Unjust Verdicts

A Court in the City of Birobidzhan Resentenced Nataliya Kriger, Giving Her a Two-and-a-Half-Year Suspended Sentence for Reading the Bible and Believing in Jehovah

Jewish Autonomous Area

The retrial of the case of Nataliya Kriger in the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region ended in a guilty verdict: on March 28, 2023, Judge Aleksandr Kulikov imposed a two-and-a-half-year suspended sentence on the believer for participating in peaceful worship services of Jehovah's Witnesses.

The court rendered the same verdict when the case was first considered in July 2021, although the prosecutor requested that the believer be sent to a penal colony for four years. The verdict came into force after an appeal, but the court of cassation did not agree with this decision. As noted by the panel of judges, the appellate court did not evaluate the believer's argument that she was found guilty of extremism despite the absence of any motive of hostility or hatred. Also, the court did not indicate which specific actions of Kriger contained signs of extremism. The appellate court during its second consideration of the case did not eliminate these errors, and it sent the case to the district court. This time, the prosecutor asked for a two-and-a-half-year suspended sentence.

The criminal prosecution of Nataliya Kriger has been going on for more than three years. The woman still believes that this is an injustice and that the accusations are groundless. “For 25 years [as one of Jehovah's Witnesses] I have tried to be a good citizen of my country, and now the prosecution is proposing that I be declared an extremist,” she said. “But I didn’t commit any extremist actions.” The testimonies of witnesses and the examined evidence indicated only Nataliya's religious affiliation and did not reveal any corpus delicti.

The criminal case is based on recordings of peaceful worship. Although the recordings contained no signs of extremism, the investigation considered Nataliya's attendance at meetings of believers to be participation in illegal activities. Kriger drew attention to this in court: “The meeting, on which the charges against me are based, encouraged me to display good qualities and to do good deeds for the benefit of others ... All I learned at this event is to increase my love for God and for other people. And I am trying to do this. I sincerely cannot understand what I am guilty of.”

In December 2022, the same district court in Birobidzhan sent Nataliya's husband to a penal colony for seven years on similar charges. He is currently in a pre-trial detention center pending appeal.

Addressing the court in her final statement, Nataliya Kriger emphasized: “As one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I am not an extremist and never have been. No one forbade practicing one's religion in Russia, and being one of Jehovah's Witnesses is not a crime under Russian law. For me personally, being one of Jehovah's Witnesses is a great honor!”

The global human rights community considers the prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses unlawful. In particular the European Court of Human Rights has stated: “Article 9 [of the European Convention] protects the right of believers to meet peacefully in order to worship in the manner prescribed by their religion” (§267).

The Kriger case in Birobidzhan

Case History
In May 2018, the home of a Birobidzhan resident, Natalya Kriger, was searched by law enforcement officers. Three days earlier, a criminal case was initiated against her husband Valeriy for extremism, and in February 2020, the FSB initiated a criminal case against Natalia herself. She was accused of continuing the activity of an extremist organization. In August 2020, the believer’s case went to court. The prosecutor requested a sentence of 4 years in prison for her, and in July 2021 the court gave the believer a 2.5-year suspended sentence. The court of appeal upheld the verdict, but in August 2022, the court of cassation sent the case back for a new appeal, which, in turn, returned the case for review to the court of first instance to another judge. He also gave the believer a 2.5-year suspended sentence. The court of appeal upheld this verdict.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Jewish Autonomous Area
Suspected of:
According to the investigation, she committed deliberate actions related to the resumption and continuation of the activities of the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Birobidzhan
Court case number:
February 12, 2020
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
UFSB of Russia in the Jewish Autonomous Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2)
Court case number:
1-37/2023 (1-713/2022; 1-46/2021; 1-464/2020)
Биробиджанский районный суд ЕАО
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Куликов Александр
Case History