Aleksey Trofimov, Olga Panyuta, Olga Opaleva, Dmitriy Malevaniy on the day of the verdict. February 2023

Unjust Verdicts

The Primorye Territory Court Slightly Reduced the Harsh Terms of Imprisonment of Jehovah's Witnesses Convicted of Extremism

Primorye Territory

On May 3, 2023, the Primorye Territorial Court reduced the terms of punishment for residents of Spassk-Dalniy convicted for their faith by 2 months. Three believers will go to a penal colony: Dmitriy Malevaniy for 6 years 10 months, Aleksey Trofimov for 6 years 4 months and Olga Panyuta for 4 years 4 months. The suspended sentence for Olga Opaleva will be 4 years and 10 months.

Three months earlier, Pavel Bobrovich, judge of the Spassky District Court of the Primorye Territory, found these believers guilty of extremism for meeting to discuss the Bible together. In their appeal against the verdict, they pointed to significant violations of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and an erroneous approach to the consideration of the case. For example, the court of first instance came to the conclusion that believers did not have the right to worship together, but only individually. This position contradicts the statement of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

To find a person guilty of extremism, the prosecution must establish and prove the motive of hatred or enmity. Neither this nor any other specific extremist actions of the defendants are found in the case materials.

The defendants emphasize that their activities have nothing to do with crime. “Hatred, enmity and violence are incompatible with my views. I respect representatives of other religions and nationalities. They convicted me just for believing in God, which is a violation of the norms of Russian and international law,” 71-year-old Olga Opaleva said in court.

The convicted persons have the right to appeal against the appeal decision in the cassation procedure. Dmitriy Malevaniy, 33, Aleksey Trofimov, 64, and Olga Panyuta, 63, remain in custody and are awaiting transfer to a penal colony.

The criminal prosecution of believers from Spassk-Dalniy began in November 2018. As in many other cases, from searches. After these, the believers were sent to a temporary detention center, and then under house arrest for almost a year. The day before the search, Olga Opaleva suffered a heart attack, and a year later, a stroke.

In total, 51 Jehovah's Witnesses have already faced prosecution for their faith in Primorye Territory and have become defendants in 21 criminal cases. Suspended sentences have already been given to 21 believers, including Vitaliy Ilinykh, the son of Olga Opaleva.

According to the decision of the RF Supreme Court, the letter of the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the decision of the Plenum of the RF Supreme Court, after the liquidation of legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses, the participation of believers in peaceful worship should not be considered a crime.

Case of Malevaniy and Others in Spassk-Dalny

Case history
In the fall of 2018, searches were carried out in Spassk-Dalny at the homes of Dmitry Malevany, Alexei Trofimov, Olga Panyuta, Olga Opaleva and their fellow believers. The reason for the persecution of civilians was their faith in Jehovah God. The believers were accused of organizing the activities of an extremist organization and involving others in it. The case is based on the testimony of secret witnesses “Sidorova” and “Ivanova”, who monitored the believers on instructions from the FSB. On the eve of the search, Olga Opaleva suffered a heart attack, and later, on the way to court, a stroke. The four believers spent a year under house arrest, and since November 2019 they have been under a recognizance agreement. In December 2019, the case went to court. In February 2023, the believers were sentenced: Dmitry Malevanoy was given 7 years in a penal colony, Alexey Trofimov  6.5 years in prison, Olga Panyuta - 4.5 years in prison, and Olga Opaleva - 5 years suspended. The appeal reduced each of these terms by two months, the cassation supported this decision.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Primorye Territory
Locality:
Spassk-Dalny
Suspected of:
according to the investigation, together with others he conducted religious services, which is interpreted as organising the activity of an extremist organisation (with reference to the decision of the Russian Supreme Court on the liquidation of all 396 registered organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses)
Court case number:
11802050020000065
Initiated:
November 12, 2018
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Investigative Department of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the Primorskiy Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1), 282.2 (1.1)
Court case number:
1-4/2023 (1-4/2022; 1-7/2021; 1-70/2020; 1-570/2019)
Court of First Instance:
Спасский районный суд Приморского края
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Павел Бобрович
Background