Pavel Popov with his wife and daughter on the day of sentencing

Unjust Verdicts

Pavel Popov, an Entrepreneur From the Chelyabinsk Region, Was Handed a Six-Year Suspended Sentence for Reading the Bible

Chelyabinsk Region

On May 25, 2022, the judge of the Metallurgicheskiy District Court of Chelyabinsk, Maria Melnikova, found 45-year-old Pavel Popov from Yemanzhelinsk guilty of organizing the activities of an extremist organization. The court found it a crime to discuss Bible topics with friends.

Pavel Popov encountered manifestations of religious intolerance already in 2012: then law enforcement officers disrupted a big worship service of Jehovah's Witnesses. The believers went to court and won the process. At that time, Pavel Popov was subjected to surveillance, interrogations in the FSB, he was subjected to psychological pressure.

In March 2019, about 10 security officials in masks and with machine guns broke into the Popovs' house with a search. The believer was brought in as a witness in the case of Valentina Suvorova. Two years later, he became a defendant in a criminal case himself, and the Popovs were again searched, after which the entire family, including their minor daughter, was taken for interrogation. The believer recalls: “The operative said to me: ‘Maybe you will start making confessions already?’ I replied: ‘What should I confess to? Because I'm an extremist? How can I confess to something that I did not do and of which I am not guilty”.

On April 22, 2021, the investigator of the Chelyabinsk Department of the Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Chepenko, opened a criminal case against Popov under Part 1 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, considering prayers, conversations about the Bible and the performance of religious songs a crime. The criminal prosecution had a negative impact on the believer's entrepreneurial activities—the customer refused to pay for his work at three sites due to pressure from the investigation. Popov spent more than a year under house arrest. He said that in doing so, the investigator took into account his circumstances: “I work in another city 50 km from home, and I was allowed to travel that far.”

The investigation of the case lasted more than 6 months, after which, on November 2, 2021, the materials were submitted to the Metallurgichesky District Court of Chelyabinsk. Although there is not a single victim in the case, the prosecutor asked the court to sentence the believer to 8 years in a penal colony.

The hearings revealed falsifications in the testimonies of the main witnesses for the prosecution. Although they claimed that the Popovs talked to them about the Bible, the documents presented to the court disproved this. One of the women was unable to identify the defendant in the courtroom. Witnesses for the prosecution, including law enforcement officers, admitted that Pavel Popov did not voice extremist appeals and did not promote religious superiority. The same was admitted by the police agent "Liliya Ruzaeva", who had previously collected information about the Chelyabinsk believers.

In his last speech, Pavel Popov said: “In this trial, the prosecution never mentioned any extremist acts on my part. Continued activities of an extremist organization? The prosecution did not discuss this issue. The accusation is based only on the fact that I am a believer and that I believe in Jehovah.”

Nevertheless, the court sentenced Popov to 6 years suspended sentence with 4 years of probation. The verdict has not entered into force and can be appealed. The believer insists on his complete innocence.

Despite clarifications of the Plenum of the Supreme Court and appeals from human rights organizations, Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia continue to be subjected to repression on religious grounds.

The Case of Popov in Chelyabinsk

Case history
The security forces searched the apartment of Pavel Popov and his wife in the presence of their young daughter twice - in 2019 and 2021. A peaceful believer from Yemanzhelinsk was brought in as a witness in the case of Valentina Suvorova from Chelyabinsk, and in April 2021, investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation Alexander Chepenko opened a criminal case against him. He considered preaching, singing religious songs and prayers to be organizing the activities of an extremist organization. In November 2021, the case went to court. During the hearings, it became obvious that the testimony of prosecution witnesses was falsified, and the prosecution had no evidence. Despite this, the prosecutor asked the court to sentence the believer to 8 years in prison. In May 2022, the believer was found guilty and sentenced to 6 years probation with a probation period of 4 years. The appeal and cassation upheld the verdict.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Chelyabinsk Region
Locality:
Chelyabinsk
Court case number:
12102750030000010
Initiated:
April 22, 2021
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Chelyabinsk Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-77/2022 (1-659/2021)
Court of First Instance:
Металлургический районный суд г. Челябинска
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Мария Мельникова
Background