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Actions of Law Enforcement Officers

Mass searches of Jehovah's Witnesses in Vologda. One believer was sent to a pre-trial detention center, another was placed under house arrest

Vologda Region

Early in the morning of December 19, 2019, in Vologda, security forces invaded a number of homes of Jehovah's Witnesses. On December 21, the court sent 45-year-old Nikolai Stepanov, who has a wife and son, to the pre-trial detention center. 67-year-old Yuri Baranov was placed under house arrest by the court, given that his mother needs daily care.

Believers say that in some cases groups of security officers consisted of 4 SOBR fighters, a technical specialist, an investigator, and witnesses. During the searches, electronic devices were seized. After hours of searches, believers, including women and minor children, were detained for interrogations that lasted until 8 p.m. At least 6 searches of believers' homes took place in the city at the same time.

It is known that a criminal case was initiated under Article 282.2 (1) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The believers are suspected not just of worshiping God together, but of allegedly resuming the activities of the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses "Vologda". The case is being investigated by the first department for the investigation of especially important cases (crimes against the person and public safety) of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Vologda Region. Among those who conducted searches or interrogations were investigator N.A. Shilov, investigator Denis Kamensky and detective of the Center for Countering Extremism Viktor Povzderin.

It is obvious that this criminal case, as well as hundreds of other cases in more than 50 regions of Russia, are a direct consequence of the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to liquidate and ban the activities of all organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. Law enforcement officers inappropriately interpret joint confession of religion as participation in extremist activities, which contradicts Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which guarantees freedom of religion for all.

Case of Stepanov and Baranov in Vologda

Case history
In December 2019, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation initiated a criminal case against two Jehovah’s Witnesses from Vologda. On the same day, searches were conducted in the homes of several believers, and Yuriy Baranov and Nikolay Stepanov were detained. Yuriy spent 1 day in a temporary detention facility and almost 3 months under house arrest; Nikolay spent 4 days in a temporary detention facility, then 8 months in a pre-trial detention center, after which he was placed under house arrest for 43 days. The believers were accused of organizing the activity of an extremist organization. According to the investigation, their criminal actions consisted of “arranging meetings and organizing religious talks and worship”. In January 2022, the case went to court. In September, Baranov was given a 4-year suspended sentence, and Stepanov was sentenced to 4 years in a penal colony. The appeal resulted in a more lenient sentence for Stepanov; his prison term was replaced with a suspended sentence. Baranov’s sentence remained unchanged.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Vologda Region
Locality:
Vologda
Suspected of:
According to the investigation, "they took active steps ... expressed in the convening of meetings, the organization of religious speeches and services at these meetings, the distribution of literature of extremist content, the collection of funds under the guise of donations."
Court case number:
11902190029061043
Initiated:
December 19, 2019
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the Vologda Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-389/2022
Court of First Instance:
Вологодский городской суд Вологодской области
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Елена Голованова
Background