In the photo from left to right: Vera Zolotova, Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenov
Two Years of Conditional Imprisonment for Faith. A 73-year-old Woman and a Married Couple Sentenced in KamchatkaKamchatka Territory
Kamchatka residents Vera Zolotova and spouses Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenovs were found guilty of involvement in the activities of an extremist organization. Sentence was announced on September 25, 2020 in Yelizovsky district court. Believers do not admit guilt and consider the events to be religious persecution.
It is noteworthy that when the court passed its sentence, it reclassified the article of the prosecution. Investigators and prosecutors considered that believers were guilty of "organization" of extremist community (part 1 of article 282.2 of RF Criminal Code) and the court eventually declared them guilty of "participation" in it (part 2 of article 282.2 of RF Criminal Code). In addition, the state prosecution recommended imposing an unbearable fine on the believers: 1,200,000 rubles for the Bazhenovs and 400,000 rubles for Vera Zolotova. However, the court sentenced all three to 2 years conditionally with a probationary period of 3 years and subsequent restraint of freedom for 6 months.
"The situation in Yelizovo clearly showed that the articles of the Criminal Code were applied to believers in a completely arbitrary manner. In reality we are not talking about any organization or any participation in any kind of extremism. People simply study the Bible together, pray and learn to love their neighbors in the spirit of the Gospel. They're infinitely far from extremism," said Yaroslav Sivulsky of the European Jehovah's Witnesses Association.
The prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Yelizovo began in the summer of 2018. The city residents were searched in August that year. Among the 11 detainees were former schoolteacher Konstantin Bazhenov, his wife Snezhana, who worked as a teacher at school, their minor daughter, and pensioner Vera Zolotova. The believers were taken to the temporary detention center. Konstantin spent 8 days in the pre-trial detention center. Snezhana and Vera were released after 2 days. All of them, except for the minor, were taken to sign up for not leaving.
These peaceful citizens were accused of holding joint worship services and conversations with others about God, which the operatives considered to be the organization of the banned extremist organization.
Four days before the verdict, on September 21, 2020, the defendants delivered their last word, saying that they were being prosecuted for reading the Bible and praying to Jehovah.
"I have the right to have my religious beliefs, live in harmony with them and share them with others. This right gives me both God and Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation", - said in an appeal to the judge Vera Zolotova.
Konstantin Bazhenov asked the judge to allow him to continue "to gather peacefully and openly with friends to read the Bible and sing songs of praise to our God Jehovah". And his wife, Snezhana, reminded that Jehovah's Witnesses had already been repressed in the USSR, but were later rehabilitated by the state.
Law enforcers mistakenly accept the religion of citizens for participation in the extremist organization's activities. The Russian government has repeatedly stated that the decisions of Russian courts to liquidate and ban Jehovah's Witnesses organizations "do not evaluate the Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine, and do not contain restrictions or prohibitions on individual practice of the above doctrine.
The court's decision has not entered into force. Believers will appeal against it.