The Case of Andreyev and Others in Yaroslavskiy

Case History

In October 2022, law enforcement officers conducted searches at 12 addresses of believers in the village of Yaroslavskiy in Primorye. Earlier, a case was initiated against Anatoliy Li and unidentified persons under the article on involving others in the activity of an extremist organization. Later, the charge was reclassified as organizing and participating in such activity. As part of this case, Anatoliy Li and two other believers, Boris Andreyev and Natalia Sharapova, ended up in a pretrial detention center. The charges were based on video recordings of meetings for worship in which the believers talked about their faith, sang religious songs glorifying God and Jesus Christ, and offered prayers to God. The case went to court in September 2023. After nine months, the believers received sentences ranging from 3 to 6.5 years in a penal colony.

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    July 28, 2022 Case initiated

    A criminal case has been initiated against believers from the village of Yaroslavsky, Primorsky Territory.

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    October 6, 2022
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    October 7, 2022 Detention center

    Boris Andreev is taken to SIZO-2, and Natalia Sharapova is taken to SIZO-3 in Ussuriysk. It is known that they will spend at least 22 days under arrest.

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    October 13, 2022 Detention center

    Anatoliy Lee is also placed in SIZO-2 in Ussuriysk until October 28, 2022.

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    November 7, 2022

    The lawyer visits Natalya, Boris and Anatoliy in the pre-trial detention center. All three are in good physical and emotional condition.

    Nataliya is being held in a double cell with another woman. There are 10 people in the cells of Boris and Anatoly. Believers say that the attitude on the part of cellmates and employees of the detention center is respectful - 71-year-old Boris is addressed by his first name and patronymic.

    According to the lawyer, after the arrest of peaceful believers in the village of Yaroslavsky, which is home to a little more than 8 thousand inhabitants, false information began to spread about the danger that allegedly emanated from Natalia Sharapova, Boris Andreev and Anatoly Lee, because of which the reputation of these peaceful and law-abiding citizens was seriously damaged.

    During the month of her stay in prison, Natalia has already received 200 letters of support, Boris and Anatoliy - about 100, for which the believers are very grateful. Letters help them not to lose heart.

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    December 26, 2022 Search

    A search is underway at the address of the registration of the accused Anatoly Lee. Lee himself has been in jail for 2.5 months, and this apartment is rented by a third-party tenant. During the search, the tenant is offered to voluntarily hand over extremist literature banned in the Russian Federation, while nothing was seized. The search does not exceed half an hour.

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    March 28, 2023 Detention center

    Boris, Anatoliy and Natalia are still doing well. They do not complain about the quality of food and conditions in the cell. They maintain a positive attitude. They are grateful to their fellow believers for the fact that they continue to write them letters in large quantities, which is surprising to the staff of the pre-trial detention center and prisoners. Believers are allowed to visit relatives. Nataliya has the opportunity to talk to her family on the phone.

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    July 10, 2023

    Investigator of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Primorsky Territory, Captain of Justice Elena Piskun, grants the petition of Boris Andreev's wife to return the phones and computers seized from them during the search.

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    July 14, 2023 Restriction of the right to medical care Health risk

    Boris Andreev, 71, suspects a serious, life-threatening illness, but investigator E.V. Piskun refuses to soften his preventive measure or transfer him to another pre-trial detention center, where he could undergo urgent examination and treatment. Alexandra Andreyeva, Boris's wife, filed a corresponding petition after receiving the results of her husband's tests, but the investigator refused to satisfy the request.

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    August 15, 2023 Medical treatment within the Federal Penitentiary Service Elderly

    It becomes known that Boris Andreev was transferred from the Ussuriysk pre-trial detention center to Vladivostok. He is undergoing a medical examination, the duration of which is still unknown. He can write letters.

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    September 22, 2023 Case went to court

    The case goes to court and is referred to judge Olesya Ulyanova.

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    October 16, 2023 Transfer of a prisoner Restriction of the right to medical care Medical treatment within the Federal Penitentiary Service

    Boris Andreev is returned to SIZO-2 in Ussuriysk. Earlier, a believer with suspected cancer was transferred to SIZO-1 in Vladivostok for a medical examination, which, however, was never carried out.

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    November 23, 2023 Detention center

    It becomes known that Boris Andreev was transferred to another pre-trial detention center. Now he is in a pre-trial detention center in Vladivostok.

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

    The prosecutor challenges Judge Olesya Ulyanova. The court satisfies the challenge.

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

    A new judge enters the case - Pogorelaya Tatyana Igorevna.

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    January 31, 2024 Transfer of a prisoner Detention center

    Boris Andreev is again transferred to SIZO-2 in Ussuriysk.

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    February 7, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Judge Olesya Ulyanova decides to read out the protocols of the interrogations of three witnesses in the case in connection with their failure to appear in court due to illness. The lawyer objects to the actions of the presiding judge.

    During the interrogation, another prosecution witness indicates that he does not know the defendants, does not know who Jehovah's Witnesses are, and this is the first time he has heard about the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. The man admits that during the interrogation he was pressured - if he does not testify, he will increase the period of supervision. The prosecutor asks to read out the record of his interrogation. In this regard, the court sends to the Investigative Committee an extract of the minutes of the court session and the protocol of the interrogation of the witness to check the actions of the detectives Bradul and Bolshak for coercion to testify (Article 302 of the Criminal Code).

    The next witness says that this is the first time he has heard the name "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses."

    The court attaches to the case file the decision on the refusal of the Investigative Committee to initiate a criminal case in relation to the investigation into the abuse of authority by investigator Elena Piskun.

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    February 8, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    There are two witnesses in court: a mother and a daughter, a disabled person of group I. The testimony of the latter was read out at the previous meeting. The mother reports that she does not know the defendants, she has not heard extremist appeals from them, but she noticed that studying the Bible makes them better, helps them get rid of bad habits. She refutes some of the testimony attributed to her, which was given under pressure.

    The woman's daughter is summoned for interrogation. She says that the investigator insulted her because of her disability.

    The prosecutor petitions for the disclosure of the testimony of secret witnesses Alexei and Elka, since one of them is outside the Primorsky Territory, and the other is being treated in the hospital.

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    February 20, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court proceeds to study the written materials of the case. From the 5th to the 8th volumes, the search protocols, the conclusion of psycholinguistic and religious examinations are announced.

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    February 21, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    At the court session, the reading of the case materials continues.

    Anatoly Lee explains to the court that at the service believers are encouraged "to love, kindness, to discuss and study the Bible." He adds that back in 2019 it became known about the possible persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses by the authorities. However, the believers "did not hide from law enforcement agencies, because they understood that they had not committed any crime against people or the state."

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    February 27, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Detention center Elderly

    The court is considering the issue of extending the period of detention of defendants in the pre-trial detention center until June 22. By this time, the believers will have been detained for 21 months.

    Anatoly Lee objects to this. He emphasizes that he voluntarily appeared in the investigating authorities and by his actions showed that he was not going to hide. The defense draws the court's attention to the fact that he has been in jail for almost a year and a half, although Russian law prohibits keeping a person in custody for so long only on the basis of the severity of the charge. In addition, the guilt of the defendant has not been proven, and Anatoly himself never tried to influence the course of the investigation.

    Natalia Sharapova declares: "I have no need to escape. Moreover, I live with my elderly mother, who is already 82 years old. My mom broke her leg and can't walk. I really want to help her, to be there for her. I obey God's laws, which speak only of love. And psycholinguistic examinations confirm that there was no extremism in my actions."

    Nataliya's lawyer notes: "Of course, the court will decide whether joint prayers are a crime, but [even in the case of accusations of] serious crimes, people are given a mitigated measure of restraint. It is unwise to keep people under the strictest measure of restraint for so long for drinking tea and discussing the Bible."

    Sharapova and Lee separately ask the court to release Boris Andreev from the pre-trial detention center, as his health is deteriorating. Boris's defenders add that, on the recommendation of an oncologist, a believer needs to undergo regular medical examinations. In addition, they draw attention to the fact that Andreev is more than 72 years old (he is one of the oldest Jehovah's Witnesses behind bars - Ed.).

    Despite the arguments voiced, the judge leaves all three behind bars. Then the court proceeds to the study of the case materials.

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    March 6, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation Secret witness

    A secret witness under the pseudonym "Yolka" is being interrogated. According to her, she attended worship services of Jehovah's Witnesses in the homes of believers several times. The witness admits that she did not hear any extremist calls from believers and that there was a friendly atmosphere at the meetings.

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    March 14, 2024 Detention center Court of Appeal

    The Primorye Regional Court is considering the complaint of believers about detention. They refer to a review of judicial practice approved by the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on January 18, 2017, according to which "the gravity of the crime alone cannot be the only and sufficient basis for detention."

    Natalya Sharapova notes: "The state prosecutor said that I could go into hiding under pain of a long term. I have been in prison for more than 16 months, I know what prison is, and I am not afraid here. I am a believer and I live according to biblical laws that speak of love for people, I am not at enmity with people, so I am not afraid, even if they give me 6 years."
    Boris Andreyev declares: "My health has deteriorated ... It's not that I run away - I can't go far. According to the doctor's opinion, I need medical supervision. With a schedule of court hearings, I could easily combine court hearings with treatment in medical institutions.
    The court leaves the believers in custody.

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    April 18, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Detention center Health risk Elderly

    The prosecutor asks to read out the testimony of a secret witness under the pseudonym Alexei, since "the Investigative Committee has taken exhaustive measures to find him." The defendants are against the reading and believe that insufficient measures were taken to bring a witness. Lawyers support this position, stating that they have not been provided with information about what work was done to find a witness.

    After reading out the testimony, Anatoly Lee comments: "I can only agree that my name is Anatoly Yuryevich Lee, but otherwise I would like to interrogate the witness." Boris Andreev also gives his comment: "Some of the things that are given here could not be said by Lee and Sharapov, as it does not correspond to our faith. Is it worth trusting these testimonies?"

    The lawyers are filing a motion to reduce the measure of restraint for Andreev and Lee.

    Anatoliy speaks before the court: "Your Honor, for more than 18 months I have been under the strictest measure of restraint - detention. It brings me and my family pain: physical and emotional... I am a law-abiding citizen, so I came to the investigating authorities voluntarily - as soon as I found out that the investigation was interested in me. Doesn't that prove that I'm not going into hiding?"

    Boris Andreyev says: "When the case materials were considered, the transcripts of our meetings were read out, there was not even a hint of any extremism, calls for violence, expressions of hatred towards any groups."

    The defense asks the court to take into account the deterioration of the health of 72-year-old Boris Andreev.

    The court refuses to satisfy the petitions for mitigation of the measure of restraint for Andreev and Lee.

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    May 14, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Fabrications

    The defense proceeds to present its evidence to the court.

    The court satisfies the motion of the defense to view the video materials obtained in the course of operational-search activities. On one of the recordings of the service, there is a discussion of the topics: "Look to the future with faith and courage", "Help those who are struggling."

    Commenting on one of the videos, Natalia Sharapova states that she recognized a woman who was interrogated in court under the pseudonym "Yolka", and draws the court's attention to the inconsistency of her testimony. So, Yolka told the court that she met Sharapova only in 2020, but in fact she was visiting the Sharapovs in 2018 and kept a secret video recording of the service. The recording shows how the Christmas tree talks with Natalia's mother

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    May 22, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Three defense witnesses are being questioned in court. They speak positively about the defendant. One of the women says that she knows Sharapova, since their children studied at the same school. She describes her "as a wonderful mommy, a very decent and good person" and adds that Natalia has always been a pleasure to talk to. Witnesses also report that Sharapova did not discuss religion with them or invite them to worship services.

    Boris Andreyev requests that the letter of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that Jehovah's Witnesses have the right to practice their religion and the Opinions of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention be examined and acknowledged.

    Boris also asks for a comparison of different translations of biblical texts that were heard at the services underlying the accusation. The judge refuses to satisfy. The defendant asks to include in the minutes of the hearing an objection to the actions of the judge and explains why he considers this petition important for the process.

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    May 28, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    The lawyer lists local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses that were liquidated by a 2017 Supreme Court decision . He comments: "The Khorol district is not on the list." The lawyer asks to ensure the appearance of a secret witness, giving her real name, since Sharapova recognized this woman, but the court refuses.

    The court also does not satisfy the petitions for the admission of historical documents, the position of the ECHR, as well as the interrogation of the witness by the defense.

    14 fellow believers come to the courtroom to support the defendants, 10 of whom are allowed into the courtroom.

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    May 29, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Anatoly Lee testifies. He says: "Professing and spreading the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses is still a legitimate activity."

    "At the Plenum of the Supreme Court in 2011, attention was drawn: "Joint confession of religion, worship or other religious rites and ceremonies" is "the implementation ... the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion,' or in other words, these are ways of expressing religious beliefs," Lee reminded. He also notes that the psychological and linguistic examination concludes that there were no signs of extremism in his actions and in the actions of other believers. "This was confirmed by all the interrogated witnesses, directly pointing out that I never incited anyone to hatred or enmity, did not call for illegal actions against any religious or other group of people," he added.

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    June 5, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Boris Andreev is being interrogated. He says that the accusation of extremism is erroneous, since "at the Christian services of Jehovah's Witnesses, in songs, prayers, comments of believers, it was about love and the desire for good deeds."

    Natalia Sharapova is being interrogated. Answering her lawyer's questions, she says that she met Jehovah's Witnesses in the 1990s, but accepted the faith only after she herself decided that she needed it - in 2012, no one called her or persuaded her. She mentions that one of the services recorded in the case file took place at her home, as she and her elderly mother love to invite guests. When asked about the "roles" at the service, Natalia explains that there are no "seniors" or "juniors", everyone is equal. When charged with distributing banned literature, the woman replies that she did not do so and that no prohibited literature was found in her possession during the search.

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    June 25, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Prosecutor requested punishment Elderly

    The prosecutor requests that Boris Andreyev and Anatoly Lee be sentenced to 6.5 and 7 years in prison, respectively. He asks Natalia Sharapova to be sentenced to 4 years of suspended imprisonment.

    According to the prosecutor, the believers deserve punishment because they participated in worship services typical of Jehovah's Witnesses: "The events were built according to the plan adopted in the cult practice of the international religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses."

    However, the defense argues that the accusations against the believers are unfounded. "Which religious organization, liquidated by the court decision, was organized by Li, taking into account the fact that a local religious organization in the village of Yaroslavsky, Khorolsky municipal district, never existed? How, then, is it possible to organize or continue the activities of such an organization?" Anatoly Lee's lawyer asks the court.

    Boris Andreev's lawyer draws the court's attention to the fact that some of the prosecution witnesses stated that they were pressured by the investigation. He also notes that the mental illness of one of the witnesses casts doubt on the credibility of his testimony.

    Natalia Sharapova's defense states: "The state prosecution decided that Sharapova can be convicted only on the basis of her faith. […] The only thing the defendants did was perform religious rites, read prayers, study and discuss Bible stories. […] Everyone could see that these were ordinary gatherings of a group of grandmothers talking about the Bible." According to the lawyer, Natalia Sharapova is "an ordinary resident of the village of Yaroslavsky, a believer in Jehovah God, who has done nothing but harmless and unprohibited religious rites."

    "These defendants are not the worst citizens of our country. They have never been prosecuted, have absolutely no criminal experience, and are all family people, with independent incomes. They did not violate the rules of residence in our country in any way," the defense sums up.

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    July 9, 2024 Final statement In the courtroom Elderly

    About 30 people come to support the defendants, who are making their final statements, refuting the accusations of extremism brought against them. Only because of their faith, all of them have been behind bars for more than a year and a half.

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    July 10, 2024 First Instance Sentence Art. 282.2 (1) Art. 282.2 (2) Elderly Deprivation of liberty