior investigator for especially important cases of the FSB of Russia in the Khabarovsk Territory, Y. A. Nelyubin.

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    December 21, 2020

    It becomes known that Alexei Ukhov is forbidden to receive and send correspondence in the pre-trial detention center. Presumably, this illegal decision was made by the court. It contradicts the law "On the detention of suspects and accused", according to which they "are allowed to correspond with relatives and other persons without limiting the number of telegrams and letters received and sent." Earlier, a similar ban was imposed in the case of Yegor Baranov and Valery Moskalenko, who were in pre-trial detention, who spent 396 days in pre-trial detention center-1 in the Khabarovsk Territory. The defense believes that this is a way to influence the arrested in order to force them to give the testimony necessary for the investigation.

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    January 26, 2021

    The Khabarovsk Regional Court satisfies the appeal of Alexei Ukhov and cancels the injunction against receiving correspondence in the pre-trial detention center. The appellate court acknowledges that the investigator had no legal grounds to ask the court to seize the letters for Aleksey.

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    July 9, 2021

    Aleksey was released on his own recognizance. He leaves pre-trial detention center No. 2 in Komsomolsk-on-Amur after 8,5 months of imprisonment. The preliminary investigation of his case has been completed, and on July 10, the stage of familiarization of the accused with the case materials begins.

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    August 2, 2021

    The case of Alexei Ukhov is submitted to the Soviet-Havana City Court of the Khabarovsk Territory.

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    September 6, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    In the Soviet-Havana City Court of the Khabarovsk Territory, consideration of the criminal case against Alexei Ukhov begins.

    The judge does not satisfy the defendant's request for independent defense and appoints him a lawyer.

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    September 24, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The questioning of prosecution witnesses begins. In response to the prosecutor's questions about Ukhov, the witness uses Article 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. In this regard, the prosecutor declares his intention to come up with a private ruling to the investigating authority for criminal prosecution for refusing to testify to the court. The appointed lawyer notes the fact of pressure on the witness.

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    September 24, 27 and October 4, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    During the three sessions, another witness is being examined. His testimony differs from the testimony given by him during the preliminary investigation. He often gets confused in the dating of events and admits that instead of facts he voices his own assumptions, uses information taken by him from the Internet. In response to the prosecutor's questions, the witness repeatedly asks him to recall the answers he gave to the investigator.

    The witness admits that no one required him to attend the services of Jehovah's Witnesses, he did so on his own initiative. He also reports that donations at meetings of believers are voluntary, no one forces them to make them.

    The witness admits that he did not hear from Ukhov calls for the overthrow of state power, a change in the constitutional order, persecution of citizens on the basis of race, nationality, language or attitude to religion.

    Another witness, a woman, says that during the preliminary interrogation the investigator shouted at her and exerted other psychological pressure.

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    November 24, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Three prosecution witnesses do not appear in the courtroom. The judge rejects the prosecutor's request for the disclosure of their testimony, so the court moves on to other materials of the case, including psychological, psychiatric and religious forensic examinations.

    The lawyer draws the court's attention to the fact that the experts did not name specific "extremist" actions of the defendant. One of the experts also came to the conclusion that there were no signs of recruitment and involvement in the activities of Alexei Ukhov in the actions of the organization.

    Sociological and political forensic examination was conducted by Y. V. Berezutsky and V. I. Kupriyanova, who saw signs of recruitment in the actions of the defendant. However, the two experts differ in their conclusions about which actions were extremist and which were not, so the lawyer states that their opinion cannot be taken into account. According to the defendant, the experts exceeded their authority by touching, in addition to the target, those issues that are beyond their competence.

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    February 8, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court is considering paper evidence, including several letters of thanks to Jehovah's Witnesses for 2011, including from the head of the administration of the city of Sovetskaya Gavan. These letters were handed over to believers for their active participation in maintaining the cleanliness of the city.

    None of the documents seized from Alexei Ukhov is included in the list of prohibited materials.

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    March 22, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    At the hearing, the prosecutor reads out 3 articles from the publications of Jehovah's Witnesses, including "The Resurrection is a Testimony to God's Love, Wisdom, and Patience."

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    May 04—20, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court continues to examine the materials of the case. The prosecutor reads out the contents of the seized religious literature on respect for parents and the role of Jesus Christ, as well as the texts of some documents: "Objection to the Election of the Guard", "Appeal against the Election of the Guard", "Appeal against the Extension of the Detention", "Appeal against the Verdict", "Defendant's Notes", "Bible Principles for Self-Defense" and "Legal Advice". The lawyer, addressing the court, notes that the investigator gives his explanations to the case materials, although he does not have the right to do so. He also states: "It is very strange that the prosecutor accuses my client of legal literacy."

    The defendant draws the court's attention to the fact that the accounting documents that the prosecution considers to be evidence of his guilt are dated 2014-2015, and they do not mention the activities of the LRO, that is, they have nothing to do with the charge.

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    May 24, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court gets acquainted with the material evidence: it examines the contents of the seized phones and USB drives. The defendant draws the court's attention to the fact that the files contained on the devices are dated either earlier or later than the alleged charge. It also notes that the detected files and publications are not on the list of extremist materials.

    In court, part of the video recording of the worship service of Jehovah's Witnesses and audio recordings made during the operational-search activities are played. The defendant comments on the recordings and says that they contain a discussion of issues related to the worship of God by fellow believers. They have nothing to do with the statutory activities of a legal entity, but relate to the doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Some media seized from other people are also viewed. The defendant draws attention to the fact that they have nothing to do with him.

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    June–July 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court continues to familiarize itself with the materials of the case, listens to audio recordings of divine services, during which believers discussed how to show Christian love, overcome evil with good, show gratitude, forgive, show compassion and mercy, and so on.

    The defendant notes that the transcription of these audio recordings contains many errors that deprive the text of meaning. In his opinion, it is obvious that neither the investigator nor the expert who worked on the recordings listened to them, and the transcript was done using special software. Ukhov also draws the court's attention to the fact that there are no extremist statements in the recordings listened to.

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

    At the court session, a video recording of the worship service on the theme "May your family be happy" is played. After watching it, Alexei Ukhov explains that the content of this service refutes the accusation of breaking family ties against Jehovah's Witnesses. He also draws attention to the lack of communication with legal entities and signs of extremism. The lawyer is perplexed: "What do these records have to do with the prosecution? What is extremism?"

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    September 13, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    In court, videos containing biblical principles that help in raising children are played. The defendant points to the dates of creation of the files: 2015-2016. He says that these videos are not related to the charge.

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

    Alexei Ukhov voices his comments on phonographic expertise - 86 examples of distortion of meaning in the verbatim transcription of audio recordings of divine services. He says: "I draw the court's attention to the fact that the expert A. A. Fomin negligently treated his duties and made transcripts, in the text of which in most cases there is no meaning and logic, it is impossible to understand what those present are talking about, it turns out a set of meaningless words. Moreover, when music and chants are heard on the recording, the expert does not indicate the lyrics in the transcript, which does not fulfill the investigator's task "to make a verbatim transcript of all audio recordings." [...] I consider these remarks important, in view of the fact that other experts who conducted sociological, political, psychological, psychological, linguistic and two religious studies used the transcripts made by the expert A. A. Fomin.

    The defendant's chief is being questioned. He says that for 15 years Ukhov has not received a single comment, characterizes him as a responsible person who never failed and always did his job on time. The witness also says that the defendant did not discuss religious issues at work. He has never called for violence, undermining the constitutional order, or racial, national or religious discrimination.

    The court session is held in the presence of 15 listeners.

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    October 17, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    During the interrogation of the defendant's neighbor, it turns out that the protocol of his preliminary testimony was falsified. The witness says that he does not know Aleksey Ukhov personally, but only met him several times at the entrance of the house. I have not heard anything about religion from him and I do not know his wife. The prosecutor requests that the preliminary testimony of the witness be read out because of significant discrepancies. When interrogated by the investigator, he said that he knew Ukhov's wife, and Ukhov himself, in his opinion, was the leader of some religion. The witness claims that he did not give such testimony, and signed the interrogation protocol without checking.

    The lawyer files a motion to recognize the examination of this witness as inadmissible evidence. Judge Victoria Anokhina postpones the decision of this petition until the verdict is passed.

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    November 14, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    In the interrogation of another prosecution witness, significant contradictions are revealed. In court, he says that he attended religious meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses, read their publications, but he himself is not a believer. He says he does not understand why Jehovah's Witnesses are being tried: "When I knew them, I did not notice any extremist beliefs. The main topic of discussion has always been the Bible." He says that for 4 years he was never asked to make donations, nor was he forbidden to receive blood transfusions, nor was he encouraged to refuse medical intervention. The state prosecutor petitions for the announcement of the preliminary testimony of the witness, the defense protests. The court on the spot decides to announce the testimony of the witness in order to establish contradictions.

    The witness claims that the wording voiced by the state prosecutor from his previous testimony does not belong to him. He also reports that he has never heard the defendant extol his religion.

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

    The questioning of the prosecution witness is ongoing. He reports that the interrogation protocol drawn up by the investigator contains inaccurate information: the witness did not attend religious meetings held in the format of online conferences.

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    November 16, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Another witness for the prosecution reports that the investigator has freely presented his preliminary testimony. The protocol of the interrogation of the witness, as well as the protocol of the confrontation with the defendant, shall be announced.

    The witness notes that some of the facts indicated in the interrogation record do not correspond to reality. He claims that he did not actually know Alexei Ukhov, did not attend religious meetings held online, and also does not know anything about the reports that the defendant allegedly collected. The witness admits that in his testimony given to the investigator, he "got stuck and lied."

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    November 28, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The case materials are being examined. The defense draws attention to the fact that one of the women who testified at the beginning of the trial, even at the investigation stage, claimed pressure on her and filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee. At the request of the defense, the results of the check on its complaint are announced. The defense claims that the check was not carried out properly. The court decides to summon the witness for re-examination.

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    November 29, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A secret witness is being interrogated, who, according to the prosecution, was kept with Ukhov in the same cell of the pre-trial detention center. He says that the defendant allegedly urged him to renounce his faith, but "due to the prescription of events" he does not remember exactly to which religious movement Ukhov belongs. The witness also admits that he has not heard any negative statements from Ukhov regarding the state. He also confirms that he did not receive any threats from the believer, and says that the decision to classify his data is his "personal conviction."

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

    A secret witness "Surikov" is interrogated via video conferencing. A petition is filed from this witness to keep secret the data about his identity, since he "has reason to believe that his life, health, as well as the life and health of his relatives are in danger for testifying."

    The witness testifies that the defendant allegedly repeatedly criticized other religions and invited him to change his faith. After clarifying the defendant's questions, it becomes clear that they could not communicate with this witness, since Ukhov was in solitary confinement during this period. After that, the witness reports that he cannot explain these facts due to the prescription of the events under discussion.

    The defendant categorically disagrees with the testimony of the witness and asks to exclude them from the case file. The Court decides to evaluate this application in the final decision.

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    December 5, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court interrogates a prosecution witness who states: "I slandered an honest, good man. When the interrogation was conducted, the investigator Vyushin strained me greatly. He put pressure on me, saying that they would put me in jail, that they would take away the apartment, that the children would suffer. They even called my daughter several times and wanted her to influence me. She was also told that she would suffer, and that her grandson would suffer. According to the witness, she experienced severe stress and still has to undergo treatment. She apologizes to the defendant for her testimony against him, given under duress, which she signed without reading.

    The state prosecutor continues to interrogate the witness, who uses Article 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation when answering.

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    December 13, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The testimony of the witness Rukomoynikov, who repeatedly failed to appear in court despite the decision on compulsory appearance, is read out in court. It is not possible to verify the veracity of this testimony, with which the accused categorically disagrees. Ukhov, according to him, Rukomoynikov stipulates, although he is unfamiliar with him and has never communicated. The defense asks to exclude this evidence from the case file. The Court decides to evaluate this application in its final decision.

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    January 2023

    The prosecution continues to read out written evidence, reading out the case materials, in particular, transcripts of audio recordings of conversations and lectures on biblical topics. The defendant gives the court 85 comments on the text of the case materials, read out by the prosecution.

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

    The defense voices its position, using the regulations and court decisions of the ECHR, as well as comments on the position of the Russian Federation at the international level regarding the liquidation of legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. The defendant cites the evidence of the defense and asks to attach these materials to the case.

    Judge Anokhina decides to satisfy the petition in part and attaches to the case the scientific opinion of the Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law under the Government of the Russian Federation of 2011 on the topic "Legal assessment of the actions of citizens regarding the presence of signs of extremist activity in them", the conclusion of a specialist based on the results of religious studies carried out by M. I. Odintsov, as well as a characteristic from Ukhov's place of work.

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    March 1, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The defendant reads out the remaining evidence of the defense and gives his testimony to the court.

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    March 17, 2023 Prosecutor requested punishment

    The prosecutor requests a sentence of 7 years in prison with deprivation of the right to engage in the activities of religious organizations for a period of 2 years, with restriction of liberty for a term of 1 year and 8 months.

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    March 24, 2023 Final statement

    "My convictions are exclusively peaceful, so there are no victims or victims in the case," says Alexei Ukhov in his last speech.

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    March 27, 2023 Detention center

    Aleksey Ukhov is placed in pre-trial detention center No. 4 in the village of Elban. He can write letters.

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    May 24, 2023 Detention center

    The believer is kept in a double cell and feels well. It is cold in the cell because the heating is turned off. His relations with his cellmate and the staff of the pre-trial detention center are normal. Aleksey has a Bible, and he has already received more than 200 letters from fellow believers and relatives. He was especially pleased with a recent short-term date with his wife.

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    July 18, 2023 Court of Appeal