Unjust Verdicts

Fined for Talking About the Bible. A Stavropol Court Convicted an 83-Year-Old Widow with a Disability

Stavropol Territory

On October 16, 2023, Stanislav Bobrovsky, judge of the Zheleznovodsk City Court of the Stavropol Territory, found Zinaida Minenko guilty of extremism and sentenced her to a fine of 330 thousand rubles. According to the judge, the elderly believer broke the law when she talked to people about the Bible.

The criminal prosecution of the believer began in November 2021 on the initiative of the investigator of the Investigative Committee Pavel Gogolin. She and several other Jehovah's Witnesses were searched. The pensioner was also taken to a garage search without being given the opportunity to eat or drink water, and then interrogated for 4 hours. As a result, the woman required emergency medical attention.

As it turned out later, the investigation considered Zinaida's conversations with people about God to be involvement in the activities of an extremist organization. These conversations were secretly recorded. After 4 months of investigation, the case was brought to court. The prosecution was based on hidden audio recordings, as well as the testimony of two secret witnesses. One of them admitted that she herself had come to the defendant to discuss the Bible. According to her, Zinaida never encouraged her to hate, but, on the contrary, taught her to treat people with love. Other prosecution witnesses admitted in court that they had testified on the basis of rumors and assumptions, and could only confirm that Minenko was one of Jehovah's Witnesses. The prosecution also presented to the court an examination of audio recordings of the woman's worship services and personal conversations on biblical topics. However, the defense drew the court's attention to the substitution of legal and religious concepts in it.

Zinaida Minenko is a visually impaired person of group I, she also has hearing problems. She was widowed in January 2020 and has lived alone ever since. The believer shared that the persecution by the authorities worsened her emotional and physical health. Despite her age and state of health, as well as the lack of evidence of guilt, the prosecutor requested a 5-year suspended sentence for her.

Speaking with her final statement, Zinaida said: "I never thought that I would sit in the dock at the age of 83, and even be charged under the article for extremism. [...] Once again, I want to emphasize that the purpose of my conversations with people was a sincere desire to share biblical hope with them; I communicated only with those people who themselves wanted to talk to me, I did not force anyone, and how can I force someone at my age. I genuinely don't understand what could be extremist about biblical advice."

In addition to Zinaida Minenko, 12 other Jehovah's Witnesses, 80 years of age or older, faced criminal prosecution for their faith. Six of them received suspended sentences.

The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation did not ban the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses as a religious denomination and did not deprive believers of the right to practice their religion. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation admitted that the Supreme Court "did not assess either the legality of the religious beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses or the ways in which they were expressed."

Case of Minenko in Zheleznovodsk

Case history
In November 2021, a criminal case was opened against Zinaida Minenko from Zheleznovodsk, a visually impaired person of group I. It was based on the pensioner’s conversations about the Bible with three people. The Investigative Committee regarded these conversations as participation in the activities of an extremist organization. Minenko’s apartment was searched, and the next day she was taken for a 4-hour interrogation. Later, the charge was reclassified from participation to involvement in the activities of an extremist organization. In early March 2022, the believer was charged and signed not to leave the place. Shortly thereafter, Minenko’s case went to court. The prosecution witness told the court that she came to Zinaida to discuss the Bible on her own initiative, “they did nothing illegal.” In October 2023, the believer was sentenced to a fine of 330 thousand rubles.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Stavropol Territory
Locality:
Zheleznovodsk
Suspected of:
"conducted religious performances and worship services [...] persuaded and involved in joining the organization by conducting conversations about the need to make voluntary contributions to the organization, which, if necessary, were intended for needy members of the banned organization"
Court case number:
12102070011010130
Initiated:
November 25, 2021
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee for the Stavropol Territory
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1.1)
Court case number:
1-3/2023 (1-76/2022)
Court of First Instance:
Железноводский городской суд Ставропольского края
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Станислав Бобровский
Background