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Dzhankoy after the raid: how persecution cripples the lives of believers

Crimea

Sergey and Zhanna Lungu have been married for two years. Although they look quite happy spouses, it is not easy for them to talk about what happened on November 15, 2018. As a result of those events, they lost a child.

That evening, in Dzhankoy (Crimea), one of the largest special operations in modern Russia was carried out against peaceful believers. Almost two hundred police, FSB and riot police officers were involved.

"I saw that there was a large crowd of employees in black masks near my gate," recalls Vladimir Bezhenar, "They were crawling through my gate, and I got the impression that they were like snakes. I thought that if I didn't open the door first, they would start kicking us out, screaming and beating us. There were friends of mine in the house who were also in a state of shock."

Among his friends was Alexei Filatov. He tried to make a video recording of what was happening, but he was immediately twisted and taken to his home. It turned out that a large group of armed special forces soldiers was waiting for him at the gate, since the searches were taking place in the case against his father, Sergei Filatov. "When I went in," says Sergey Filatov, "I saw my son standing with his back to the refrigerator, he was handcuffed." Alexei says: "I was handcuffed for about forty minutes before my parents arrived."

Meanwhile, security forces invaded the house of 78-year-old Alexander Urs, whose name was not even mentioned in the search warrant. He painfully recalls how brutally law enforcement officers acted against him: "I managed to take one step, I got here, he broke this arm for me, then this hand, he beats me on the legs: "There, to the wall!" And then I wanted to turn around and see what they were doing to my son, and he hit me back to the wall, and I hit my head. And it spreads my legs, I'm already more ... I have no strength, and I am already starting to fall, already on my knees. "What are you doing? "I'm going to be 80 years old, I'm resisting, or what, why are you wringing my hands out?" And then let's search me again, from head to toe. Three times he walked over his hands, commanded: "Hands up!" I hold my hands up. Again: "Hands up!" and then he led me. His hands were brought back to me, and so, holding me back with his hands, he already led me into the house.

The unjustifiably harsh actions of the security forces led to the fact that some believers needed urgent medical attention. "From what I saw, from what was happening in my house, my blood pressure began to rise," says Vladimir Bezhenar.- Then my left arm began to twist and my left leg began to go numb. His wife Lilia recalls: "I see that Vova is getting worse and worse, worse and worse. They began to say that it was necessary to call an ambulance. I said: "Of course, call an ambulance, of course!"" The ambulance team arrived and decided to urgently hospitalize Vladimir with a suspected stroke.

In the meantime, another medical team provided emergency assistance in the house of Mikhail and Lyubov Gozhan, where operatives also invaded. Lyubov had high blood pressure and a rapid heart rate, all accompanied by leg cramps. "I felt that my blood pressure was rising, I was getting sick, I had a sting in my chest, everything was squeezing," says Lyubov Gozhan.- The doctor asked what was the reason for my high pulse. I say, "Stress." He looked like that and said: "Of course, from such stress and there will not be such a pulse."

The searches, which began simultaneously in 8 houses of believers, continued until late at night. Electronic devices, personal records, letters and photographs were seized.

"When they took me out of the house, I thought they were taking me to a pre-trial detention center, I saw correspondents with the Vesti 24 logo near my yard," recalls Sergey Filatov. Later, footage circulated on the air and information networks in which journalists shouted: "Just a few words, what happened? They say that you are a sectarian. Sergey says: "I did not answer a single word, because I understood that everything I said could be distorted and then presented incorrectly." The news anchor also told viewers: "Extremist literature was found in his house, as well as manuals on psychology and recruitment." It wasn't true. "Such materials were not seized during the search," says Sergey.- False information was given in order to highlight me, my family and my friends in a bad light. They snatched up angles that showed me in an awkward position: as if I was sitting and feeling guilty, but at the moment I was praying to Jehovah that he would give me the strength to endure it all."

After a short conversation with the investigator, Sergey Filatov was released on his own recognizance. He was charged with "continuing the activities of an extremist organization." "In the car, I was offered cooperation," says Sergey.- "I need information: all my accomplices, all my appearances, all my meetings." To which I refused, so they brought charges and now I am the accused."

At about the same time, law enforcement officers entered the house of Sergei and Zhanna Lungu, who were mentioned at the very beginning. There were no owners of the house. When they returned the next morning, they found obvious traces of a search. "I saw that the door was broken into. When I go in, I see what is trampled. I also see that everything seems to be in place, but then, as we discovered, our tablet disappeared, "says Sergey. The couple decided not to stay in the house, but to go to Zhanna's parents in Yalta. On the way, Jeanne got worse and worse, she complained of pain. They wanted to tell their parents the news of the pregnancy. "But the very next day it turns out that I take her to the hospital, to gynecology," says Sergey. A day later, it became finally clear that they had lost a child. "As soon as I was told on the ultrasound that that's it, there is no child, I have a tantrum. I couldn't even call Seryozha and tell him about it."

Believers hope that law enforcement officers will have the courage not to resort to concealing the tragedy and that, going to the next search of peaceful believers, they will at least not lose human face while doing their job.

"They took us ... how they take criminals, armed. We jumped over the fence. Wouldn't we have opened it if we had been told: 'Police!' but instead to break in so hard..," says Victor Ursu. His elderly father shows abrasions and bruises left over from the brutal actions of the security forces. But these wounds, he assures, are nothing compared to the emotional experiences and humiliations that he and his friends had to endure. "This, one might say, is lawlessness," he says, "Wringing your hands, searching. It's such a humiliation."

"Life in our family began to divide into before and after," admits Vladimir Bezhenar.- All in the aggregate: the feelings that we experienced that evening, the humiliation - moral, physical and much more.

Many of those who were searched in Dzhankoy know from childhood what persecution for faith is. But, according to them, they have never faced such ill-treatment. "There has never been such treatment," says Alexandru Ursu, "neither in childhood, when they were evicted, nor when there were still searches , nor when they were summoned and talked." "No one allowed himself, for example, to wring his hands, to beat his legs," adds his son Victor. "No one climbed over the gate, no one surrounded the house, there were no people with such weapons," says Lilia Bejenari.

Believers still try to find the positive. "Some people met us and said: 'We pray for your family,'" says Lilia Bezhenari. People understood that... Well, you can't do that to us, we're not the same people! What have we done wrong?"

Even the country's president called the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses "complete nonsense" and promised to look into the matter. "Regarding Jehovah's Witnesses. [...] Of course, this is sheer nonsense, we must look into it carefully, and I agree with you on this. [...] Jehovah's Witnesses are also Christians, and I also don't really understand why they should be persecuted" (from the transcript of Vladimir Putin's speech at a meeting of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights on December 11, 2018).

In the meantime, Sergey Filatov, a father of four, is forced to travel to Simferopol for interrogations every week. "I'm worried about my family, about my children, because I don't know what to expect next from law enforcement officers, because they have already stigmatized me as a criminal."

The day after the searches, Vladimir Bezhenar was transferred to inpatient treatment. Fortunately, his suspicions of a stroke were not confirmed. "I don't know when we'll recover from this condition," says his wife, "and he's on such serious pills that help him calm down a little."

Lyubov Gozhan still takes drugs that normalize blood pressure, and can not sleep without sedatives, as well as other victims. "It was a lot of stress for me," she says, "I couldn't sleep for several nights. For me, it was scary when the evening came.

Sergey and Zhanna really hope that they will definitely have a baby.

Case of Filatov in Dzhankoy

Case History
Sergey Filatov, a father of four, lived a quiet life in Dzhankoy, where he moved from the Kherson region to care for his sick daughter. One autumn evening in 2018, during a large-scale raid by law enforcement officers, his house was attacked by a detachment of armed special forces. Law enforcement officers considered that an exemplary family man “undermines the foundations of the constitutional order and security of the state.” It is noteworthy that there were no victims in the criminal case, the prosecution witness was a security officer, and the rector of an Orthodox church and a local resident, Alexei Voznyak, with a “higher education in religious studies”, were involved as specialists. On March 5, 2020, the judge of the Dzhankoy District Court, Maria Ermakova, sentenced the believer to 6 years in prison. He is serving his sentence in a penal colony. Sergey remains in good spirits and is respected among the prisoners.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Crimea
Locality:
Dzhankoy
Suspected of:
"At an unspecified time, no later than October 13, 2017, carried out organizational activities aimed at continuing the unlawful activities of this organization [Jehovah’s Witnesses LRO 'Sivash'], expressed in holding meetings and religious speeches, and also promoting religious ideas of this organization by means of registered dwelling place" (from the order on institution of criminal proceedings)
Court case number:
11807350001000073
Initiated:
November 10, 2018
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Investigative Department of the Crimea Region and of the Sevastopol
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
22-1210/2020
Court:
Верховный суд Республики Крым
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Мария Ермакова
Case History

Case of Ursu in Dzhankoy

Case History
In the summer of 2023, 5 years after the mass searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Dzhankoy (Crimea), security forces again invaded the homes of believers. They detained Victor Ursa for allegedly refusing to show his passport. The believer spent 12 days in the temporary detention facility, after which the court placed him under house arrest. Ursa was accused of organizing the activities of an extremist organization only because of her faith
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Crimea
Locality:
Dzhankoy
Suspected of:
"discussed the texts and religious provisions of Jehovah's Witnesses, coordinated the activities of congregations" (from the decision to prosecute)
Court case number:
12302350007000066
Initiated:
August 7, 2023
Current case stage:
review of case materials by the accused
Investigating:
Investigative Directorate for the city of Dzhankoy of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Case History