Judges of the Supreme Court of Russia Aleksey Shamov, Sergey Zelenin and Vasiliy Zykin after the announcement of the ruling in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Kamchatka (December 2022)
The Russian Supreme Court Failed To Uphold Justice for Innocent Believers From KamchatkaMoscow, Kamchatka Territory
On December 15, 2022, the Judicial Panel for Criminal Cases of the Russian Supreme Court reversed the acquittal of three of Jehovah's Witnesses and sent their case for a new appeal hearing. The court contradicted the Supreme Court Plenum's explanationsdated October 28, 2021, which stated that religious meetings do not constitute a crime under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.
The case was considered by Supreme Court Judges Aleksey Shamov, Vasiliy Zykin, and Sergey Zelenin. Around twenty people attended, including the media and representatives of diplomatic missions from at least six countries. "We are saddened that the judges departed from the fundamental position of the Supreme Court," says Yaroslav Sivulskiy of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses. "The reason for the widespread persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia is that the ordinary religious practice of believers is being wrongly interpreted as the continuation of the activity of an organization that was banned in 2017. The criminal prosecution of our dear fellow believers from Kamchatka is also based on this misunderstanding. To clear up this misunderstanding, the Supreme Court Plenum issued a clarification a year ago that is binding on all courts. Our believers are not guilty of anything."
The case against Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenov and their friend Vera Zolotova (born in 1946) was initiated in 2018. All three spent some time behind bars, and their homes were searched. In September 2020, a court found them guilty of participating in the activities of a banned organization and gave them two-year suspended sentences. The Kamchatka Territorial Court upheld the conviction on appeal, but in November 2021 the Ninth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction in Vladivostok, citing the decision of the Supreme Court Plenum of the Russian Federation of 28 October 2021, sent the case for a new appellate hearing. On January 18, 2022, the Kamchatka Territorial Court issued an acquittal, which went into effect immediately. The cassational court upheld that decision, but the Deputy Prosecutor General of Russia asked the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to send the case for a new appellate hearing.
Notably, in terms of international law, the believers are innocent and are subject to rehabilitation because in June 2022 the European Court of Human Rights in its judgment in the case LRO Taganrog and Others v. Russia (32401/10) ruled that the 2017 decision to liquidate all legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, to ban their activities and seize property and to ban printed publications and the official website is illegal; it also ordered Russia to end the criminal prosecution of believers and to release prisoners. In June 2022, the Russian Federation stopped implementing ECHR judgments.
At this time, the case of the Bazhenovs and Vera Zolotova is being returned to the appeal stage; their conviction will be reexamined by the Kamchatka Territorial Court. They are considered convicted, but their sentence has not entered into force.