From left to right: Vitaliy Komarov, Sergey Shatalov, Vardan Zakaryan, Yuriy Chernyshev and Ivan Chaikovskiy in the court during the appeal, April 10, 2024

Unjust Verdicts

A Court of Appeal in Moscow Upheld the Verdict of Five Jehovah's Witnesses. Believers Were Sent to a Penal Colony for Terms of Four to Six Years


On April 10, 2024, the sentence entered into force for Ivan Chaikovskiy, Yuriy Chernyshev, Vitaliy Komarov, Sergey Shatalov and Vardan Zakaryan with minor changes made by the Moscow City Court. More than 150 people came to support the believers at the courthouse, but only about 20 were allowed into the courtroom.

The criminal prosecution has been going on for about three and a half years. In November 2020, law enforcement officers staged a high-profile mass raid on the believers living in Moscow. One of them, Vardan Zakaryan, was beaten during the raid and ended up in hospital. The men were accused of organizing the activity of an extremist organization and involving others in it because of conversations about the Bible with an undercover agent who feigned interest in this book.

All five have been in custody since the announcement of the verdict on March 31, 2023. Chaikovskiy, Chernyshev, Komarov and Shatalov received six years and three months, and Zakaryan — four years and three months in a penal colony with deprivation of the right to lead or participate in the work of public organizations for three years, prohibited from participating in mass events; to report to the state agency supervising the serving a sentence twice a month, and restriction of freedom for a year. During the period of restriction of freedom, the court also banned believers from traveling outside Moscow and the Moscow Region.

Family members came to support the believers
Family members came to support the believers

"The verdict is actually a way to prohibit . . . practicing their religion, which is not banned, in a manner not prohibited by law," Ivan Chaikovskiy's lawyer said in his appeal against the verdict. The defense also emphasizes that in the case materials there is no mention of any actions containing signs of extremism.

The court of appeal panel ruled to slightly change the verdict: it allowed the convicts to choose where to live after serving the main sentence, but ordered them not to leave the boundaries of the chosen municipality for one year. In addition, the court counted Zakaryan's period of hospitalization toward his period of detention as one and a half days for one day. The periods of restriction of freedom were left unchanged.

The European Union and the United Nations have repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to stop persecuting citizens for practicing their religion, and the European Court of Human Rights has fully acquitted Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.

Case of Chaykovsky and others in Moscow

Case History
In November 2020, a large special operation took place in Moscow—22 searches in the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Vardan Zakaryan was hospitalized due to injuries inflicted by the law enforcement officers. He, Vitaliy Komarov, Yuriy Chernyshev, Ivan Сhaikovskiy and Sergey Shatalov were placed in the temporary detention facility at 38 Petrovka Street. Four of the believers were accused of organizing the activity of an extremist organization, and Zakaryan was accused of involving others in it. It is noteworthy that in 2010, Сhaikovskiy obtained compensation through the ECHR for the violation of his rights due to the illegal liquidation of the Moscow community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the winter of 2022, the case went to court. The charges were based on the testimony of the FSB agent “Makarov”, who feigned interest in the Bible. In March 2023, the court sentenced Сhaikovskiy, Komarov, Chernyshev and Shatalov to 6 years and 3 months in a penal colony; Zakaryan was sentenced to 4 years and 3 months in a penal colony. The court of appeal upheld this decision in April 2024.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Court case number:
November 24, 2020
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee for Moscow
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1), 282.2 (1.1)
Court case number:
01-0003/2023 (01-0237/2022)
Бабушкинский районный суд г. Москвы
Евгения Бабинова
Case History