Anton Virich in the courtroom, April 2024

Unjust Verdicts

A Court in Primorye Territory Sent Anton Virich, One of Jehovah's Witnesses, to a Penal Colony for Six Years

Primorye Territory

On April 25, 2024, in Luchegorsk, the Pozharsky District Court of the Primorye Territory convicted yet another Jehovah's Witness. Judge Vera Novogradskaya sentenced Anton Virich, 44, to 6 years and 2 months of imprisonment for discussing the Bible with fellow believers.

In July 2023, Anton Virich was detained by law enforcement officers. He was placed in a pre-trial detention center, where he remained until the verdict was passed.

The court has been considering the case of organizing the activity of an extremist organization since October 2023. The materials only contain information that Virich practices the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, but there is no information that he committed any specific crimes. Speaking in defense of the accused, the lawyer said: "The actions common for every believer become a crime, in the opinion of the state prosecution. This results in 'double standards': you can believe in God but not everyone and not everywhere; if you belong to the religion of a minority, your constitutional right under Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation does not apply."

The analysis of four expert opinions showed that they were drawn up in violation of the law, for example, documents proving the education of the experts were lacking and the religious study research methods that allow the validity and reliability of the conclusions to be verified were not indicated.

The lawyer also referred to the conclusion of the expert council under the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, which states that in doctrinal documents of Jehovah's Witnesses none of the following were found: calls for violent change of the foundations of the constitutional order or violation of the integrity of the Russian Federation, calls for violence, incitement of social, racial, national and religious hatred, refusal to fulfill civil duties established by law, nor other illegal actions.

Addressing the court in his final statement, Anton Virich emphasized: "Having heard all the materials of the prosecution, which were contained in 15 volumes, and having heard the testimony of witnesses, all the persons present here were convinced that there was not a single piece of evidence confirming what I am accused of. [. . .] The case materials contain only speculations and assumptions." In conclusion, he asked the court to take into account the advanced age of his parents: "If I am really given a prison term, as the prosecution requested, 6 years and 6 months, then, I most likely will never see my parents again and, I would not be able to provide them with the help they might need."

In the Primorye Territory, 58 civilians practicing the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses have already been subjected to unjustified criminal prosecution. Four of them are over 80 years old. The European Court of Human Rights, having analyzed the charges against Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, concluded that the rights of the believers were violated: "It is undeniable that all religious meetings were peaceful in nature and could hardly pose a threat or cause a violation of public order (paragraph 11)."

Case of Virich in Luchegorsk

Case History
In July 2023, Anton Virich’s car was stopped by traffic police officers in the Krasnoyarsk Territory. At the same time, he learned that back in 2021 he became a defendant in a criminal case for organizing the activity of an extremist organization and was put on the wanted list. He was detained and subsequently moved several times to pre-trial detention centers in different cities. In October 2023, the case was submitted to the Pozharsky District Court of the Primorye Territory in Luchegorsk. The prosecutor requested 6.5 years in a penal colony for Virich. In April 2024, the believer was sentenced to 6 years and 2 months in a penal colony.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Primorye Territory
Court case number:
February 11, 2022
Current case stage:
verdict did not take effect
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-37/2024 (1-217/2023)
Court of First Instance:
Пожарский районный суд Приморского края
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Вера Новоградская
Case History