Case of Popov and Eremeev in Novosibirsk

Case History

In June 2019, the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation opened a criminal case against Vitaly Popov, an electrician and welder from Novosibirsk, accusing him of participating in the activities of an extremist organization and collecting donations. During the interrogation, the investigator for especially important cases Bryuzgin tried to force Popov to self-incrimination. After a call from law enforcement officers to Vitaliy’s employer, he was forced to write a letter of resignation. According to the director, she was told that “there is no place for an extremist in an educational institution.” Since May 2020, Vitaliy has been under recognizance not to leave. Since July 2020, the believer has been defending his religious beliefs in the Leninsky District Court of Novosibirsk. Prosecution witnesses characterized Popov positively. The prosecutor asked for a punishment of 6 years in prison for the believer. In May 2021, Judge Natalia Devyatko sentenced Vitaliy Popov to 3 years probation. The Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation upheld the verdict.

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    June 27, 2019

    The Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Novosibirsk Region initiates a criminal case for faith under Article 282.2 (2); According to the investigation, "they participated in conducting collective religious services, teaching the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, methods and methods of disseminating the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses among citizens, and collected funds in the form of donations." Innocent victims of law enforcement officers are: Vitaly Popov (born in 1967), Maxim Eremeev (born in 1987).

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    April 9, 2020

    In the home of Vitaly Popov, law enforcement officers appear without a summons and ask to go with them to the investigative department for interrogation. One of them presents a certificate in the name of Roman Logvenkov.

    Vitaliy is interrogated for more than 4 hours by the investigator for especially important cases A. Bryuzgin. He is trying to provoke Popov to self-incrimination. Bryuzgin presents the believer with the transcripts of the services.

    Vitaliy refuses to testify. Bryuzgin charges him in a criminal case. Vitaliy disagrees and does not admit his guilt.

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    May 13, 2020

    The investigator summons Popov to the Investigative Committee for charge and interrogation. Vitaliy pleaded not guilty. He considers this criminal case to be repression for his faith, since his religion is the only reason for the persecution.

    The investigator exerts pressure on Vitaliy, insisting that the believer familiarize himself with the 21 volumes of the criminal case within a week (about 5,000 pages).

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    August 4, 2020

    The prosecutor reads out the indictment. Defendant Popov pleaded not guilty.

    Expressing his attitude to the charges, he notes that the decision of the Supreme Court of 20.04.17 liquidated legal entities, but did not assess the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses, and Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation gives all citizens of Russia the right to practice any religion.

    "It follows from the charges that I face imprisonment just because I exercised my right to practice religion," Popov said. Then he adds, turning to the judge: "You, as a lawyer and a person, will be aware of the striking difference between Christian service to God, which I intend to carry out all my life, and extremism, which is absolutely opposite and alien to me."

    The defendant submits motions to refuse a free lawyer and to include the views of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in the case file. The Court grants the request to refuse a free lawyer, but refuses to admit the opinion of the UN Working Group, since it cannot establish the source of his origin.

    The next court hearing is scheduled for August 13, 15:00.

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    August 13, 2020

    The state prosecutor challenges Judge Irina Tsygankova on the grounds that earlier court decisions were made under her chairmanship in the criminal case of Yuri Savelyev. The defense supports the challenge. The Court decides to grant the request for recusal of Judge Irina Tsygankova.

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    September 15, 2020

    Judge Natalia Devyatko attaches to the case all appendices on the opinions of international organizations regarding the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, as well as the opinions of Russian human rights defenders .

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    September 29, 2020

    A witness for the prosecution, an 83-year-old believer, is being questioned in the Leninsky District Court. She points out that the defendant never called for extremism or violent change of the constitutional order. "It's just a fiction, how can a Christian call for bad things," she says. An elderly woman characterizes Vitaly Popov as a kind person, always ready to help. The witness also explains that the record of her interrogation contains corrections made by the investigator, and this is the first time she has heard much of the record.

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    October 9, 2020

    The court is questioning another prosecution witness who speaks positively of Vitaly, describing him as an honest and decent person. Although he did not communicate with the defendant for several years, he remembers him as a peaceful, hardworking man, always ready to help.

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    October 15, 2020

    The testimony is given by the spouse of the accused. She notes the positive qualities of Vitaly as a husband and employee, which were appreciated by everyone around him: "When he quit his job - he was forced to quit there - the employees at work cried that he was leaving, because they could always rely on him, he would never steal anything from them, he would always fulfill all their wishes for work. He was very conscientious."

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    December 3, 2020

    Prosecution witness V. Urakov answers the questions. He speaks positively of Jehovah's Witnesses, noting that their teachings are based on love for one's neighbor and the meetings he once attended called only for good deeds. He also mentions that there was no pressure on him, the literature was useful, the donations were voluntary, no one forced anyone: "There was just an urn for a voluntary donation. We did not pay any specific amount. If I have money, I could voluntarily put it there, if not, well, I came and listened to the report and left, goodbye. Therefore, the donations were voluntary." In addition, he gives a positive description of Vitaly Popov.

    Prosecution witness Lyudmila Timshina is next. She speaks positively of the Christian meetings, where, she says, "there was good communication, quiet, calm, there were no conflict situations." She also speaks of the defendant as "a good person who always gave useful advice, very kind, qualified, very rarely there are such people."

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    December 8, 2020

    Prosecution witness Shevtsov, who does not agree with the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, testifies. He, however, characterizes Vitaly Popov on the positive side "as a kind, sympathetic person, ready to help." Shevtsov in his answers distinguishes between the concepts of the LRO and the Christian congregation. He tells what Jehovah's Witnesses preach, that "since 1914, Jesus began to reign in heaven as a king, is an invisible, spiritual person. People, if they obey God, will live forever in paradise on earth. The rest of the people will perish in Armageddon, who are disobedient to God." Shevtsov also mentions that donations have always been voluntary, and "in this Jehovah's Witnesses imitate Christ and the early Christians."

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    December 10, 2020

    Another prosecution witness says that she does not know the defendant and sees him for the first time. The prosecutor interrogates her about renting an apartment, finding out facts that have nothing to do with the merits of the case.

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    December 17, 2020

    The Leninsky District Court is questioning a prosecution witness who attended Jehovah's Witnesses services more than 20 years ago. He explains that Vitaly Popov did not hold any special position, there were no appeals or agitation from him. With regard to funding, the witness points out that the literature was free of charge and all expenses were covered exclusively by voluntary donations.

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    December 22, 2020

    The transcript of the service is examined. Vitaliy comments: "A peaceful religious meeting is taking place, not a meeting of the founders of the LRO, no protocol is drawn up and only the biblical topic is discussed. And at this meeting there are no signs of extremism, of which I am accused. For example, calls for violent change in the foundations of the constitutional order, justification of terrorist activities, propaganda of exclusivity. Well, plus, I was not present at this meeting at all.

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    January 18, 2021

    The prosecution witness, specialist Zaev, does not get in touch, and the court attaches to the case his written testimony, which is read out at the hearing. Vitaliy Popov declares that Zaev's testimony about the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses is false, and cites as an example the religious scholar Ivanenko, who wrote two books about Jehovah's Witnesses, which say the exact opposite about them.

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    January 26, 2021

    The court examines the testimony of the secret witness N. Ivanova, who for health reasons cannot attend the hearing.

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    March 11, 2021

    The lawyer submits a petition to attach to the case the characteristics from the place of work of Vitaly Popov, information from the work book on incentives and gratitude, copies of medical documents on his wife's chronic diseases. Judge Natalia Devyatko satisfies the petition and reads out the description from the place of work.

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    March 17, 2021

    Defense witnesses are being questioned.

    The first to be interviewed is the head of the canteen of the gymnasium where the defendant worked. She has known him for five years, since she got a job. The witness describes Vitaliy Popov as "a kind and sympathetic person, he never spoke negatively about the state authorities, representatives of other religions, never adhered to any extremist views, never called for undermining the foundations of the constitutional order and state security." To the lawyer's question, he adds: "A good person. With a capital letter "Good". There are simply none, in fact. Without any falsehood. A kind man...".

    Further, Vitaly Popov's neighbor, who previously worked as a farm manager in the same organization with him, speaks in court. She calls him a modest, hardworking and benevolent person: "The team always respected him, the gymnasium under him was one of the best ... He never imposed his views."

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    March 22, 2021

    The court is watching the film "The Faithful in the Trial. Jehovah's Witnesses in the Soviet Union".

    After watching, the lawyer asks the defendant the question: "Why did we watch this film, what did you want to explain?" Vitaliy answers: "I wanted to show that Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian organization, are alien to extremism, absolutely alien to any violence, intolerance. And here it is just shown what it cost them that, for example, with their peacefulness, they did not take up arms, and as a result they were repressed and brutally persecuted. And yet, they did not hate even their persecutors."

    Despite the prosecutor's objections, the judge grants the defendant's request to include the resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in the case file.

    Popov also submits a petition for the attachment of the letter of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and answers the court's question about the expediency of such a petition: "In order that Jehovah's Witnesses are not forbidden to gather in small groups to satisfy their spiritual needs." The prosecutor does not object, the judge satisfies the petition and attaches the documents to the case file.

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    April 26, 2021 Prosecutor requested punishment

    The debate of the parties is taking place. The prosecutor requests a punishment for Vitaliy Popov for believing in God: 6 years in prison with deprivation of the right to hold public service positions related to the exercise of the function of a representative of the authorities or the performance of organizational, administrative, administrative and economic functions for a term of 3 years with restriction of liberty for a term of 1 year. The state prosecutor also asks to change the measure of restraint for Vitaly to detention.

    Next, the lawyer speaks. She draws the attention of the participants in the process to Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation - holding joint worship services, reading and discussing religious literature, observing religious rites and ceremonies, singing spiritual songs is a form of lawful behavior, which is part of freedom of conscience and religion. The lawyer recalls that the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of April 20, 2017 does not contain a ban on professing the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as restrictions on the ways of expressing the beliefs of believers.

    The defense believes that Popov did not commit socially dangerous acts and did not cause damage to the constitutional order and security of the country by his actions. Moreover, all the interrogated witnesses had not previously said anything bad about Vitaliy Popov, but know him "as a peaceful, hardworking, always ready to help person."

    The lawyer asks the court to treat the testimony of the specialist Zaev critically, since he does not have a special education as a religious scholar, he did not hide the fact that he professes Orthodoxy, and has a negative attitude towards Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Attention is also drawn to the fact that during the consideration of the case, the adversarial principle was violated and the defense was deprived of the opportunity to ask questions to a secret witness under the pseudonym "Natalia Ivanova".

    The defense emphasizes that Popov was not present at the religious meetings recorded in the operational-search materials. In his speech, the prosecutor referred to the expert's opinion and the case materials against another resident of Novosibirsk, Yuri Savelyev, convicted for his faith, and not Popov.

    The defendant Vitaly Popov speaks in the debate. He says: "I can't understand why I'm a member of the Local Christian Religious Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses 'Zarechnoye, Novosibirsk.' I never belonged to Zarechnoye, Novosibirsk. That's what surprises me. I want to draw your attention to the fact that I am a simple, peaceful person, I have always worked honestly. Please acquit me. I haven't committed any crimes."

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    May 14, 2021
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    May 21, 2021
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    July 23, 2021 Court of Appeal

    Novosibirsk Regional Court (Novosibirsk, Pisareva str., 35). The court upholds the verdict of the court of first instance against Vitaliy Popov.

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    February 16, 2022 Court of Cassation

    A hearing is being held in the Eighth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction.

    Speaking before the panel of judges, Popov refers to the decision of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation No. 32 of October 28, 2021. The believer also emphasizes that the Christian doctrine and worship of Jehovah's Witnesses are not prohibited: "Joint confession of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses is a legitimate way of expressing religious beliefs in practice. And this right is directly enshrined in Article 28 of the Constitution." The appointed defender supports the position of the believer.

    After spending a few minutes in the deliberation room, the court upholds the verdict.