Photo: Valeria and Sergey Rayman in the courtroom, October 2020

Unjust Verdicts

A Kostroma appeals court commuted Sergey and Valeriya Rayman's strict sentence

Kostroma Region

On February 26, 2021, the Kostroma Regional Court, having considered the appeal of the Rayman spouses, canceled the longest suspended sentence for faith - 8 and 7 years. Earlier, a lower court found Sergey and Valeriya guilty of organizing and participating in extremist activities.

The Court of Appeal excluded the "organization" from the charges against both believers (part 1 of Art. 282.2) and commuted Sergey's and Valeriya’s sentences to 3 and 2 years of suspended imprisonment respectively.

The verdict came into force. Believers still insist on their innocence. They have the right to appeal the verdict in cassation, as well as in international instances.

On October 9, 2020, Dmitriy Balayev, judge of the Sverdlovsk District Court of Kostroma, sentenced Jehovah's Witnesses Sergey and Valeriya Rayman to 8 and 7 years of suspended sentenced, respectively. With the filing of the state prosecutor Ivan Bogomolov, the court found the believers guilty of both organizing and participating in extremist activities (parts 1 and 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). The state prosecution asked the court to give them a suspended sentence of 7 years of imprisonment for both.

The couple have been married since 2015. Sergey is an interior decoration specialist, and in his free time he is engaged in cooking and video filming. Valeriya is a makeup artist and hairdresser who loves to bake and make interior items from concrete.

“The religion of Jehovah's Witnesses has not been prohibited by any court,” Valeriya told the Court of Appeal in her last word. “I led the ordinary life of a believer. My life, my beliefs and views have nothing to do with extremism. I have not committed any crime. I ask you to look at this situation from the point of view of common sense and give us back our good name. "

“We live in a state governed by the rule of law,” Sergey Rayman said in his last word. “Not so long ago, even Human Rights Day was celebrated. And according to Article 28 of the Constitution, I have the right to have religious beliefs, disseminate and act in accordance with them. "

Sergey Rayman was placed in a cramped solitary confinement cell for 2 months with a ban on correspondence and reading the Bible because of the map of ancient Palestine it contains. He then spent a month under house arrest with an electronic tracking bracelet on his leg and 90 days under a ban on certain actions. Valeria had to spend 2 days in the temporary detention facility and 179 days under the ban on certain actions. The spouses could not communicate with each other for some time because of the court decision.

The pursuit of the Ryman spouses began in the early morning of July 25, 2018, when armed special forces used crowbars to smash the door to their apartment at gunpoint. Law enforcement officers accompanied their actions with caustic comments regarding the religion of believers. Friends who came to the Rayman spouses found the apartment empty with signs of a burglary on the door. Sergey and Valeria were sent to a temporary detention center.

In September 2019, the Sverdlovsk District Court of Kostroma returned the Rayman criminal case to the Kostroma prosecutor's office. At the same time, the court emphasized that in the case of spouses "there is a legal right to practice the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, which has not been prohibited." The court pointed to the "vague" wording of the indictment. Neither in the materials of the criminal case, nor in the register of legal entities, nor in any other documents, there was no confirmation that the young people were founders or members of a local religious organization in Kostroma. The accusation is unfounded in relation to the fact that the Rayman couple held meetings of a religious organization. At the same time, not a single name of the participants in such meetings is given.

The Sverdlovsk District Court of Kostroma is hearing the case of another local believer, Dmitriy Terebilov.

Russian and foreign leaders and organizations unanimously condemn the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. The conclusion of the state religious expert examination on the doctrine and the corresponding practice of the religious association of Jehovah's Witnesses says: spreading faith, violates the rights of other citizens. On February 20, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Jehovah's Witnesses have the right to practice their religion both individually and collectively.

Case of the Raymans in Kostroma

Case History
In July 2018, the life of young spouses Sergey and Valeria Rayman was divided into “before” and “after”. They were accused of extremism under two articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation for participating in worship services. The Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee for the Kostroma Region investigated the case for 1.5 years. During this time, the couple survived imprisonment in solitary confinement, a ban on correspondence and reading the Bible, house arrest, and a restriction on communication even with each other. In August 2019, the court began considering their case, but 1.5 months later returned it to the prosecutor for the unfounded accusation. After re-examining the case, the court sentenced Sergey and Valeriya to 8 and 7 years of probation, respectively. In February 2021, the regional court reduced the terms to 3 and 2 years, but the cassation returned the case to the appeal stage. Based on the results of the reconsideration in the regional court, Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation was excluded from the verdict and the spouses were given 7 and 6.5 years suspended with a probationary period of 2 years. In August 2022, the cassation court finally approved this decision.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Kostroma Region
Suspected of:
according to the investigation they participated in religious services, which is interpreted as organising and participating in the activities 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:
July 24, 2018
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigative Department for the Tsentralniy District of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Kostroma Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1), 282.2 (2)
Court case number:
Свердловский районный суд г. Костромы
Дмитрий Балаев
[i18n] Суд апелляционной инстанции:
Костромской областной суд
Case History