The Case of Bukin and Others in Tynda

Case History

In 2018, in the city of Tynda, FSB agent Nurakov, feigning an interest in the Bible, began attending meetings for worship of Jehovah's Witnesses and collecting information about them. In November 2019, a criminal case was initiated against Sergey Yuferov, Valery Slashchev, Mikhail Burkov and Vladimir Bukin. A wave of searches took place in the city. The men were accused of organizing the activity of an extremist organization and involving others in it. In June 2021, the case went to court. A year and a half later, the believers were sentenced from 6 years and 2 months to 6 years and 6 months in a penal colony. In December 2022, the court of appeal overturned the verdict and sent the case for a new trial, and the believers were released from the pretrial detention center, where they had each spent 2 months. In June 2023, they were again sentenced to a penal colony: Bukin, Slashchev and Yuferov were given 6 years and 4 months each, and Burkov was given 6 years and 2 months. Another court of appeal ruled in August 2023 to uphold this decision. In May 2024, the court of cassation confirmed the verdict for all four Jehovah's Witnesses from Tynda.

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    November 11, 2019

    Investigator of the Investigation Department of the FSB Directorate for the Amur Region V. S. Obukhov initiates a criminal case against Sergey Yuferov, Valery Slashchev, Mikhail Burkov and Vladimir Bukin. All of them are accused of a crime under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    November 17, 2019

    The Blagoveshchensk City Court authorizes searches in the homes of local believers (Valeriy and Tatiana Slashchev, Mikhail Burkov, Sergey and Natalia Yuferov, Ekaterina Savicheva, Vladimir and Natalya Bukin, Galina Tikhonkikh, Irina Starodub and Tatiana Verzina). A search is also being conducted in the apartment of 81-year-old Nadezhda Petrova.

    During a search of the Slashchevs' apartment, law enforcement officers seized old equipment, recordings of songs in Chinese, photo albums, the Psalter of the Orthodox edition, pictures with biblical excerpts and personal notes. The investigation team is interested in materials with the words "faith", "God", "Jehovah".

    During a search of Savicheva's home, Ilya Makhnonosov, a senior investigator of the Investigative Department of the Federal Security Service of Russia in the Amur Region, seized equipment, personal records and several translations of the Bible.

    The four-hour search of the Yuferovs' apartment begins with an examination of Sergey's trouser pockets and jacket, as well as his wife's cosmetic bags and medicine bags. She has a panic attack during the search.

    Law enforcement officers seize an illustrated napkin for glasses, personal notes, the Bible, and look at the contents of film discs from Verzina.

    In other apartments, security forces also confiscate electronic devices and data carriers, Bible translations, notebooks and photographs. Relatives of believers who do not share their religious beliefs are also searched.

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    November 18, 2019

    Investigators Isaev, Obukhov, Makhnonosov and Samarin are conducting interrogations. Yuferov, Slashchev, Burkov and Bukin are officially charged, they are taken on their own recognizance. Believers are persistently persuaded to cooperate with the investigation.

    In total, 12 people are interrogated on this day, among whom Savicheva, Slashcheva, Tikhonkikh, Tatyana and O. Verzina appear as witnesses.

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    November 19, 2019 Search
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    November 28, 2019

    Bukin is filing an appeal against the decision of the Blagoveshchensk City Court of the Amur Region to conduct a search on November 14, 2019.

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    December 4, 2019 Search
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    January 16, 2020

    The Judicial Collegium for Criminal Cases of the Amur Regional Court (presiding judge - Olga Drozhachenko) is considering Bukin's appeal. The court dismisses it. About 20 people come to the meeting to support their fellow believer.

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    May 25, 2020

    Vladimir Bukin and Mikhail Burkov petition for the termination of the criminal case, referring to the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. A few days later, Valery Slashchev and Sergey Yuferov made a similar request to the court.

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    April 5, 2021

    Investigator Obukhov makes decisions on bringing believers as accused. All four are charged with organizing the activities of an extremist organization (part 1 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), and Bukin, Yuferov and Slashchev are also charged with involvement in it (part 1.1 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).

    The believers are accused of holding worship services and "home-based Bible studies" in 2018-2019. The investigation considers the conversations of Bukin, Yuferov and Slashchev with informant D. Nurakov, who in 2018 expressed a desire to become Jehovah's Witness and was collecting information about believers, to be involved in extremist activities.

    Believers are being interrogated. Obukhov notifies them of the end of the investigation.

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    June 28, 2021

    The case against the believers is submitted to the Tyndinsky District Court of the Amur Region for consideration by Judge Ivan Kuznetsov.

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

    The first court hearing is held. About 25 people come to support the believers, but no one is allowed into the hall.

    Bukin, Burkov and Yuferov refuse lawyers, but the judge does not satisfy their petitions. The believers declare their attitude to the criminal case: they insist on their complete innocence.

    Witnesses are being questioned. Three women say that they do not refuse to testify, but use Article 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The prosecutor reads out the record of the interrogation of one of them, she confirms her testimony.

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    November 30, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Informant Nurakov is being interrogated. His written testimony and the transcript of his conversation with Bukin, Yuferov and Slashchev are also read out.

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    December 24, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The head of the local branch of the FSB, A.V. Tumanov, is being interrogated.

    Some participants in the process are confused in the concepts of "member of a local religious organization" and "Jehovah's Witness", calling ordinary believers members of a legal entity.

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    January 24, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court is interrogating another FSB officer, Vitaly Gangalo, who lives in Blagoveshchensk, via video link.

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

    As "evidence of illegal activity" of the defendants, the prosecutor reads out texts from postcards and printouts seized during the searches. They cover topics such as "Good manners are an essential feature of God's people," "What God expects to treat the elderly," and "Love strengthens."

    Audio recordings of conversations between the defendants about the Bible and informant Nurakov are also listened to.

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    April 29, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor reads out the recordings of the defendants' telephone conversations.

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    June 15, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor reads out the 15th volume of the case file, in which the district police commissioner gives a positive description of the defendants. The defense submits a petition for the admission of listeners to the courtroom, as well as for the audio recording of the process. The prosecutor objects, arguing that those present will "hear materials of extremist content." The judge grants the petition of the believers, provided that the listeners will not make personal video and audio recordings of the hearings.

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    June 17, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court listens to recordings of samples of the defendants' voices and their telephone conversations.

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    June 30, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The recording of the conversation between the informant Nurakov and the defendants Bukin, Slashchev and Yuferov is listened to. The prosecution is interested in whether this was a meeting of a local religious organization. Bukin explains that the meeting was exclusively religious in nature and has nothing to do with the LRO.

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

    At four hearings on July 14-19, the court reviews video recordings of one worship service and three Bible discussions. The judge reads out the characteristics and certificates of commendation of the defendants.

    The defense files a motion to terminate the criminal case. The court shall attach it to the case file.

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    September 8, 2022 Prosecutor requested punishment

    The prosecutor requests punishment for believers: Vladimir Bukin — 8 years and 6 months, Sergey Yuferov and Valery Slashchev — 8 years and 4 months each, Mikhail Burkov — 6 years and 6 months of imprisonment in a general regime colony.

    The defendants make their final statements.

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    September 12, 2022 First Instance Sentence

    Instead of announcing the verdict, the judge resumes the judicial investigation. The reason is that one of the petitions lacks applications. The court also indicates that all attached evidence must be in the original or in the form of certified copies.

    About 30 listeners are allowed in the meeting room. Everyone has purple hearts pinned on their chests as a sign of support for the defendants.

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    October 13, 2022 Closing arguments for the defense Final statement

    The verdict is scheduled for October 19. Before that, the defendants again make their last word. Judge Ivan Kuznetsov asks them not to read out the text, but to speak in their own words.

    In his appeal to the court, Mikhail Burkov notes: "My way of life, which I lead as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, has shown that I have not caused any harm to anyone ... The commandments 'love thy neighbor as thyself' and 'love thy enemies' do not teach what I am accused of."

    Vladimir Bukin says: "If I am found guilty, it is guilty of loving God, his holy name and his word of the Bible, and not of resuming the activity of something that has not existed in nature since 2017."

    Sergey Yuferov declares: "My spiritual activity cannot be extremism. Extremist activity in all its forms and manifestations is unacceptable to me."

    Valery Slashchev says: "When we, Jehovah's Witnesses, are asked what we are being tried for, I don't even want to talk, because people can't understand how a person can be judged simply for his faith, despite the fact that there are no victims or victims - some kind of invisible and intangible extremism."

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    October 25, 2022
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    October 26, 2022
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    November 14, 2022 Detention center

    It becomes known that the believers are being held in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in the Amur Region, where they are awaiting an appeal.

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    December 7, 2022

    The lawyer visits Vladimir Bukin, Sergey Yuferov and Mikhail Burkov in the Blagoveshchensk pre-trial detention center. Many prisoners are ill, including Vladimir Bukin. Doctors give him medication, and he is gradually recovering. Vladimir has a good relationship with his cellmates. He receives letters of support and has his own Bible. A believer prepares for a court of appeal.

    Sergey Yuferov also has a Bible, receives letters of support and feels well. Although all the prisoners in his cell are sick, preventive methods help him not to get infected. He is held in a 6-bed cell, where at the moment, including Sergey, there are 5 prisoners. The conditions are satisfactory. His cellmates treat him with respect.

    Mikhail Burkov says that he is grateful to his friends for their letters, as they support him. Mikhail notes that he has minor health problems, and he has already asked for help. A difficult test for his well-being was also the fact that in the 4-bed cold cell, everyone except Mikhail smokes. However, his cellmates treat Mikhail with respect.

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    December 27, 2022
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    January 24, 2023 Case went to court

    The case against the believers is sent for reconsideration to the court of first instance. It will be considered by judge Valentina Brikova.

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    February 7, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor reads out the charge, and the defendants read out their attitude to it.

    They inform the court that they will testify at the end of the trial. They also submit applications for refusal of lawyers. The judge does not grant their request.

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    March 6, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Videos of worship services are viewed, in particular, the biblical lecture "Do you harbor anger or forgive?"

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

    Sergey Yuferov petitions to watch the film "The Courage of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Face of Nazism." The judge refuses. Closer to the end of the meeting, Yuferov becomes ill, he is taken away in an ambulance.

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    April 14, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Mikhail Burkov and Sergey Yuferov read out their affidavits. The judge begins to interrogate Sergey, but he becomes ill again, and the ambulance team takes him to the hospital.

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    June 13, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor reads out the testimony of Valery Slashchev. The defendant states that he did not utter the phrases that are written there, and "his words are altered."

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    June 14, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The former boss of informant Nurakov is being interrogated. She says that when he interacted with Jehovah's Witnesses, he "was a good man, and when he started drinking in the company of his own kind, he was fired several times for it ... could tell a lie under the influence of circumstances."

    Further, the court interrogates the boss of Sergey Yuferov, who characterizes him only on the positive side.

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    June 15, 2023 Prosecutor requested punishment Closing arguments for the defense

    Prosecutor Dmitry Bondarev requests punishment under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation: Bukin, Slashchev, Yuferov — 6 years and 6 months, Burkov — 6 years and 2 months in a penal colony.

    Lawyers are asking for a full acquittal of the defendants. Then Vladimir Bukin and Valery Slashchev perform.

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    June 19, 2023 In the courtroom Final statement

    Believers deliver the last word.

    Vladimir Bukin says: "It is thanks to the knowledge from the Bible that hatred and anger have long had no place in my heart."

    Sergey Yuferov emphasizes: "Extremist activity in all its forms and manifestations is unacceptable for me."

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    June 23, 2023 First Instance Sentence Detention center

    After the verdict is announced, the believers are taken into custody and taken to pre-trial detention center No. 1 in the Amur Region. They can write letters.

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    September 5, 2023 Second appeal Art. 282.2 (1.1) Art. 282.2 (1) Rosfinmonitoring Deprivation of liberty
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    October 9, 2023 Transfer of a prisoner Life in prison

    Vladimir Bukin, Sergey Yuferov, Valery Slashchev and Mikhail Burkov are taken to a penal colony located in the city of Amursk to serve their sentences. After quarantine, they are placed in the same squad.

    Four other believers, Sergey Afanasyev, Sergey Kardakov, Aleksey Trofimov and Dmitry Malevaniy, are serving their sentences in the same colony.

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    October 24, 2023 Life in prison Letters

    Vladimir Bukin, Sergey Yuferov, Valery Slashchev and Mikhail Burkov get used to life in the colony. All of them are in the same squad, their beds are located nearby. The administration of the colony has not yet provided work to any of them. Also, they have not yet been given seasonal hats.

    Telephone conversations have not yet been provided to believers, and they have not yet received letters either.

    The men have good relations with the administration and staff of the colony, there are no conflicts. Everyone has the opportunity to read the Bible.

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    May 14, 2024 Art. 282.2 (1.1) Art. 282.2 (1) Court of Cassation
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    June 7, 2024 Life in prison

    Vladimir Bukin, Sergey Yuferov, Valery Slashchev and Mikhail Burkov generally feel fine, although Valeriy's eyesight is deteriorating. The conditions of detention are acceptable.

    For a while, there was a problem with receiving letters, but the administration of the colony solved it, and now men can feel the support of friends.

    Relations with other prisoners are still normal. Vladimir is trained as a locksmith. Valeriy is involved in the preparation of musical numbers for the open day in the penal colony.