Unjust Verdicts

Court in Yalta Gave Four Jehovah's Witnesses, Including a Woman, From 3 Years Suspended Sentence to 6.5 Years in Penal Colony for Believing in God

  • Текст обновлен 14 марта 2023 года

On February 27, 2023, Vladimir Romanenko, judge of the Yalta City Court, sentenced Taras Kuzo to 6.5 years in a penal colony, Petr Zhiltsov to 6 years and 1 month in a penal colony, Sergey Lyulin to 6 years in prison, and Darya Kuzo to 3 years of suspended sentence. The basis for such punishment was their religious beliefs.

The prosecutor requested 7.5 years in a penal colony for Taras Kuzo, the father of two, 7 years for Petr Zhiltsov and Sergey Lyulin, and 3.5 years for Darya Kuzo with a reprieve until her youngest child reaches 14 years of age. Now he is 8 years old.

On March 20, 2019, law enforcement officers arrived at the believers' home for the first search. In March 2021, after the third search, the investigation initiated a criminal case against Taras Kuzo for “financing the activity of an extremist organization” (part 3, Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), and four months later the investigator added a charge of “organizing the activity of an extremist organization" (part 1, Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). At the same time, Taras's wife, Darya, as well as Sergey Lyulin and Petr Zhiltsov, became defendants in the case. During the searches, communication equipment belonging not only to adults, but also to children, and personal savings were confiscated from the believers. Also their bank accounts were blocked.

The investigation lasted 2 years. From the moment of detention, Sergey Lyulin spent almost 7 months in a detention center. “There were 12 beds in the cell, but there were always more people, we had to sleep in turns. It was very stuffy, things practically did not dry, there was a huge number of flies, everyone smoked and they used obscene language,” said the believer about the conditions of his detention. He was later placed under house arrest for 4.5 months. Taras and Petr were also under house arrest—16 and 11.5 months respectively. “Because of the house arrest, I didn’t live with my wife and children, and as it was impossible to use the telephone and the Internet, I didn’t know for several days what was happening with my family,” Taras shared.

Taras Kuzo noted that identical testimonies of three secret witnesses appear in the case—Ivanov, Petrov and Volodin. Lyulin said that these witnesses for the prosecution did not remember anyone except the defendants, although they had attended meetings for worship, according to them, for more than a year. They also claimed that they "adhered to the ideology of Jehovah's Witnesses", but could not explain what the teachings of this religion were, and could not pronounce the name of God correctly. The believers think that they were infiltrators from the FSB.

The support provided by friends and fellow believers throughout the investigation and trial helped the believers to survive all the difficulties. “They wrote me a lot of letters with words of encouragement and Bible verses,” Taras said. “It was very strengthening that friends mentioned specific situations of when and how I had helped them. Their gratitude is a great example for me.” According to Petr, "there is no such support anywhere else."

The verdict has not entered into force. The believers still insist on their innocence and can appeal against it.

On June 7, 2022, the ECHR emphasized that “only religious statements and actions involving or calling for violence, hatred or discrimination, may warrant suppression as being ‘extremist’. The courts did not identify any word, deed or action by the applicants which would be motivated or tainted by violence, hatred or discrimination” (§ 271).

Case of Kuzo and others in Yalta

Case History
In March 2021, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against Taras Kuzo from Yalta, a father of two young children, suspecting him of financing the activities of an extremist organization. After a series of searches in the homes of believers, Kuzo ended up in a temporary detention facility. In July of the same year, a criminal case was opened against his wife, Darya, as well as Petr Zhiltsov, Sergey Lyulin and Tadevos Manukyan. Later, Manukyan’s case was separated into separate proceedings. Lyulin spent more than six months in a pre-trial detention center and more than 4 months under house arrest. Zhiltsov and Kuzo were under house arrest for 11 and 16 months, respectively. In March 2022, the case of the believers went to court. A year later, the court sentenced Taras Kuzo to 6.5 years in prison, Petro Zhiltsov to 6 years and 1 month, Sergey Lyulin to 6 years in prison, and Darya Kuzo to 3 years of suspended sentence. The men were taken into custody. On March 22, 2024, the appeal overturned the verdict and sent the case back for a new trial.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Court case number:
March 4, 2021
Current case stage:
trial in Court of First Instance
Branch of the Federal Security Service of Russia in the Republic of Crimea
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.3 (1), 282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-17/2023 (1-181/2022)
Ялтинский городской суд
Владимир Романенко
Case History