Case of Yavushkin and Bondarchuk in Kemerovo

Case History

In January 2018, mass searches were carried out in the homes of civilians in Kemerovo. A year and a half later, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against Sergei Yavushkin and Alexander Bondarchuk. They were accused of participating in the activities of an extremist organization and financing it, the reason for which was the conversations of men with people about God and meetings with fellow believers. The believers were sent to a temporary detention facility for 2 days, and then under house arrest, where they spent 700 days each. As a result, Sergey and Alexander lost their jobs. Their property was seized. While in the temporary detention facility, Sergey was subjected to psychological pressure and ended up in the hospital with a stroke. In April 2020, the case went to court. The accusation was mainly based on the testimony of a witness who kept a secret record of worship. In June 2021, the court sentenced the believers to 4 years of probation. The appeal and cassation upheld the verdict. In September 2023, Sergey Yavushkin received parole.

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    January 23, 2018

    In Kemerovo, mass searches are being carried out in 12 houses of peaceful believers. The apartments are invaded by employees of the SOBR, the National Guard and the Investigative Committee. In some cases, the security forces behave aggressively. Electronic devices and personal belongings are seized from believers.

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    July 18, 2019

    The Office of the Investigative Committee for the Kemerovo Region initiates a criminal case for faith under Article 282.2 (2). According to investigators, local residents communicated with others about God and gathered with fellow believers, which, according to investigators, is "a continuation of the activities of the liquidated religious organization." Innocent victims of law enforcement officers are: Alexander Bondarchuk (born in 1974), Sergey Yavushkin (born in 1960). The case is assigned No. 11902320035000583.

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    July 22, 2019

    At 6 a.m., employees of the Investigative Committee again invaded the apartments of Bondarchuk and Yavushkin with a search and detained them. Electronic devices were seized. The case of believers is handled by Mikhail Nikitin, Senior Investigator for Particularly Important Cases.

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    July 23, 2019

    Sergey Yavushkin is charged with committing a crime under Article 282.2, Part 2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and is interrogated as an accused. The wives of Bondarchuk and Yavushkin are being interrogated.

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    July 24, 2019

    Investigator Nikitin receives calls from the employers of both believers asking them to release them, as they are indispensable workers. Sergey Yavushkin, according to the chief, is "the best locksmith," and the courthouse may be left without heating if he is not released.

    In the Central District Court of Kemerovo, a meeting is being held to elect a measure of restraint. About 40 people are present at the hearing. Aleksandr Bondarchuk and Sergey Yavushkin are elected a measure of restraint in the form of house arrest for a period of 2 months. The believers intend to appeal the court's decision.

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    July 26, 2019 Search
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    July 29, 2019

    Natalia Naumova, a judge of the Kemerovo Central District Court, seizes Sergey Yavushkin's car "in order to ensure the execution of the court verdict in terms of property penalties in the form of a fine as a criminal punishment."

    A similar decision is made by the court in relation to Aleksandr Bondarchuk.

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    August 5, 2019

    The court seizes the property of believers. They will appeal the decision.

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    August 8, 2019

    The Court of Appeal upholds the measure of restraint in the form of house arrest for a period of 2 months.

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    August 22, 2019

    Sergey Yavushkin is very worried about the criminal prosecution, and his health condition is deteriorating sharply. He is taken to the hospital by ambulance. The tracking bracelet on Sergey's leg greatly complicates the work of doctors. With great difficulty, it is possible to convince investigator Nikitin to allow the electronic bracelet to be removed in order to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of the patient. Sergey is undergoing treatment in the department for stroke patients.

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    September 13, 2019

    In a closed session, the court extends Bondarchuk's and Yavushkin's measure of restraint in the form of house arrest for 2 months. Sergey is forced to attend court despite his poor health.

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    October 4, 2019

    The judge again decides to seize Sergey's property, despite the fact that the appellate instance had previously overturned a similar decision. The believer intends to appeal this decision as well.

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    October 16, 2019

    The court again decides to arrest the property of Alexander Bondarchuk, although the previous similar decision was overturned by the appellate court. The believer prepares an appeal.

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    December 13, 2019

    The Central District Court of Kemerovo extends the measure of restraint in the form of house arrest for another 3 months. Only close relatives are allowed into the courtroom. About 30 people come to support Alexander and Sergey, but they are allowed only into the corridor.

    The believers intend to appeal the court's decision.

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    January 9, 2020

    Tatyana Yavushkina, Sergey's wife, was hospitalized due to nervous and emotional strain due to her husband's criminal prosecution. Sergey himself also continues to undergo treatment in the hospital.

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    January 13, 2020

    Investigator for especially important cases Nikitin initiates a new criminal case against Bondarchuk and Yavushkin under Part 1 of Article 282.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (financing of extremist activities). The joint criminal case retains the previous 11902320035000583 number.

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    March 2020

    Yavushkin and Bondarchuk sign a waiver of a preliminary hearing in their criminal case. All court hearings are postponed for 3 weeks due to the coronavirus epidemic.

    The prosecutor's office is ready to bring charges.

    Sergey Yavushkin's health condition continues to deteriorate.

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    April 10, 2020

    The judge of the Zavodsky District Court of Kemerovo, Vera Ulyanyuk, decides to extend the measure of restraint in the form of house arrest to Alexander Bondarchuk and Sergey Yavushkin for 6 months. Believers are required to remain under house arrest until the end of June 2020.

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    June 15, 2020

    The Zavodskiy District Court shall hold a hearing on the merits of the case in the absence of the audience. A representative of the Public Prosecutor's Office reads out the indictment. Believers express their attitude to the accusation, rejecting involvement in extremist activities.

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    June 22, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    In connection with the epidemic of coronavirus infection, the session of the Zavodsky District Court of the city of Kemerovo is held without listeners. Prosecution witnesses testify. Dmitry Vladimirov, a clergyman of the Russian Orthodox Church, says that after the liquidation of the legal entity, he did not see how Jehovah's Witnesses continued their activities.

    Yulia Anulyeva, a representative of the Kemerovo Region Department of the Ministry of Justice, explains that the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses is not prohibited.

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    June 29, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    15 people come to the courthouse to support Sergey Yavushkin and Alexander Bondarchuk. Due to the epidemiological situation, only the wives of the accused are allowed to attend the hearing.

    The court is questioning prosecution witnesses who point to the respectful attitude of Jehovah's Witnesses to the state and note that they have never heard calls against the authorities. They also note that believers did not exert pressure on others to make certain decisions. One witness states that he did not say much of what is stated in the interrogation protocol.

    One of the prosecution witnesses, Olga Petrova, speaks negatively about the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, while noting that she "did not really delve into" what was happening at the services and "did not really listen."

    Judge Vera Ulyanyuk attaches the Decision of the UN Working Group to the case. The prosecutor did not object and requested that the consideration of the document be postponed for review.

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    July 9, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court refuses to satisfy the request for mitigation of the measure of restraint on the basis of the decision of the UN working group attached to the case. It states that Jehovah's Witnesses have nothing to do with extremism and calls for an end to criminal prosecution of believers. The defendants intend to appeal the refusal.

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    August 19, 2020

    During the examination, doctors find traces of a stroke suffered a year ago in 60-year-old Sergey Yavushkin (at that time he was subjected to psychological pressure from law enforcement officers in the temporary detention facility).

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    September 14, 2020

    At the meeting of the Zavodsky District Court, prosecution witness Vadim Shiller, an expert of the Council for State Religious Expertise of the Department of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation for the Kemerovo Region, is being interrogated. Schiller does not agree that the Witnesses' belief in the truth of their religion can be invoked as an accusation, since representatives of other religions hold a similar position. He also notes that he has not seen any calls for extremism in the literature of the Witnesses. A manifestation of extremism, according to the expert, is the use of the Bible by believers in the New World Translation. At the same time, however, he notes that this edition is not fundamentally different from other translations of the Bible. It turns out that the competence of an expert is not enough to see the difference between the meetings of fellow believers and the work of a local religious organization (LRO).

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    September 21, 2020

    The Zavodsky District Court of Kemerovo is deciding on the extension of the preventive measure for Alexander Bondarchuk and Sergey Yavushkin. Judge Vera Ulyanyuk extends his house arrest until December 31, 2020. They were denied a request to increase the duration of their walks, but their radius was increased to 300 meters. In addition, from now on they are allowed to communicate with their own children and grandchildren.

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    January 11, 2021

    Interrogation of defense witnesses. A total of 6 people with different religious views, including colleagues and neighbors, who characterize the defendants exclusively on the positive side, were questioned. They explain that neither Bondarchuk nor Yavushkin spoke insultingly about other religions, did not talk about the superiority of their religion or nationality, did not impose their religion, did not conflict with others, did not call for the severing of family ties, did not speak disrespectfully towards the state, did not refuse medical care and did not call on others to do so.

    "I can't say a single bad word about your whole family. Very responsive. They always come to the rescue," said one of the witnesses in response to a request from Sergei Yavushkin to describe his family.

    "Oleksandr [Bondarchuk] is very responsible, executive. Relations with colleagues at work are good. I have never noticed any aggression, nothing like that, "said Bondarchuk's boss.

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    January 18, 2021

    At the request of the defense, Judge Vera Ulyanyuk attaches to the case file the resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

    Interrogation of defense witnesses. All 9 people confirm that they have never heard from Bondarchuk and Yavushkin calls for extremism and undermining the constitutional order or negative statements about state power. Also, according to witnesses, the defendants never demonstrated the superiority of their religion and did not force others to talk about biblical topics. "A person chooses what he wants," added one of the witnesses.

    Aleksandr Bondarchuk's mother-in-law, who does not adhere to his religious beliefs, refutes the accusation of inciting the severance of family ties. She speaks warmly of her son-in-law and notes the beneficial influence of the Bible on her daughter's family life.

    An employee of Yavushkin notes: "I have never met a more loyal and friendly person."

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    January 24, 2021

    Due to quarantine measures, only the wives of the defendants are allowed to attend the hearing.

    Sergey Yavushkin testifies. The criminal case against the believers is based on the testimony of a prosecution witness who has attended Jehovah's Witnesses services since 2016. As it turned out later, since the spring of 2017, the witness had been covertly filming the services, cooperating with the investigating authorities. Sergey Yavushkin draws the court's attention to the fact that most of the witness's testimonies are false and contradict each other. The believer notes: "The worst thing is that these testimonies had a negative impact on the course of the investigation, and, unfortunately, can negatively affect the court's decision."

    Sergey Yavushkin draws the court's attention to the fact that he has never been a member of the LRO and has not received any material benefit from his fellow believers. "I worked for 40 years at state enterprises," says the believer, "I worked as an electric and gas welder, earned a pension, and I can say with confidence that I never lived at the expense of anyone, and did not receive money, except for my earnings at my place of work. [...] I tried to do only good and did not call on anyone to violate the rights and freedoms of others, also tried to work honestly, never took part in protests against the government, did not participate in strikes and did not support such events, and, moreover, did not act against the constitutional order.

    Judge Vera Ulyanyuk grants the defendants' request to watch the film "Alternatives to Blood Transfusion", as lawyers believe that it contains information in favor of the clients.

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    February 8, 2021

    5 listeners are allowed to attend the meeting. Aleksandr Bondarchuk testifies. He briefly explains what Jehovah's Witnesses believe and shows the incompatibility of these views with extremism: "For me, as a Christian, offensive speech is unacceptable, especially, as follows from the indictment, 'incitement of religious discord, propaganda of exclusivity.'"

    Bondarchuk draws attention to the fact that the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation did not ban the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, and adds: "Therefore, I had no intent to commit a crime, I calmly professed my religion." He also cites a federal law that lists extremist acts and draws attention to the lack of evidence in the prosecution that he committed any of them.

    The defendant shows the absurdity of the accusation and, referring to the words of the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE, A. K. Lukashevich, says: "Here [he] publicly declares that no formal permission is required for prayers. However, in the indictment, the investigation repeatedly refers to the fact that I read prayers."

    In conclusion, Alexander quotes the words of the President of the Russian Federation V. V. Putin, said by him on 02.11.2018 in an interview: "You can't force people to go against their faith, their traditions, family pedigree, in the end against truth, justice and just common sense!" The defendant agrees with the President: "It is illegal, under pain of criminal liability, to force me to go against my faith and conscience."

    The next meeting is scheduled for February 24.

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    April 12, 2021

    9 people who came to support Sergey Yavushkin and Alexander Bondarchuk are allowed to the meeting.

    The court is reviewing two videos produced by Jehovah's Witnesses: "Medicine Without Blood Transfusions" and "Faithful in Trials." The defendants comment on the films, pointing out that there can be no extremism in the choice of quality treatment and that Jehovah's Witnesses suffer for their beliefs.

    Judge Vera Ulyanyuk grants the believers' request to include the Russian Foreign Ministry's response letter to the case.

    Then the prosecutor participates in the debate, who asks to sentence 60-year-old Sergei Yavushkin and 46-year-old Alexander Bondarchuk to 5 years in prison in a general regime colony.

    Believers are courageous and maintain a positive attitude.

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    April 19, 2021

    A small hall on the ground floor has been allocated for the court session, so not all those who come to support the believers can be accommodated there.

    In the debate, a lawyer by appointment speaks. She draws attention to the fact that believers are charged with "preliminary conspiracy" to continue the activities of the banned organization, which, according to the investigation, occurred no later than May 27, 2017. The lawyer draws attention to the fact that the decision of the Supreme Court to liquidate the legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses entered into force only on July 17, 2017. In this regard, she asks the question: "Can this circumstance confirm the existence of a conspiracy to commit a crime by Yavushkin and Bondarchuk, which does not exist on that date?"

    Further, the lawyer points out that there is no evidence of extremist motives of Bondarchuk and Yavushkin in the case materials. The presence of aggression, cruelty and coercion to baptism and acceptance of faith was denied even by prosecution witnesses who appeared before the court.

    The lawyer notes that the testimonies of key prosecution witnesses Akinyaev and Petrova are "partly far-fetched, partly false, contradictory, and also distorted by the investigator."

    The lawyer also comments on the videos of the services: "Not a single recording contained any arguments, expressions, appeals testifying to their extremist orientation ... There was no mention of any exclusivity or superiority of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses over other religions."

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    April 26, 2021 Closing arguments for the defense

    In addition to the participants in the trial, 20 people are allowed to attend the hearing. Aleksandr Bondarchuk's lawyer takes the floor in the debate. She notes that the prosecution did not provide any evidence that Bondarchuk committed criminal, extremist actions. She also explains that the accusation of the defendant in financing extremist activities is based only on the fact that Bondarchuk and Yavushkin allegedly paid 1,000 rubles for renting a pool for performing the rite of baptism, which in itself is not prohibited by law.

    The lawyer cites positive characteristics of Bondarchuk from friends and colleagues, and also recalls that he has never been a member of the LRO.

    Further, Bondarchuk himself enters the debate. He reports that the accusations are based on the testimony of the expert Schiller. Bondarchuk cites a number of proofs that Schiller does not have the necessary professional training to conduct a religious examination, since he is a historian by education, not a religious scholar.

    Bondarchuk argues that the expert's conclusions are biased and were initially aimed at a negative assessment of the doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses, although the Supreme Court did not give such an assessment.

    The next meeting will be held on May 17, 2021 at 10:00. The remarks of the parties, the last word of the defendants, and, possibly, the announcement of the verdict are planned.

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    May 17, 2021 Final statement

    The court session is postponed indefinitely.

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    June 17, 2021 Final statement

    Oleksandr Bondarchuk delivers his last word. Sergey Yavushkin will speak at the next meeting.

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    June 22, 2021
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    February 16, 2022 Court of Appeal

    The Kemerovo Regional Court upholds the sentence of Aleksandr Bondarchuk and Sergey Yavushkin - 4 years of suspended imprisonment.

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    February 17, 2022
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    January 10, 2023 Court of Cassation
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    September 15, 2023 Parole Suspended sentence Art. 282.3 (1) Art. 282.2 (2)

    The court satisfies the petition of the penitentiary inspectorate for parole. The prosecutor does not object. A believer is considered to have served a suspended sentence.