Unjust Verdicts

In Vyazemskiy, the Court Gave Sergey Kuznetsov a 2 Years and 5 Months Suspended Sentence for His Peaceful Beliefs

Khabarovsk Territory

On December 22, 2022, Ksenia Ostanina, a judge of the Vyazemskiy District Court of the Khabarovsk Territory, imposed a suspended prison senctence of 2 years and 5 months on 31-year-old Sergey Kuznetsov, with a probationary period of 2 years for participating in the activity of an extremist organization, basically, for his religion.

"I believe that calling me an extremist is a big mistake, as hatred towards people is something alien to Jehovah's Witnesses because they follow the commandments of Jesus Christ to love people," the believer stressed , addressing the court in his final statement.

Persecution of Sergey Kuznetsov for his faith began in September 2020 - his house was searched. This happened four months after the search in the home of his relative, Yegor Baranov. In March 2021 criminal proceedings under Part 2 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation were initiated against Sergey; a repeat search was conducted at his home, and the believer was added to the Rosfinmonitoring's list of extremists. The investigation, which lasted six months, was led by D. S. Pozdnyakov, senior criminal investigator with the Khabarovsk Region branch of the FSB.

In the fall of 2021, the criminal case went to court. None of the witnesses could confirm that the believer committed the crime, and one woman confessed that during the interrogation the investigator put pressure on her. There were no victims in the case, but that did not stop the prosecutor from requesting that Kuznetsov be sentenced to three years in a penal colony and one year of restricted freedom.

The verdict has not entered into force and can be appealed. The believer insists on his complete innocence.

The case against another Witness of Jehovah from Vyazemsky is being considered by another court in the Khabarovsk Region: 69-year-old Aleksandr Shutov is also accused of participation in the activity of an extremist organization.

In a ruling dated June 7, 2022, the European Court of Human Rights called the criminal prosecution of believers in Russia unlawful: “The forced liquidation of all religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation… revealed signs of a policy of intolerance on the part of the Russian authorities aimed at forcing Jehovah's Witnesses to renounce their faith and prevent others from joining it” (§ 254).

The case of Kuznetsov in Vyazemsky

Case history
In 2016, Sergey Kuznetsov, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the city of Vyazemsky, defended his right to alternative civilian service, proving that violence and everything connected with it is unacceptable for him. Four years later, he was subjected to criminal prosecution for his peaceful religious beliefs: law enforcement officers searched his home twice, and in March 2021, an FSB investigator initiated a criminal case against the believer. He regarded participation in peaceful worship as participation in the activity of an extremist organization. Consideration of the case in court began in November 2021. Witnesses for the prosecution denied that any extremist remarks were made at the religious meetings. One of them stated that he did not know the defendant and the other, that the law enforcement officers put pressure on him and distorted his testimony. In December 2022, the court gave Sergey Kuznetsov a 2-year and 5-month suspended sentence. The court of appeal upheld this verdict.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Khabarovsk Territory
Locality:
Vyazemsky
Court case number:
12107080001000024
Initiated:
March 25, 2021
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigating:
SO FSB in the Khabarovsk Territory
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2)
Court case number:
1-22/2022 (1-184/2021)
Court:
Вяземский районный суд Хабаровского края
Judge:
Ксения Останина
Background