The case of Vasichkin and Others in Teikov

Case history

In April 2020, security forces raided the apartments of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the town of Teikov. A day earlier, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case for organizing the activities of an extremist organization against Vladimir Spivak, Alexander Vasichkin and Sergey Galyamin and Anatoly Lyamo. All believers were given a written undertaking not to leave the place. A year later, the investigator charged Lyamo with another article, this time of financing the activities of an extremist organization. In August 2021, charges were added to Aleksandr Vasichkin of participating in the activities of an extremist organization. The prosecution is based on the testimony of two secret witnesses. In January 2023, the case of the believers went to court.

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    April 10, 2020

    A criminal case is initiated on the organization of the activities of a "banned organization". Four people are suspects. The eldest of them is 64 years old, and the youngest is 50 years old.

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    April 11, 2020

    In the city of Teikovo, a series of searches are taking place at least at four addresses: 64-year-old Vladimir Spivak, 50-year-old Alexander Vasichkin, 52-year-old Sergey Galyamin, 56-year-old Anatoly Lyamo. The security forces seize electronic devices and issue summonses for interrogation to apartment owners.

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    April 14, 2020
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    April 15, 2020

    For interrogations, representatives of the authorities come to four more addresses of believers in Teikovo. Among them is 79-year-old Galina Nosach. Law enforcement officers ask her what translation of the Bible she uses and whether her fellow believers visit her.

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    April 16, 2020

    Investigator Skuridin interrogates Vladimir Spivak and Sergey Galyamin about their religion and whether they read the Bible in the New World Translation. After interrogation, believers are taken to sign a not to leave the place. The same measure of restraint is assigned to Vasichkin and Lyamo.

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    May 14, 2020

    At 7:50 a.m., Alevtina Polozova's home is being searched in Gavrilov Posad. The security forces seize equipment, electronic media, photographs and notebooks.

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    June 21, 2020

    At 5:35 a.m., another believer is being searched in Teikovo. The ORM is carried out by police captains S. V. Khramov and I. A. Krylov, detectives of the CPE of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia in the Ivanovo region, police lieutenant colonel A. A. Kamaev, detective of the Teikovsky Department of Internal Affairs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, police captain V. V. Emelyanov.

    According to the search warrant of April 10, 2020, the ORM is carried out with the aim of "finding and seizing tools and means used in the commission of crimes." As a result, the security forces seized electronic devices and books "New Testament and Psalter".

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    22 September 2020 - 16 March 2021

    In the period from September 2020 to March 2021, operational officers Kuznetsov S.A. and Trunichev S.S., as well as senior investigator for especially important cases of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia in the Ivanovo region Skuridina E.M. submit four reports on the detection of signs of a crime against the believer Anatoly Lyamo. He is suspected of financing an extremist organization, according to Part 1 282.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    March 16, 2021

    Investigator E. M. Skuridina initiates a second criminal case against Atatoly Lyamo. This time, under Part 1 of Article 282.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, he is suspected of financing extremist activities "by collecting cash in the 'general treasury'." According to the investigation, these funds were "deliberately intended to support the activities of an extremist organization."

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    March 25, 2021

    Investigator E. M. Skuridina interrogates Anatoly Lyamo. The believer does not admit his guilt and uses Article 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The interrogation lasts 20 minutes.

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    August 24, 2021

    Investigator E. Skuridina initiates another criminal case against Alexander Vasichkin, this time under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    January 11, 2023 Case went to court

    The case against Aleksandr Vasichkin and three of his co-religionists is submitted to the Teikovsky District Court of the Ivanovo Region. It is appointed to Judge Sergei Kochetkov.

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    February 2, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The judge rejects the lawyers' request for time to familiarize themselves with the case materials. The prosecutor reads out the indictment.

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    February 8, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    To support the believers, 25 people come to the courthouse. The defendants ask for more space, but the court refuses.

    At the request of the defendants, the prosecutor reads out the indictment against Lyamo, Galyamin and Spivak, since at the last hearing he read out the charge only against Vasichkin. While reading, the prosecutor tries several times to skip fragments of the text, but the judge makes a remark to him and asks him to read out the text in its entirety.

    The defendants express their attitude to the charges. Anatoliy Lyamo explains to the court that legal entities are not needed to worship God, and Vladimir Spivak says that he was simply exercising his right to religion.

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    February 15, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    23 people are present at the hearing together with the defendants.

    A transcript of the divine service is read out, at which thoughts about the peacefulness of Jehovah's Witnesses were heard. The defense asks the judge to read out a general description of the creeds of this denomination. In particular, it says that the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses instills in its members obedience to the law, loyalty to any form of secular authority.

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    March 14, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A new prosecutor, Alexei Konstantinovich Nechaev, enters the case.

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    March 28 — 30, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Volumes 15 to 37 are read. There are a total of 47 volumes in the case. The prosecutor lists what was found on electronic media. The judge is interested in how the files of the songs found on the defendants' computers prove their guilt. The prosecutor replies, "Almost all the songs mention the name of God."

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    May 3, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The proceedings were suspended due to the illness of the defendant Galyamin with covid.

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    May 11, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Hearings resume, the court continues to read out volumes of the criminal case and religious examinations.

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    May 24, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The announcement of the volumes of the case is over. The court begins to review videos of worship services.

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    May 25, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court granted the lawyer's request that the defendants be able to give short comments while watching the videos. Lyamo, Vasichkin and Spivak draw attention to the fact that the video captures actions in the implementation of Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. To this, the judge says that they are being tried not for their beliefs, but for continuing the activities of an organization liquidated by the court, and forbids them to speak out.

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

    The court hears an audio recording of the worship service, which speaks of the importance of forgiveness.

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    July 4 — 5, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court continues to listen to audio recordings of worship services and reviews computer screenshots taken during these services. The judge draws attention to the poor quality of the audio recording and asks the prosecutor to indicate in it what is really important for the case.

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    July 13 — 19, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court decides to hold hearings behind closed doors, recordings of telephone conversations are listened to.

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    July 25 — August 15, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court begins to consider material evidence - files seized from the defendants' computers. Photos, videos about honesty, hospitality, the importance of observing safety rules and helping those who are in trouble are viewed. In addition, audio recordings of 19 religious songs are listened to.

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    August 17, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The judge suspends the proceedings, as Vladimir Spivak needs to receive medical assistance.

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    September 27 — October 4, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court listens to 53 songs for more than three hours, which, according to the prosecutor, were heard at worship services. Material evidence is being examined, including letters and notebooks of the defendants seized during searches, as well as books by Josephus.

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    October 11, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Stanislav Trunichev, senior detective of the Center for Countering Extremism, is being interrogated. He says that he does not know for what activities the legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses were liquidated, so he cannot say what activities the believers from Teikovo continued.

    Trunichev admits that he determined the voices of the defendants on recordings from the case materials without the use of special techniques and equipment, since he does not have special knowledge in the field of phonetic examinations. He agrees that he could have made a mistake. According to him, during the ORM there were no complaints that the defendants humiliated anyone on the basis of their religious affiliation. During the search of Vladimir Spivak's house, the witness did not find any items confirming his illegal activities.

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    October 12, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    13 people come to the courthouse to support the believers.

    Three prosecution witnesses are being questioned. One of them states that he did not say what is recorded in the protocol of his interrogation, and doubts that the signature in the protocol belongs to him.

    The second witness, according to him, is known only with Lyamo and Spivak and had business relations with them, they did not talk about religious topics. He did not hear any calls for extremist activity from believers.

    A third witness, a woman who attended Jehovah's Witnesses services until 2015, says she knows believers only from the good side. At worship services, she never heard compulsion to donations. The witness characterizes Galyamin on the positive side and says that the believer did not recruit her anywhere, she attended services of her own free will.

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    October 17, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    A witness who attended services of Jehovah's Witnesses is being interrogated. She says that they are taught to respect the authorities and people of any religion. Thanks to attending services, her husband stopped abusing alcohol. About the defendants, the woman says: "These are kind and sympathetic people."

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    October 18, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    The court interrogates a married couple whose neighbors are Jehovah's Witnesses. According to them, neither the neighbors nor their guests have ever involved them anywhere.

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    October 19, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    The questioning of a witness who spoke at a previous hearing continues. The woman claims that the testimony recorded in the record of her first interrogation does not belong to her. According to her, the investigator told her the names of those who needed to be identified in the video, and gave recommendations on what to say at confrontations. The security forces also threatened her with a search of her son-in-law and the seizure of equipment necessary for his work.

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    October 24, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation Secret witness

    A secret witness under the pseudonym Ivan Ivanov is being interrogated. The man says he attended Jehovah's Witnesses services for a couple of months in 2015 and never attended them again. According to him, there he was shown in the Bible the answers to questions that were vital to him. The witness relates that at the services the believers sang songs and studied the Bible; He did not hear any extremist statements. He believes that the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses is not prohibited, but it is clear that he is confusing the terms "Kingdom Hall," "congregation," and "local religious organization."

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    October 25, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    The testimony of a witness who died in 2020 is being announced. According to them, the witness was not connected with the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses; she was familiar with Vasichkin, since he worked in her subordination. She knew nothing about the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses.

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    November 2, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation Secret witness

    A secret witness under the pseudonym Petrov is being interrogated. The defense shall file motions for the declassification of the witness and for access to justice during the examination of the classified witness. The first court rejects, the second satisfies.

    The defense is filing a motion to summon for questioning the expert Tatyana Belova, Ph.D., associate professor of the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Personnel Management at Ivanovo State University, author of a religious forensic examination, in which she gave an extremely biased assessment of Jehovah's Witnesses. The defense points out the absence of a copy of the diploma of the relevant higher education in the specialist's opinion, the lack of qualifications for the study of world religions, as well as the relevant experience. In his conclusion, the specialist often refers to the sources indicated in the list of references, but there is no relevant information in these sources.

    During the interrogation of the secret witness Petrov, it turns out that he had previously voluntarily attended the services of Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Teikov. The man did not hear calls for violence, incitement of religious hatred or overthrow of the authorities at worship services. He also says that during the period of investigative actions he did not receive any threats from the defendants.

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    November 7, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation Expert studies with violations

    Three defence witnesses are being questioned. Two of them are employees of Vasichkin. These men, despite the fact that they profess different religions, say that they have never heard offensive words from Alexander addressed to representatives of other faiths and they have never had conflicts on religious grounds. The defendant did not persuade them to change their beliefs, he was always ready to help. Another defense witness speaks of Aleksandr as a sympathetic person.

    The defense again submits a petition to summon expert Tatyana Belova to the court.

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    November 8, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Expert studies with violations

    8 people come to the courtroom to support the defendants.

    A video of the worship service, in which an unknown person appears, is viewed. It turns out that the expert Belova attributed the voice of this person to Sergey Galyamin and, on the basis of this record, built her conclusions about his role in the organization of this service. However, another expert who conducted a phonetic examination of the voice concludes that the voice on the recording does not belong to Galyamin. This is confirmed by the believer himself.

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    November 14, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Expert studies with violations

    The motions of the defense are announced. Among them is a request to the court to make sure that the copy of the Bible seized from Vasichkin is not on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Vasichkin also petitions for inclusion in the materials of the criminal case a response to Irina Yakku from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on the legality of worship services by Jehovah's Witnesses, excerpts from the appeal ruling of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of July 17, 2017 on the prohibition of legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses, excerpts from the Bible arguing the validity of joint meetings and the importance of preaching for Christians.

    The defense petitions for the disqualification of the expert Belova due to the lack of documents confirming her right to conduct religious examinations. The court refuses.

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    November 21, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    A defence witness is being questioned. He describes Vasichkin as a peaceful and hardworking person, a good family man. The witness says that he never heard negative statements from him about representatives of other religions and that the defendant never forced him to become Jehovah's Witness.

    Further, the court interrogates Vasichkin's boss. She gives him a positive characterization and says that he is a responsible employee who can be relied on.

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

    The court satisfies the petition of Anatoly Lyamo for the disclosure of the case materials containing the answer of the Volga Transport Prosecutor's Office to the question of one of the believers. It states that a citizen of the Russian Federation has the right, together with others, to read the Bible and tell other people about what he read in it. It also notes that administrative or criminal liability for such actions is not provided for by the legislation of the Russian Federation.

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    December 5, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    The court examines a witness who had previously attended worship services of Jehovah's Witnesses. He speaks positively about believers, says that studying the Bible helped him overcome bad habits and improve relationships with his wife and children. He also notes that believers never encouraged him to commit unlawful acts.

    Spivak asks the witness if he personally read the interrogation protocols during the investigation before signing them. He replies that he did it inattentively, as he trusted the investigator. At the same time, he says: "Now I understand that [religion] is not prohibited, but only a legal entity."

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    December 19, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    The questioning of a witness who had previously attended services of Jehovah's Witnesses continues. He says that these were legal, in his opinion, ordinary religious meetings of believers, not related to any legal entities.

    The witness also explains that no one encouraged him to use the Bible in the New World Translation, but in the Synodal Translation there are many incomprehensible and outdated words for him.

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    January 11, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    14 people come to support the believers. Anatoly Lyamo is being interrogated. He says that worship services in private apartments were not illegal, since they were held in accordance with Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

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    January 16, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Expert studies with violations

    Sergey Galyamin testifies. In his written notes, he explains that he "is a believer and is being prosecuted solely for his peaceful religious activities." According to him, it follows from the testimony of witnesses that none of them, regardless of their religion, was subjected to humiliation or other illegal actions on the part of the defendants.

    The believer draws the court's attention to the fact that the expert Belova in her examination quotes from the publication "Holy Scripture - New World Translation", but the publication itself was not provided to her for research, which raises doubts about the reliability of her conclusions.

    The defendant notes that he exercised his constitutional right by participating in worship services, and his meetings with fellow believers were exclusively peaceful. Moreover, "the topics discussed were of a socially useful nature: how to show love in the family, how to be law-abiding people, how to get along with others, provide help and share thoughts about God with others."

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    January 18, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Vladimir Spivak testifies. He draws the court's attention to the fact that all the witnesses called Jehovah's Witnesses respectful citizens who treat with respect the authorities and people professing another religion.

    The defendant emphasizes that the investigation put pressure on some prosecution witnesses, which became clear during the trial.

    According to Lyamo, the FSB officer said in his report that in 2016 Anatoliy received an administrative punishment for distributing extremist literature, but this is not true. The court decides to check the existence of the case in the archives of the court.

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    January 25, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Expert studies with violations

    Spivak gives additional testimony, in which he once again draws attention to the fact that the expert Belova does not have the appropriate qualifications to conduct the examination. In addition, she was not provided with the charter of the Administrative Center, but at the same time she referred to it in her examination.

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    February 15, 2024 Prosecutor requested punishment Closing arguments for the defense Fine Elderly

    The prosecutor requests punishment in the form of fines for believers: for Alexander Vasichkin and Anatoly Lyamo - 1,200,000 rubles each, for Vladimir Spivak and Sergey Galyamin - 700,000 rubles each.

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    February 20, 2024 Final statement

    Sergey Galyamin makes his final statement.

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    February 22, 2024 Final statement Elderly

    "What threat can come from people who learn to love others on the basis of the Bible?" Alexander Vasichkin, Anatoliy Lyamo and Vladimir Spivak speak in court with their last word.