Alexandr Litvinyuk and Alexandr Dubovenko near the court building

Unjust Verdicts

An Appeal in Crimea Upheld the Conviction of Two Believers. They Were Sentenced to Six Years in a Penal Colony for Reading the Bible

Crimea

On March 16, 2023, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea upheld the verdict against Aleksandr Litvinyuk and Aleksandr Dubovenko. The believers do not admit that they are guilty of extremism, and they have the right to appeal this decision in the cassation court.

Four relatives were allowed to attend the hearing. According to Dubovenko's wife, the appellate court  removed part of the additional punishment from the verdict—a ban on engaging in educational activities for a period of five years.

On December 1, 2022, Judge Tatyana Fedeneva of the City Court of the Republic of Crimea sentenced believers to six years in a penal colony for discussing the Bible with friends and for singing religious songs. The court of first instance ignored the motions of the defense and the evidence in favor of the believers, and the documents confirming their innocence disappeared from the case file. During the trial, Judge Fedeneva displayed prejudice against the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses and prevented the lawyer from providing legal assistance to the defendants. At the same time, the witnesses in the case gave the believers positive character references.

Russian law enforcement officers continue to consider Jehovah's Witnesses' religious gatherings and conversations about God as extremism, even though the European Court of Human Rights in 2022 declared criminal prosecution for such actions unlawful. The court decision states: “Only religious statements and actions involving or calling for violence, hatred or discrimination may warrant suppression as being 'extremist.’” (§ 271)

Case of Dubovenko and Litvinyuk in Armyansk

Case history
In August 2021, the FSB initiated a criminal case against Crimeans Aleksandr Litvinyuk and Aleksandr Dubovenko, accusing them of organizing the activities of an extremist organization. A few days later, their homes were searched. Litvinyuk was detained and interrogated. Dubovenko, who was absent on the day of the search, was later also detained. His home was searched again. The believers spent more than a year under house arrest. The case went to court in March 2022. It was based on the testimony of a secret witness; the judge refused to declassify the identity of this witness. During the trial, the judge repeatedly denied pensioner Litvinyuk’s requests to visit a doctor; she also denied the request to attach 27 documents as evidence of the defendants’ innocence. In addition, during the questioning of defense witnesses, she interrupted them and expressed her negative attitude towards the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In December 2022, the court sentenced the believers to six years in a penal colony. The appellate court upheld this sentence.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Crimea
Locality:
Armyans'k
Suspected of:
"acting by a group of persons by prior conspiracy ... [conducted] meetings, religious speeches, study of materials, attracted new members of the organization" (from the decision to prosecute)
Court case number:
12107350001000113
Initiated:
August 2, 2021
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Branch of the Federal Security Service of Russia in the Republic of Crimea
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-39/2022
Court:
Армянский городской суд Республика Крым
Judge:
Татьяна Феденева
Background