The case of Usanov and Morozov in Taiga

Case History

In April 2021, the Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case against Yuriy Usanov. The next day, his house was searched, and then he was placed in a pre-trial detention center in the city of Anzhero-Sudzhensk. In August of the same year, Maksim Morozov was detained in the city of Tolyatti. He was later taken to the same pre-trial detention center. According to the investigation, the believers “organized the activities of a banned religious organization by means of the computer program  “Zoom” by convening and holding meetings of its members and holding conversations.” In September 2021, Yuriy Usanov registered a marriage with his fiancee Irina right in the pre-trial detention center. The case went to court in March 2022. The believers were taken to each meeting in a police van for seventy kilometers one way. In August 2023, the article of the charge was changed to participation in the activities of an extremist organization. Soon the Judge announced the verdict: three years in a penal colony, which she considered served and released the believers.

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    April 1, 2021

    Yulia Dudina, Deputy Head of the Investigation Department for the city of Taiga of the Investigative Committee of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Kemerovo Region - Kuzbass, initiates a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code against 29-year-old Yuriy Usanov.

    According to the investigation, in the period from May 2019 to April 2021, he, together with other believers, including Maxim Morozov, "through the Zoom computer program, organized the activities of the banned religious organization 'Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia' in the city of Taiga, Kemerovo Region, by convening and holding meetings of its members, holding conversations."

    The investigator issues a search warrant in the apartment of Yuriy, as well as 2 other local residents.

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    April 2, 2021

    From 6:00 in the morning, a search has been conducted in the home of Yuri Usanov, it lasts about three hours. The believer was detained.

    Investigator Yulia Dudina charges Yuri with committing a "crime".

    Judge of the Taiga City Court of the Kemerovo Region Fyodor Timofeev chooses a measure of restraint for Yuri Usanov in the form of arrest until May 30, 2021. The believer was sent to SIZO-4 in Anzhero-Sudzhensk.

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    April 5, 2021 Search
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    April 13, 2021

    As part of the criminal case against Yuri Usanov, the judge of the Taiga City Court of the Kemerovo Region, T. V. Tsyganova, issues a search warrant in the house and garage of a local resident, Yuri Belkov.

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    April 14, 2021

    Yuriy Usanov is being transported to pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Kemerovo, 100 kilometers from Anzhero-Sudzhensk, for psychological and psychiatric examination. It is not yet known exactly how long he will stay there.

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    April 19, 2021

    Investigator Yulia Dudina and FSB officers search the home of 58-year-old Yuri Belkov, where he lives with his wife and daughter. After a 3-hour search, the believer is taken for interrogation and then released.

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    April 22, 2021

    It becomes known that Yuri Usanov was returned from Kemerovo to the pre-trial detention center-4 of Anzhero-Sudzhensk, where he will stay until May 30.

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    May 24, 2021

    The lawyer visits Yuriy Usanov in the pre-trial detention center. He is kept in a 3-bed cell with prisoners who constantly smoke and use foul language. Nevertheless, Yuriy had good relations with his cellmates, as well as with the staff of the pre-trial detention center.

    It is not easy for a believer to be separated from his bride, with whom they have a wedding scheduled for July 17. "I would like to see her at least for a while," he complains. The head of the pre-trial detention center has not yet given permission for the wedding. Visits are also prohibited, with reference to the fact that Irina is being held in the case as a witness.

    In the pre-trial detention center, Yuriy's chronic inflammation of the hearing organs worsened, which is aggravated by the fact that the window in the cell does not close tightly. Requests for medical help were initially ignored, and only after repeated appeals was he given medicine.

    Nevertheless, the emotional state of the believer is good thanks to reading the Bible and letters from friends from different countries.

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    August 4, 2021

    A criminal case is being initiated against 37-year-old Maxim Morozov under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (organization of activities of a religious association). The cases of Usanov and Morozov are combined into one proceeding.

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    August 6, 2021

    Maksim Morozov is detained.

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    August 7, 2021

    Maksim Morozov is charged with committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

    Oksana Zakharova, an investigator for especially important cases of the Taiga Investigation Department, who arrived from Kuzbass, petitions the Central District Court of Tolyatti to detain Maxim Morozov.

    Judge Anastasia Fedorova grants the investigator's request and sends the believer to jail until September 1, 2021.

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    August 19, 2021

    The court extends Yuriy Usanov's detention until October 1, 2021.

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    September 1, 2021

    Maksim Morozov's lawyer reports that the believer has been transferred from the Tolyatti pre-trial detention center to the Kemerovo region, where he is due to arrive at the end of September.

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    September 6, 2021

    Yuriy is visited by a lawyer in the detention center. He notes that, on the whole, the believer feels well. He was transferred to solitary confinement so that he can read the Bible and meditate in peace. According to Yuriy, for him these are "the best conditions for all the time spent in the pre-trial detention center." He said that he was grateful to everyone who wrote him letters of support - as of September 3, there were already 1179 of them from 29 countries, but due to emotional burnout, he could not answer most of them.

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    September 9, 2021

    Yuriy Usanov registers his marriage with his bride Irina right in the pre-trial detention center. On the day of the wedding, friends and relatives came to the building of the pre-trial detention center with flowers, balloons and in elegant clothes. Irina was also dressed as a bride. Only she, as well as her parents and a registry office employee, were allowed to go inside. After the marriage, the spouses were not allowed to stay together. Photography was also forbidden. Now Yuriy remains in the pre-trial detention center, and Irina is at home and is looking for a meeting with her husband in her new status.

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    September 22, 2021
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    February 23, 25 and 28, 2022

    Court hearings are held to decide on the extension of the measure of restraint. The court decides to keep Morozov and Usanov in custody. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 1.

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    March 18, 2022

    The criminal case is submitted to the Taiga City Court of the Kemerovo Region. It will be considered by judge Tatyana Kovaleva.

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    April 1, 2022

    A preliminary hearing is underway. The first court hearing is scheduled for April 8.

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    December 29, 2022

    The Kemerovo Regional Court will leave believers in pre-trial detention until March 18, 2023. This is the third extension of detention after the case has been submitted to the court. Morozov has been held in custody for 1 year and 5 months, and Usanov for 1 year and 9 months.

    According to the defendants, they are perfectly fine, emotionally and physically feeling well.

    The next hearings in the Taiga City Court are scheduled for January 9 and 10, 2023. It is planned to interrogate prosecution witnesses, including the head of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Justice of Russia in the Kemerovo Region, Yulia Anulieva, as well as the interrogation of expert Vadim Shiller.

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    January 9 — 10, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Believers Yuriy Usanov and Maksim Morozov are brought to the courthouse from the Anzhero-Sudzhensk pre-trial detention center, where they are being held. Since there is no pre-trial detention center in the city of Taiga, where the trial is taking place, the road there takes 1.5 hours one way - about 70 km. Since one of the lawyers is on sick leave, the court hearing is postponed to January 23 and 24, 11:00.

    Yuriy says that some guards treat them very well and often say that they sincerely do not understand why believers are being judged. In the meeting room, Usanov and Morozov are greeted by about 15 fellow believers, including Yuri's wife. The support of friends is very encouraging for the defendants.

    Even while in jail, believers take advantage of the opportunity to do good. So, Yuri Usanov helped one of his cellmates get rid of obsessive thoughts about suicide, and he, in turn, helped another prisoner with a similar problem.

    Maksim Morozov's cellmate asked him how to get forgiveness from God. Maxim explained to him that he could tell God about his feelings in prayer. The cellmate did just that and even shared the words of his prayer with other prisoners.

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    April 24, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A former employee of the Taiga city administration is being interrogated as a witness. At first, the woman says that she has never personally met Jehovah's Witnesses, has not received literature from them, and does not know the defendants. After the record of her preliminary interrogation was read, the witness claims that the believers gave her literature, but does not explain what kind of literature and how she understood it to be the literature of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Then begins the interrogation of investigator Zakharova, who tells how she interrogated two female witnesses. When asked by the defense how it happened that their testimony was identical word for word, she replies that this is possible, since she "translated them into legal language."

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    May 15, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A prosecution witness who does not share the religious views of Morozov and Usanov is being questioned. The woman informs the court that she does not know the defendants personally. She also says that in 2021 her house was searched, electronic devices and the Bible, which she found on a bench, were taken from her. After that, she was taken for interrogation. She later learned that the investigator had added something to her testimony that she had not said, namely, that Jehovah's Witnesses express their superiority over others. The woman herself speaks positively of Jehovah's Witnesses, calling them kind, humble, and patient with others. She talked to them more than once on the street, she never heard calls for violence from them.

    The preventive measure for Yuriy Usanov and Maksim Morozov is extended until September 18, 2023. Believers remain in detention.

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    June 9, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    During the appeal hearing, the believers testify as a measure of restraint.

    Yuriy Usanov says: "I have been illegally detained for more than two years, not for any evil or crime, but for my faith in God." Maksim Morozov adds: "I am kept in a pre-trial detention center for extremism, and as proof of my involvement, they provide videos of meetings where they discuss the Bible and pray to God."

    The court does not satisfy the appeal of the believers and leaves them in custody.

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    July 3, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Investigator Zakharova is being re-interrogated. The defense is trying to understand why the testimonies of two women of different ages and education are similar, up to spelling errors. The investigator claims that when compiling the interrogation protocols, she did not write down verbatim the testimonies of witnesses, but conveyed in her own words the meaning of what they said.

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    July 17, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Counsel requests that the testimony of the two witnesses mentioned earlier be excluded from the case file. It turns out that one of them, due to her illnesses, had a confused consciousness and could not express her thoughts as they were recorded in the interrogation protocol. In addition, due to poor eyesight, she could not read, while investigator Zakharova stated during one of the previous interrogations that she had not noticed any difficulties in reading the protocol in this witness.

    The court grants the defense motion and excludes the testimony of these two witnesses.

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    July 23, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Yuri Usanov and Maxim Morozov read out their written notes.

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    July 31, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court refuses the defense to conduct a forensic comprehensive psychological, linguistic and religious examination, as it does not see the need for this.

    Earlier, the defense petitioned for the exclusion of evidence - religious examinations and the testimony of expert Vadim Shiller, which was also denied.

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    August 1, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Art. 282.2 (1)

    Yuri Usanov and Maxim Morozov testify. The defense notes that the judge treats the defendants with respect - he listens to them carefully and does not interrupt during speeches.

    The state prosecutor reads out the decision on the requalification of the charges. He states that the court did not find evidence of actions of an "organizational nature". Now believers are accused of participating in the activities of an extremist organization.

    At the next hearing, the defense will present its attitude to the new charge.

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    August 14, 2023 Prosecutor requested punishment Closing arguments for the defense

    The prosecutor requests 5 years and 2 months in prison and 7 months of additional restrictions for Usanov and Morozov.

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    August 15, 2023 In the courtroom First Instance Sentence Art. 282.2 (2) Fabrications Final statement

    The defendants make their final statements.