The Case of Aliyev and Others in Birobidzhan

Case History

In May 2018, in the city of Birobidzhan a special FSB operation with the participation of 150 security officials, code-named "Judgement Day", took place. More than 20 families of Jehovah's Witnesses have become victims of criminal prosecution, including Alam Aliyev,Valeriy Kriger, Sergey Shulyarenko, and Dmitriy Zagulin. The believers were charged with holding meetings for worship, which the investigation deemed to be the organizing the activity of an extremist organization and financing it. They spent more than 5 months in pretrial detention. In November 2020, the case went to court. The hearings lasted more than 2 years, and in December 2022, the court sentenced Zagulin to 3 years and 6 months, Aliyev to 6 years and 6 months, and Shulyarenko and Kriger to 7 years in a penal colony. The court of appeal confirmed the terms of Zagulin and Aliyev, and reduced those of Shulyarenko and Krieger by 3 months. The court of cassation upheld the verdict in March 2024. The wives of three of the convicts were also prosecuted: Svetlana Monis, Tatyana Zagulina and Natalya Kriger. In September 2023, Sergey Shulyarenko's wedding took place in the penal colony.

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    May 14, 2018

    The Investigative Department of the Federal Security Service of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region is initiating a criminal case for faith under Articles 282.2 (1), 282.2 (2), 282.3 (1) against Alam Aliyev, Valery Krieger, Sergey Shulyarenko, Dmitry Zagulin and Konstantin Guzev. According to the investigation, together with others, they held worship services, which is interpreted as "organizing the activities of an extremist organization" (with reference to the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to liquidate all 396 registered organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses).

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    May 17, 2018 Search

    A large-scale operation codenamed "Judgment Day" is underway in Birobidzhan with the participation of 150 security officials. During searches, all electronic devices, bank cards, money, and photographs are seized from the homes of citizens, even broken ones. Alam Aliyev is being detained. He is charged under Article 282.2 (Part 1) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation – "organizing the activities of an extremist organization".

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    May 25, 2018

    The court of the Jewish Autonomous Region, chaired by Judge Angela Sizova, issues a decision "to release Alam Aliyev from custody immediately in the courtroom." The measure of restraint is replaced by a written undertaking not to leave.

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    November 8, 2018

    V.V. Bryantsev, Deputy Head of the Investigative Directorate of the FSB Directorate for the Jewish Autonomous Region, initiates a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282.2, Part 1 of Article 282.3 against Valery Krieger. He is under investigation as part of the Alam Aliyev case.

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    March 6, 2019

    The Investigative Department of the FSB Directorate for the Jewish Autonomous Region is initiating a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282.3 of the Criminal Code against D.N. Zagulin. On the same day, a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation was initiated against Sergey Shulyarenko. He is under investigation as part of the Aliyev case.

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    March 19, 2019

    Decision to bring Sergey Shulyarenko as an accused.

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    March 21, 2019

    Resolution on the election of Sergei Shulyarenko as a preventive measure in the form of a written undertaking not to leave.

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    March 25, 2019

    Decision to prosecute D. Zagulin as a defendant under Part 1 of Article 282.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    April 1, 2019

    Seizure of funds of Zagulin D.

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    April 2, 2019

    Decision on the election of Zagulin D. a measure of restraint in the form of a written undertaking not to leave the place.

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    July 29, 2019

    The Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates the 2nd criminal case in Birobidzhan for faith under Article 282.2 (2) - against Yevgeny Yegorov. According to reports, the case was separated from the case file against Alam Aliyev.

    On the same day, the 3rd criminal case under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation was initiated against Konstantin Guzev. The investigation is being conducted within the framework of the Alam Aliyev case.

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    July 30, 2019

    The Federal Security Service of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates the 4th criminal case in Birobidzhan for faith under Article 282.2 (2) - against Igor Tsarev.

    On the same day, the Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates the 5th criminal case in Birobidzhan for faith under Article 282.2 (2) - against Yevgeny Golik. According to available data, both cases are separated from the case file against Alam Aliyev.

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    July 31, 2019

    The Federal Security Service of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates the 6th criminal case in Birobidzhan for faith under Article 282.2 (2) - against Arthur Lokhvitsky. According to reports, the case was separated from the case file against Alam Aliyev.

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    September 25, 2019

    The Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates the 7th criminal case in Birobidzhan for faith under Article 282.2 (2) - against Larisa Artamonova. According to reports, the case was separated from the case file against Alam Aliyev.

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    September 26, 2019

    The Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates the 8th criminal case in Birobidzhan for faith under Article 282.2 (2) against Svetlana Monis. According to reports, the case was separated from the case file against Alam Aliyev.

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    September 29, 2019

    The Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates the 9th criminal case in Birobidzhan for faith under Article 282.2 (2) - against Yelena Reyno-Chernyshova. According to reports, the case was separated from the case file against Alam Aliyev.

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    October 10, 2019

    The Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates the 10th criminal case in Birobidzhan for faith under Article 282.2 (2) - against Yulia Kaganovich. According to reports, the case was separated from the case file against Alam Aliyev.

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    November 20, 2019

    The Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates the 11th criminal case for faith in Birobidzhan under Article 282.2 (2) - against Anastasia Sycheva. According to reports, the case was separated from the case file against Alam Aliyev.

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    February 6, 2020

    During the day, D. Yankin, a senior investigator-criminalist of the investigation department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region, initiates six criminal cases at once against Natalia Kriger (born in 1979), Irina Lokhvitskaya (born in 1962), Anna Lokhvitskaya (born in 1993), Tatyana Scholner (born in 1993), Tatyana Zagulina (born in 1984) and Anastasia Guzeva (born in 1978) under the same article - part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Three of them already have husbands involved in a similar article.

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    February 12, 2020

    FSB investigator D. Yankin opens a criminal case against 44-year-old Andrey Gubin (part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), and his colleague I. Fedorov against 55-year-old Oleg Postnikov (part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Now the number of criminal cases in Birobidzhan reaches 19.

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    April 6, 2020

    D. S. Yankin, FSB investigator, notifies about the suspension of the preliminary investigation (due to quarantine measures).

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    June 17, 2020

    The acquaintance of the accused with the case materials has been resumed.

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    November 16, 2020

    The criminal case against Alam Aliyev, Dmitry Zagulin, Valery Kriger and Sergey Shulyarenko is submitted to the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region. All four are chosen as a measure of restraint in the form of a written undertaking not to leave and proper behavior.

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    November 30, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The judge of the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region, Yana Olegovna Vladimirova, appoints a closed court session without holding preliminary hearings in the case of Alam Aliyev, Dmitry Zagulin, Sergey Shulyarenko and Valery Kriger on December 14, 2020 at 10:30. The measure of restraint for believers was left unchanged.

    Yana Vladimirova was appointed to the position of judge in September 2020.

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    December 14, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The hearing scheduled for this day is postponed due to the fact that the defendant Aliyev fell ill, presumably, with covid. The court sends the request to the hospital.

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    December 25, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The judge of the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region, Yana Vladimirova, despite the objections of the state prosecutor, suspends the criminal proceedings against Alam Aliyev, Dmitry Zagulin, Sergey Shulyarenko and Valery Kriger in connection with the deterioration of Alam Aliyev's health.

    With respect to all defendants, the measure of restraint in the form of a written undertaking not to leave and proper behavior remains.

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    March 9, 2021

    The court begins to familiarize itself with the materials of the criminal case. Volumes 1 and 2 are studied, each of which contains more than 200 pages.

    The judge grants Alam Aliyev's request for breaks every 45 minutes due to poor health.

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    April 9, 2021

    The hearing is held behind closed doors, although the subpoenas sent to the defendants indicate the opposite. Judge Yana Vladimirova does not satisfy the request to hold an open hearing.

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    April 16, 2021

    The judge rejects the petition for his recusal, the process continues in the same composition.

    Participants in the process proceed to listen to recordings of telephone conversations obtained as a result of operational-search activities.

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    June 7, 2021

    The court continues to listen to recordings of telephone conversations. Alam Aliyev draws attention to the fact that these negotiations were made before the decision of the Supreme Court of April 20, 2017 and cannot be used as evidence of his guilt.

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    June 29, 2021

    A video is being watched, where people can be seen entering the courtyard of the worship building. Alam Aliyev notes that they do not commit anything illegal on these recordings.

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    July 19, 2021

    The court concludes its acquaintance with the 18th volume of the criminal case. In total, the court examined about 4,000 pages.

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    July 26, 2021

    The meeting was postponed due to the illness of Sergei Shulyarenko. The next hearing is scheduled for September 20.

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    November 23, 2021

    Dmitry Zagulin, as usual, was scheduled to take up work on the night shift at the Birobidzhan I (II) railway station of Russian Railways. On the same day, he learns that he has been fired. The reason for his dismissal was the inclusion of information about him as an extremist in the Rosfinmonitoring database, although the verdict against him has not yet been passed. Dmitry intends to appeal the decision on dismissal in court.

    Although Dmitry has a railway education, he is forced to register with the employment center so as not to be left without a livelihood.

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    February 2, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Defendant Alam Aliyev is filing a motion to postpone the trial due to the risk of covid infection. He explains that he has chronic diseases that may be exacerbated by the virus, and he will also have surgery. However, the prosecutor objects, pointing out that the believer is not 60, but 59 years old, and recalls that anti-COVID events are being held in the courtroom.

    The court satisfies the prosecutor's objection and rejects the petition, advising the believer to wear gloves in addition to the mask. Documents on the appointment of a planned operation to Alam Aliyev are attached to the case materials.

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    February 10, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The case materials from volumes 42 to 44 are read out. Alam Aliyev claims that the investigation misleads the court by substituting the concept of "believers" with "members of a local religious organization."

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    March 16, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Alam Aliyev is applying for permission to travel to Khabarovsk for a planned operation. The materials of the 66th volume of the case are read out.

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    March 21, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court is considering a petition filed at the last meeting for Aliyev's hospitalization in Khabarovsk. The prosecutor objects, arguing that the operation is planned, not emergency. The court perceives this circumstance as an attempt to delay the process and leaves the petition unsatisfied.

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    April 27, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Over the course of four sessions, the court examines various files from CDs and DVDs containing materials of operational-search activities (ORM), and files seized during the search of Sergei Shulyarenko.

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    May 4, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor continues to present evidence.

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    May 5–26, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The discs of the ORM and the correspondence of Alam Aliyev with fellow believers are viewed. The prosecutor says he is completing the examination of the evidence.

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    June 6, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Dmitry Zagulin, Sergey Shulyarenko and Alam Aliyev provide the court with references from places of work, as well as medical certificates on the state of health.
    Valery Krieger requests an examination of the evidence in the case, in particular the Opinions of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regarding Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.

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    June 8, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Witnesses are being questioned by the defense. One of them states,

    that he worked with Aliyev at the same enterprise for 8 years, characterizes him positively and says that he has not heard extremist statements from him.

    Father Sergei Shulyarenko is being interrogated. He gives him a positive characterization and confirms that his son never called for illegal actions.

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    June 14, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A relative and acquaintance of Valery Krieger is being interrogated. They characterize it positively.

    Sergei Shulyarenko reads out a motion for an open hearing. The prosecutor objected, referring to similar motions that had been previously rejected. Judge Yana Vladimirova agrees with the prosecutor's opinion.

    The court does not satisfy Aliyev's petition to include in the case file the decision of the ECHR, in which the liquidation of legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia was declared illegal.

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    16 June—12 July 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    During four sessions, the court gets acquainted with the video files seized from the defendants.

    The court is reviewing Sergey Shulyarenko's file titled "Can Biblical Principles Help Solve Today's Problems?" Shulyarenko also provides for viewing the video "True Christians are recognized by love."

    Then the court proceeds to view the video recordings provided by Dmitry Zagulin. He gives brief explanations on them - the videos contain religious teachings without signs of extremism and are not a meeting of the LRO and the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Valery Kriger provides the court with videos titled "What is it: love or falling in love?" and "How to communicate with parents?". As well as the articles "Did Jesus Die on the Cross?" and "What Is God's Name?", as well as other similar materials. The defendant explains that they refer to religious teachings and do not contain extremist statements.

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    July 19, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Sergey Shulyarenko draws the court's attention to the fact that most of the seized literature belongs to the owners of the rented apartment. In addition, these publications are not on the list of extremist materials.

    The court rejects Alam Aliyev's petition to be included in the case file "The Russian Foreign Ministry's Response to Yakku's Letter" as irrelevant to this case.

    Alam Aliyev cannot proceed to the examination of the material evidence seized during the search, as they cannot be found.

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    July 26, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Sergey Shulyarenko asks the court to include acquittals of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. The prosecutor objects, and the judge does not grant the petition filed.

    The judge also rejects Valery Krieger's motion to examine and admit the written evidence of the defense.

    Material evidence seized from Alam Aliyev was found. At the next hearing, the court plans to examine them.

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    November 9, 2022 Prosecutor requested punishment

    The prosecutor asks for 4 to 9 years in prison for believers and asks to take them into custody in the courtroom.

    Alim Aliyev – 6 years and 5 months in prison with a ban on holding leadership positions for 4 years and 6 months, 1 year of restriction of freedom.

    Valery Krieger was sentenced to 9 years in prison with a ban on holding leadership positions for 4 years and 6 months, and 1 year of restriction of liberty.

    Sergey Shulyarenko was sentenced to 9 years in prison with a ban on holding leadership positions for 4 years and 6 months, and 1 year of restriction of freedom.

    Dmitry Zagulin was sentenced to 4 years in prison.

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    November 14, 2022 Closing arguments for the defense

    "If we believed in God 'silently,' we wouldn't go anywhere... the case against us would not have been brought," Valery Kriger said in the debate. "In other words, if we stopped believing in God, stopped being Christians, then we wouldn't be persecuted."

    The believer makes an overview of the legal norms according to which his religious activities were within the law. In particular, he refutes in detail the accusation of financing extremism. Valery explains: "Collecting donations is also an important aspect of freedom of religion, guaranteed by Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, since without financial resources, religious associations may not be able to provide religious services or ensure their survival."

    The believer emphasizes that according to the materials of the case, the collection of money was carried out by a religious group, and not by a legal entity; Funds were raised for domestic needs, such as paying for gasoline, buying food. At the same time, they were not transferred in favor of liquidated legal entities.

    "My actions are consistent with the confession of the Christian faith, are exclusively peaceful in nature and do not indicate the presence of hatred or enmity," the defendant declares.

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    November 24, 2022 Closing arguments for the defense

    Alam Aliyev and Dmitry Zagulin speak in the debate. They focus the court's attention on the lack of evidence of their guilt.

    Aliyev says: "I and the other defendants in this criminal case did not commit extremist actions, for which legal entities were liquidated. None of us was even accused of 'mass distribution of knowingly extremist materials.'"

    Alam Aliyev pays special attention to the decision of the European Court of Justice of 07.06.2022, which acquitted Jehovah's Witnesses and ordered the Russian Federation to stop criminal prosecution of believers and pay them compensation, including Alam Aliyev. The defendant continues: "Taking into account the fact that I was an applicant before the European Court in this case, his decision must certainly be taken into account when sentencing me." Aliyev also notes that the main witness for the prosecution, police officer Yulia Zvereva, admitted that he did not call for either the overthrow of the government or extremist actions, thereby the witness unwittingly denied the accusation.

    Dmitry Zagulin says: "The text of the accusation is not specific. There are no factual circumstances, but only bare legal constructions: 'illegal activity', 'illegal religious event', 'illegal religious meeting', 'expenditure and transfer of funds'". Regarding the accusation of funding, the believer states: "Donations have always been an integral part of the exercise of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. There is no evidence that would confirm that a specific amount of money was used or planned to be used to commit extremist activities."

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    November 28, 2022 Final statement

    Alam Aliyev and Dmitry Zagulin deliver their closing remarks.

    "I am not ashamed to suffer for my Christian beliefs. Even if the word 'extremist' is repeatedly addressed to me, even if my name is added to the shameful list of extremists and terrorists, it will never become true," Alam Aliyev said.

    "[Jehovah's Witnesses], living according to God's commandments, try to change for the better by encouraging others to do the same. Accusing them of extremism is absurd!" – Dmitry Zagulin.

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    December 16, 2022 Final statement

    Valery Kriger and Sergey Shulyarenko make their final statement. They explain that extremism in any of its manifestations is alien to them.

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    December 19, 2022 First Instance Sentence

    Judge Yana Vladimirova delivers a guilty verdict. Believers are taken into custody in the courtroom and placed in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Birobidzhan at 4 Karl Marx Street. They can write letters.

    Dmitriy Zagulin was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in a general regime colony.

    The judge sentences Alam Aliyev to 6 years and 6 months in a general regime colony with deprivation of the right to engage in activities related to leadership and participation in public organizations for a period of 3 years and 6 months, with restriction of liberty for 1 year.

    Valery Kriger was sentenced to 7 years in a general regime colony with deprivation of the right to engage in activities related to leadership and participation in public organizations for a period of 4 years, with restriction of liberty for 1 year.

    The court also sentences Sergey Shulyarenko to 7 years in a general regime colony with deprivation of the right to engage in activities related to leadership and participation in public organizations for a period of 4 years, with restriction of liberty for 1 year.

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    February 21–22, 2023 Detention center

    The judge gives close relatives of Aliyev, Zagulin, Kriger and Shulyarenko permission for short-term visits. At present, all believers are receiving prescribed treatment. They also receive regular letters of support. All are kept in solitary confinement.

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    March 16, 2023 Detention center

    Alam Aliyev, Dmitry Zagulin, Sergey Shulyarenko and Valery Kriger feel fine and continue to receive the necessary medicines regularly. Believers are held in solitary confinement.

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    June 1, 2023 Transfer of a prisoner Life in prison

    Alam Aliyev, Valery Krieger, Sergey Shulyarenko and Dmitry Zagulin are taken to correctional colony No. 8 in Blagoveshchensk to serve their sentences.

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    September 27, 2023 Life in prison
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    October 11, 2023 Life in prison Health risk

    Alam Aliyev is in a pre-infarction condition, but despite this, he is placed in a punishment cell for the second time. Previously, he was sent there for a week, now - for two. The colony staff took personal copies of Bibles from Alam, Valery, Sergey and Dmitry.

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    October 20, 2023 Life in prison Medical treatment within the Federal Penitentiary Service Elderly

    Alam Aliyev is transferred to a hospital at SIZO-1 in Blagoveshchensk. Before that, the believer, who suffers from a number of serious illnesses, spent 10 days in a punishment cell.

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    December 25, 2023 Transfer of a prisoner Life in prison

    Alam Aliyev is being transferred from the Blagoveshchensk pre-trial detention center to correctional colony No. 8, where the rest of the defendants in this criminal case are serving their sentences for their faith.

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    March 22, 2024 Life in prison Letters Health risk

    Alam Aliyev and Valery Kriger characterize the attitude of the administration and the convicts as good. Aliyev is worried about cardiovascular diseases, and the prescribed medications do not help.

    Believers support each other, play chess, read the Bible and other books, which helps them to look at their circumstances more calmly. A great support for Valery are meetings with his wife.

    For a month now, men have not received emails, but those sent by regular mail sometimes arrive.

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    March 27, 2024 Court of Cassation Art. 282.2 (1) Art. 282.3 (1) Health risk Prosecution of several family members Deprivation of liberty
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    April 11, 2024 Life in prison Punishment cell

    Alam Aliyev is placed in a punishment cell for the third time, now for 14 days. A long visit with his wife scheduled for April is canceled.

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    May 13, 2024 Health risk Punishment cell
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    June 21, 2024 Life in prison Punishment cell

    There are reports that for unknown reasons, Alam Aliyev was again sent to the punishment cell for 14 days.