A New Wave of Searches in Homes of Jehovah's Witnesses in the City of Saransk. Three Believers Were ArrestedMordovia
Early in the morning of February 14, 2023, law enforcement officers in the city of Saransk conducted at least 10 searches in the homes of believers who are suspected of practicing the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. Mikhail Shevchuk, Artem Velichko, and Ivan Neverov were sent to Detention Center No. 1 in the Republic of Mordovia.
On January 11, 2023, V. A. Makeyeva, an investigator for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, initiated a criminal case against three local residents. She saw the friendly meetings of believers as a crime—"organizing the activity of an extremist organization" (part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Investigator K. I. Frantsuzov is handling the case. On February 3, he received permission from the court to conduct searches in the region.
Law enforcement officers arrived at the home of one of the families in Saransk at 5:40 in the morning. Security forces led by Investigator Roman Obraztsov seized electronic devices, notebooks with recipes and Bible quotes, and three passports for travel abroad. After a five-hour search, the OMON officers took the woman and one of her daughters to the center for combating extremism, where the security forces ascertained how the religious meetings were conducted. According to the believers, the officers threatened that if the woman would not incriminate herself and fellow believers, "it would be bad for her daughters."
Investigative measures were also conducted in the house of a believer from the village of Zvezdnyi, located two kilometers from the city of Saransk. The search began at 6:00 a.m. and lasted three hours; Lieutenant Colonel P. P. Soldatkin participated in it. When security forces rushed onto the property, they fired powder from a fire extinguisher at the owner's dog (veterinary care was required). Police officers searched the entire two-story house with an attic and a garage and seized video cassettes, notebooks with poems, two passports for travel abroad, CDs with photographs, and a recording of a children's performance. During the interrogation, the woman was threatened with being sent to a pre-trial detention center if she did not testify against herself and her relatives. The interrogation was carried out by three investigators at once, two of which were I. S. Markelov and K. I. Frantsuzov.
The European Court of Human Rights stated in its decision: “That broad definition of 'extremism' ... [led] to arbitrary prosecutions but also prevented individuals or organisations from being able to anticipate that their conduct, however peaceful and devoid of hatred or animosity it was, could be categorized as ‘extremist’ and censured with restrictive measures.” (§ 158)