From Husband to Wife, Father to Son: Security Forces Bring Cases Against Entire Families of Jehovah's Witnesses
Since 2018, Russian law enforcement officers have increasingly initiated criminal cases, first against one Jehovah's Witness, and then against one of his family members. By the end of November 2023, at least 71 families in 35 regions of the Russian Federation became easy prey for security forces under this scheme.
The first such case occurred in Vladivostok, when Dmitriy Barmakin was arrested. His wife Yelena was first released, threatening that she "will be next" and "will go under arrest after her husband." And so it happened: 11 months later, for her faith in God, Yelena became a defendant in a separate criminal case. Over time, the consistent persecution of relatives developed into a trend.
In most cases, investigators take as a basis the wording from the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, as well as the federal laws "On Countering Extremist Activity" and "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations". The investigation equates religious actions that are not prohibited by law (chanting, praying, reading the Bible) with extremism, calling it a "continuation" or "organization of the activities of a liquidated legal entity"—the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses or a local religious organization. At the same time, there are no facts of criminal acts and hate motives that are mandatory for qualifying as extremism in the cases. There are also no victims in the materials of these cases, nor in general there are no negative consequences for citizens or the state. Law enforcement officers focus on "evidence" of the accused's religion, which he does not hide anyway, as a result of which there is an easy opportunity to initiate cases in large numbers, especially when there are several Jehovah's Witnesses in the family.
So in the summer of 2021, the court sent Rostov resident Aleksandr Parkov to a penal colony for 6 and a half years, and his wife Galina was imprisoned conditionally for 2 years and 3 months. Major of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation I. A. Kalnitskiy attracted a married couple to the criminal case with a difference of two weeks. Galina was accused of "praying together with her husband in order to promote the activities of an extremist organization." The woman commented on this as follows: "There is a substitution of concepts: the religious life of an individual is exhibited as the activity of a banned legal entity."
In 2022, by a court decision in Saransk, two spouses, Yelena and Georgiy Nikulin, went to penal colonies for the same period of 4 years and 2 months. The investigation was conducted by E. V. Makeyev, an FSB investigator who, back in 2003—2004, was himself "interested" in the Bible and, together with his wife, attended services of Jehovah's Witnesses. All the "guilt" of believers is talk about God.
Один следователь на все дела. Амурская область
For some law enforcement officers, the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses becomes a real "gold mine". For example, in 2019-2020, FSB investigator V.S. Obukhov opened criminal cases against 5 men— Anton Olshevskiy, Sergey Yermilov, Konstantin Moiseyenko, Dmitriy Golik and Yevgeniy Bitusov. In 2021, the investigator switched to their wives—Yekaterina Olshevskaya, Valentina Yermilova, Margarita Moiseyenko, Kristina Golik—and Bitusov's elder sister, Yelena Yatsyk.
Investigator Obukhov conducts all 9 criminal cases against 23 believers from Blagoveshchensk, Belogorsk, Zeya and Tynda.
Карьерный лифт. Челябинская область
The persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses is sometimes accompanied by career advancement of investigators. For example, from 2019 to 2021, the investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Aleksandr Chepenko, brought to court 6 criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses. During this period, his rank changed from lieutenant colonel to colonel.
In total, 11 civilians aged 45 to 76 living in Chelyabinsk, Asha and Snezhinsk suffered from unjustified persecution in the region. Among them is a married couple Suvorov, who at the time of the initiation of the criminal case were already over 70. Chepenko accused Valentina of extremism for participating in a Bible reading with a group of friends. A year later, the persecution of her husband Vladimir began. He was accused of organizing meetings at which he and his wife "prayed to Jehovah God and sang religious songs."
Уголовные дела в Еврейской АО
A surge in criminal cases in Birobidzhan occurred in 2018, when security forces conducted a special operation called "Judgment Day". Mass searches were carried out in the homes of the families of Jehovah's Witnesses. For two years, FSB investigator Dmitriy Yankin investigated 11 men. But on February 6, 2020, in one day, he opened 6 criminal cases at once against their wives—Natalya Kriger, Tatyana Zagulina, Anastasiya Guzeva, Agnessa Postnikova, Anna Lokhvitskaya, as well as Artur Lokhvitsky's mother, Irina Lokhvitskaya.
On the day of Yevgeniy Yegorov's wedding, in September 2019, investigator Yankin charged the young man with extremism, and opened a criminal case against his mother, Larisa Artamonova. A day later, Yankin also opened a case against Svetlana Monis , the wife of Alam Aliyev. The total number of cases in the region reached 19, but even surveillance of believers did not record a single fact of illegal activity.
Предоставила мужу «квартиру для собрания». Пензенская область
On July 15, 2018, the Alushkins hosted guests. Suddenly, 11 armed police officers burst into the house. Vladimir was arrested and spent more than a year in custody. The investigation explained the meeting with friends as follows: Alushkin "organized a meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses at the place of his cohabitation with T. S. Alushkina," and his wife Tatyana "provided an apartment belonging to her on the right of ownership for the said meeting." Therefore, in February 2019, she also came under investigation. These arguments were enough for Judge Roman Tanchenko to separate the family by imposing severe punishment on the spouses: 6 years in prison for Vladimir and 2 years suspended sentence for Tatyana. True, the appeal replaced the real term with a suspended one.
According to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, "all activities in which Alushkin and other Jehovah's Witnesses took part are absolutely peaceful religious discussions."
От родителей к детям
In Primorye Territory, the Investigative Committee of Russia was actively engaged in the affairs of Jehovah's Witnesses. Following the above-mentioned Barmakins, Olga Opaleva, 66, from Spassk-Dalniy became accused for her faith. On the eve of the search, she had a heart attack, and later, on the way to court, a stroke. The left side of her body was paralyzed, and an electronic bracelet was put on her right leg. After 11 months, investigator E. S. Marvanyuk opened a case for his faith against her son Vitaly Ilinykh. The essence of the accusation boils down to one thing: mother and son believe in Jehovah God.
Oleg Sergeyev from Luchegorsk was prosecuted for his faith 2 years after the persecution of his father, Sergey Sergeyev, 64, began. The materials of the criminal case stated that Oleg and Sergey remained "spiritual leaders" who continued to communicate with other believers on religious topics.
In April 2019, the investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation A. Pachuyev opened a criminal case against Valentina Baranovskaya and her son Roman, accusing them of participating in and organizing the activities of an extremist organization. The search, investigation, and subsequent trial caused the elderly believer a lot of stress. Valentina had a stroke. Because of this, the trial was interrupted, but resumed about six months later. Judge Yelena Shcherbakova found the believers guilty and sentenced Roman to 6 years in prison and Valentina to 2 years. The believer, 70, became the first woman Jehovah's Witness in Russia to be sentenced to actual imprisonment. On May 4, 2022, Valentina was released. Roman continues to serve his sentence in a penal colony.
«Семейное дело» на Сахалине
In this region, three members of the Kulakov family were consistently persecuted for their Christian beliefs. First, FSB investigator D. S. Melnikov opened a case against the father of the family, Sergey, then, after 8 months, the eldest son Dmitriy was among the suspects, and after another 7 months, Sergey's wife Tatyana was also under investigation.
Преследование родственников — не-Свидетелей Иеговы. Свердловская область
This region is notorious for the fact that the prisoner of conscience at the age of 18 was a student Darya Dulova, against whom the investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation Vladimir Sudin opened a case a year after her mother Venera. After the court acquitted the defendants in the case, the Dulovs and Aleksandr Pryanikov, the same investigator opened another criminal case, adding to the participants Pryanikov's wife Anastasiya and the Zalyayev spouses. In the case of the latter, charges were also brought against Svetlana Zalyayeva's husband, who does not profess the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Родственные связи как фактор риска. Краснодарский край
In April 2020, officers from two agencies—the FSB and the Investigative Committee—raided believers in two villages, Kholmskaya and Pavlovskaya. Among the law enforcement officers involved were FSB investigator Captain of Justice O. Komissarov and investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation Lev Galustyants.
Komissarov initiated a criminal case against Aleksandr Ivshin, 62, which led to a harsh sentence of 7.5 years in prison for discussing the Bible with fellow believers via the Internet. Just a month later, Galustyants opened a criminal case against Ivshin's son-in-law, Aleksandr Nikolayev. As a result, the father of five children was separated from his family, sentenced to real imprisonment for participating in Christian worship.
Danil Suvorov, 25, from Sochi, also ended up behind bars for talking about the Bible. Six months later, his elder brother Denis became a suspect in a criminal case on the same basis. In conversations with people about the Holy Scriptures, senior investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation Andrianov saw "extremism", although the examination did not reveal anything extremist.
A similar situation was faced by the Deshko family. First, in April 2019, Yevgeniy, 30, from Smolensk was behind bars. Just a month before the verdict was passed, Yevgeniy's father, Vladimir, was also thrown into a pre-trial detention center in Sochi. Both father and son received suspended sentences for talking about the Bible.
Дети и внуки реабилитированных
The parents and grandparents of some of Jehovah's Witnesses who face persecution in modern Russia have been through repression since the days of the Soviet Union. In the 1950s, as part of Operation "North", Jehovah's Witnesses were exiled to Siberia.
Brothers Aleksandr and Mikhail Shevchuk are Jehovah's Witnesses in the fourth generation. Today they are persecuted for their beliefs in the same way as their grandparents were exiled to Siberia for their faith in God. While Aleksandr was appealing, Interior Ministry investigator V. A. Makeyeva also opened a criminal case under an extremist article against his elder brother Mikhail. She saw a crime in the friendly meetings of believers.
Viktor Ursu's father, grandfather and great-grandfather from Dzhankoy (Crimea) went through Soviet repression for their faith, and now it's Victor's turn. In July 2023, after mass searches in the homes of Jehovah's Witnesses in Crimea, he became a defendant in a criminal case on extremism.
Пропаганда и показатели
The Bagratyan family, the Avanesovs (father and son), the Ivanovs will be in penal colonies until 2024 (Olga) and 2027 (Yevgeniy). The Sushilnikovs, the Martynovs, the Verkhoturovs, the Gushchins, the Piskarevs, the Kuzos and many others. In all cases, faith in Jehovah God is always the foundation. Sometimes the reason for a criminal case is the recording of a conversation between relatives not only about God, but about the very fact of the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses.
"The "guilt" of believers is only in the fact that in the name of their religion there is the phrase "Jehovah's Witnesses", which propaganda methodically envelops with myths and conjectures about a threat to society. Although the Russian authorities have repeatedly assured that this belief is not banned, the number of criminal cases is growing, the rates of disclosure of "crimes" are increasing, but with them the lives of loved ones are collapsing," Yaroslav Sivulskiy of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses commented on the situation in Russia.