The case of Nikolayev in Kholmskaya

Case History

In April 2021, FSB officers, accompanied by riot police, came to search the home of Nikolayev couple who are the parents of five children, two of whom are adopted. Shortly before this, the Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case against Aleksandr Nikolayev for participation in extremist activities for reading the Bible at a meeting. In July 2021, the case went to trial. Two months later, the believer was sent to a pre-trial detention center, and in December of the same year, the court sentenced the believer to two and a half years in prison. At the time the sentence came into force, Nikolayev had served more than half of his sentence in the detention center. The believer was taken to the penal colony in March 2023 and the next month he asked a court for parole, but was refused. At the end of July 2023, the court of cassation upheld the sentence, lifted the additional restrictions after release. Nikolayev was released from the penal colony in September 2023.

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    March 31, 2021

    The Investigative Department of the Abinsk District is initiating a criminal case on the grounds of a crime under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation against Alexander Nikolaev from the village of Kholmskaya. The case is assigned No. 12102030017000016

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    April 7, 2021

    At about six o'clock in the morning, FSB officers, accompanied by riot police, come to Alexander Nikolayev's house with a search. During the search, the security forces comply with the believer's request not to wake the young child. Electronic devices, a piece of paper with a children's drawing, a book about family psychology, and a postcard with a Bible verse are seized from Alexander and his family.

    The believer is taken to the investigative committee for interrogation, and later released on recognizance not to leave. From the security forces, Aleksandr learns that searches were carried out at 6 addresses, including his place of residence with a relative of a non-Jehovah's Witness in Anapa, as well as the address of Aleksandr's temporary registration in Sinegorsk and his actual address in Kholmskaya.

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    May 26, 2021

    The investigator of the department for the Abinsk district of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Krasnodar Territory, L. G. Galustyants, officially attracts Alexander Nikolaev as a defendant in a criminal case. The investigation regards the discussion of the Bible with family and friends as "committing a crime against the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the state."

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    July 16, 2021

    The case is submitted to the Abinsk District Court for consideration by Judge Nikolay Surmach.

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    September 30, 2021

    The investigator summons Aleksandr Nikolayev to the Investigative Committee, ostensibly for interrogation, where the believer and his wife, Yevgenia, arrive by private transport. There he was detained and taken to court. The judge chooses a measure of restraint for Alexander in the form of detention. Immediately after the meeting, the believer is sent to pre-trial detention center No. 3 in the city of Novorossiysk. Eugenia manages to give her husband the necessary things, she is given a summons issued to Alexander retroactively.

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    October 4, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Lawyer Anton Omelchenko comes to the defense of Alexander Nikolaev. After reviewing the materials of the criminal case in the Abinsk District Court of the Krasnodar Territory, the lawyer discovers that the decisions to bring Nikolaev as an accused and the indictment were falsified after Nikolaev got acquainted with them earlier. This may indicate violations of the criminal procedure law. On the fact of falsification of the materials of the criminal case, applications are prepared for their verification.

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    October 19, 2021

    The Abinsk District Court of the Krasnodar Territory is interrogating investigator Lev Galustyants. As it turns out, the text of the decision to bring Nikolaev as an accused and the text of the indictment were handed over to the defendant in one version, but in court they were presented in a different version, which is a serious violation. The investigator explains that the situation did not occur as a result of forgery, but as a result of confusion. According to the defendant's lawyer, the materials could have been replaced directly in court in September 2021, while the judge was on vacation, but the court does not allow the defense to clarify this point and ask the investigator additional questions.

    During the hearing, the court does not make a final decision on whether the case against Nikolaev will be returned to the prosecutor, as required by law.

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    October 26, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Approximately 15 people gather outside the courthouse. Only the defendant's wife is allowed to attend the hearing. The judge rejects the defense's request to return the case to the prosecutor, and also refuses to attach new evidence of the believer's innocence.

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    November 9, 2021

    The defenders and Aleksandr Nikolayev challenge Judge Nikolay Surmach and the entire composition of the Abinsk District Court of the Krasnodar Territory, noting that the judge ignores the obvious facts of forgery of the case materials and evidence of the innocence of the accused, and the degree of severity of the sentences of the district court gives reason to believe that judges participated in political repressions of believers. The judge rejects the challenge.

    In the course of a further court session, the items previously seized during the search from the Nikolayev family are examined. It has been established that the seized items do not prove Nikolaev's guilt, since they include notes of older student children, drawings of younger children and the lyrics of a song from the cartoon.

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    November 22, 2021

    The lawyer visits Aleksandr Nikolayev in the pre-trial detention center. The believer feels satisfied, receives and sends many letters every day. He has good relations with his cellmates and the administration of the pre-trial detention center.

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    December 1, 2021

    In defense of the believer, Doctor of Philosophy, State Counselor of the Russian Federation, religious scholar Sergey Ivanenko acts. As in other court hearings in Jehovah's Witnesses cases where the scientist spoke, he draws attention to the fact that the religious activities of Jehovah's Witnesses are not related to extremism, and the 2017 decision of the Supreme Court does not imply that believers do not have the right to continue to practice their religion together with others.

    Ivanenko explains that the hidden audio recording depicts a worship service of believers, which, as the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation pointed out on October 28, 2021, cannot be considered as participation in the activities of a banned organization. And he drew attention to the fact that during the service, Nikolaev only read an excerpt from the biblical book of Genesis about how Jacob's sons and daughter were born. The religious scholar stressed that Genesis is included both in the Bible and in the Tanakh - two religious publications, which are prohibited from being called extremist by the law on countering extremist activity.

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    December 15, 2021

    The court rejects the lawyer's petitions for the appointment of a comprehensive psychological, linguistic and religious forensic examination, as well as for the inclusion of materials indicating that the activities of the religious group of Jehovah's Witnesses from the village of Kholmskaya were not prohibited. Materials characterizing Alexander Nikolaev as a non-conflict person, a good worker, a caring father of many children are announced.

    At the next hearing, it is planned to interrogate Nikolaev, after which the court intends to proceed to the debate of the parties, giving the accused the opportunity to make the last word and announcing the verdict.

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    December 23, 2021 Final statement First Instance Sentence

    Nikolay Surmach, a judge of the Abinsk District Court of the Krasnodar Territory, sentences Aleksandr Nikolayev to 2 years and 6 months in a general regime colony.

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    January 19, 2022

    It becomes known that Alexander Nikolaev is being transferred from the pre-trial detention center in Novorossiysk. In a letter to his wife, he says: "So far, the final destination is Samara." It is more than 1600 kilometers from his home.

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    January 23, 2022

    Aleksandr arrives at SIZO-2 Syzran Central.

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    May 18, 2022 Court of Appeal

    The court admits to the hearing the wife and son of Nikolaev, as well as about 10 fellow believers who came to support the defendant. Due to communication problems, Nikolayev himself, who is in jail, cannot attend the hearing.

    At the request of the Abinsk District Court, the panel of judges of the Krasnodar Regional Court, despite the objections of the defense, withdraws the case from consideration and returns it to the court of first instance for attaching a number of documents.

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    October 20, 2022
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    December 8, 2022

    The lawyer visits Aleksandr Nikolayev in pre-trial detention center No. 2 in Syzran. The lawyer notes that the believer is in a cheerful mood and has no health problems.

    The administration treats Alexander well. He is kept in a special unit with one cellmate, he is allowed to walk. Upon admission to the pre-trial detention center, the Bible was confiscated from Aleksandr, but he has the New Testament and Psalms. Aleksandr regularly receives letters of support from friends and family, as well as from fellow believers from Germany, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

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    February 17, 2023 Transfer of a prisoner Life in prison

    It becomes known that Aleksandr Nikolayev, who has been in a pre-trial detention center in Syzran since January 2022, is being transferred to IK-9 Vodstroy in Volgograd.

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    March 1, 2023 Life in prison

    It becomes known that Aleksandr Nikolayev is in penal colony No. 9 in the city of Khadyzhensk (Krasnodar Territory). Upon arrival, he was quarantined.

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    March 29, 2023 Life in prison

    At the end of the quarantine, one of the colony employees, provoking Aleksandr, tries to tear off the badge with the name and article of the believer.

    In spite of everything, Alexander tries to maintain a positive attitude. He submits an application to the administration of the colony with a request to be trained as a carpenter. Reading the Bible also gives him moral strength.

    A lawyer files a petition for parole. The hearing in the Absheronsky District Court of the Krasnodar Territory will be held on April 24.

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    April 27, 2023
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    July 27, 2023 Court of Cassation Mitigation of punishment
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    September 19, 2023 Release from penal colony Strict conditions of detention Art. 282.2 (2) Letters