In the photo from left to right: Vera Zolotova, Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenov

Unjust Verdicts

Two Years of Conditional Imprisonment for Faith. A 73-year-old Woman and a Married Couple Sentenced in Kamchatka

Kamchatka 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.

Case of the Bazhenovs and Others in Yelizovo

Case history
In 2018, in Yelizovo, Snezhana and Konstantin Bazhenov, both teachers, as well as widowed pensioner Vera Zolotova, were detained, their houses were searched, and a few days later they had to sign a recognizance agreement. The Investigative Committee equated the holding of joint meetings for worship to illegal activity. In September 2020, the court gave each of them a 2-year suspended sentence. The court of appeal upheld this decision, but the court of cassation returned the case for retrial to the territory court. In January 2022, it acquitted the believers, but the prosecutor’s office achieved that the verdict was overturned in the RF Supreme Court, and the case was returned to the appeal stage, and later the courts of cassation supported the verdict of a 2-year suspended sentence.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Kamchatka Territory
Locality:
Yelizovo
Suspected of:
according to the investigation, together with others he conducted religious services, which is interpreted as “organising the activity of an extremist organisation” (with reference to the decision of the Russian Supreme Court on the liquidation of all 396 registered organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses).
Court case number:
11802300004000052
Initiated:
August 17, 2018
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Investigative Department of the city of Yelizovo of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Kamchatka Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2)
Court case number:
1-78/2020
Court:
Елизовский районный суд Камчатского края
Judge:
Юлия Пискун
Background