Sergey and Svetlana Malyanov, Oleg Konshin and Roman Zhivolupov with their family members at the courthouse in Nizhny Novgorod. April 2023
A Court in Nizhny Novgorod Fined Four of Jehovah's Witnesses Between 450,000 And 700,000 Rubles for a Friendly Musical EveningNizhegorod Region
On April 26, 2023, Sergey Glushkov, judge of the Leninsky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod, fined Sergey and Svetlana Malyanovs, father and daughter, as well as Roman Zhivolupov and Oleg Konshin, the total amount of 2 million 195 thousand rubles. The court considered a friendly meeting with songs, dances and games as a continuation of the activity of the liquidated religious organization.
The accusation was based on a video recording of a concert program in a rented property. Giving testimony to the court, the believers explained why they strongly disagree with the charges of extremism. “I just came to spend time with my friends”, said Roman Zhivolupov. And Oleg Konshin, in turn, noted: “As you saw in the video, in a warm, friendly atmosphere, people chatted and happily demonstrated their creative abilities, staged skits, sang songs and played musical instruments. There were no calls for extremism either on my part or on the part of those present. No literature was studied nor were video recordings conducted”.
Although the prosecutor requested that the believers be sent to a penal colony for up to 6 years, the court sentenced them to non-custodial sentences. Sergey Malyanov was fined 700,000 rubles, Svetlana 545,000 rubles, Roman Zhivolupov 500,000 rubles, and Oleg Konshin 450,000 rubles. Believers have the right to appeal the verdict.
The criminal prosecution of four believers has been going on for almost four years. The Main Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Nizhny Novgorod Region initiated a case in June 2019. A month later, law enforcement officers conducted a massive raid on Jehovah's Witnesses. Oleg Konshin, Sergey and Svetlana Malyanovs spent a day in the detention center. Roman Zhivolupov became a defendant in this case a year later. The criminal case was preceded by surveillance and wiretapping, which had been conducted from 2018.
Before the verdict was passed, all four were under a recognizance agreement. Svetlana Malyanova said: “My dad and I are close friends and we always shared a lot with each other and stayed in touch. The most difficult thing for me was not having contact with him for a long time due to a measure of restraint ... Due to the pressure exerted by the officer, who informed my employer that I was under investigation, I was asked to write a letter of resignation on my own free will." In addition, the bank accounts of all the defendants in the case were blocked.
Despite what is happening, as Sergey Malyanov said, the believers “successfully battle despair, negative thoughts and self-pity.” Roman Zhivolupov recalls: “On the day of the search, we came home in the evening, and we were greeted by 15-20 of our close friends. They waited for several hours, and as soon as we arrived, they tried their best to encourage us.” The rest also noted that fellow believers provide invaluable emotional and material support.
Contrary to the decision of the Plenum of the Supreme Court, according to which the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses in itself does not have a criminal component, the courts interpret peaceful religious and friendly meetings of believers as illegal activity. In the Nizhny Novgorod Region, 16 Jehovah's Witnesses have already been accused of extremism. Nine believers were given suspended sentences ranging from 3 to 6 years.