Photo: search of believers (2016)

Actions of Law Enforcement Officers

Mass Searches and Criminal Cases Against Believers in Kemerovo and Belgorod — with Reference to the Decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation

Kemerovo Region,   Belgorod

At least 16 dwellings of civilians in Belgorod and 12 dwellings in Kemerovo were invaded by law enforcement agencies and searched. Dozens of people have been detained, some of whom have been detained for two days. Citizens are suspected of continuing the activities of the organization "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia." Thus, this criminal prosecution is a direct consequence of the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of April 20, 2017 to recognize this organization as "extremist".

On the evening of February 7, 2018, in Belgorod, large groups of law enforcement officers, consisting of police officers, the Investigative Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and armed SOBR fighters, simultaneously invaded a number of private homes of local residents. In some cases, citizens were thrown to the floor, put against the wall, then all were forcibly taken to the police, and searches were carried out in their homes. A group of deaf people who had gathered for friendly communication was also taken to the police. In total, dozens of people were taken to the police department at 60 Knyaz Trubetskoy Street. In the department, passport data was collected from citizens, fingerprints were taken, and summonses were issued. The last of those released left at 9 a.m. the next day. Two citizens, Anatoly Chaliapin and Sergey Voikov, were taken into custody for 48 hours, the issue of choosing a preventive measure on suspicion of continuing the activities of an extremist organization is being decided (it is known that the case has been initiated). During the searches, which were sometimes rude and accompanied by offensive comments, Bibles, all electronic devices and data carriers, passports, money, and in some cases even photographs hanging on the wall were seized from citizens. The very next day, interrogations of citizens who appear in the police on a summons began. It became known that an investigation team consisting of 12 (!) investigators of the Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs had been created. Citizens are asked questions like: "Do you really believe that during the Last Judgment everyone will die, but you will stay?" and "How do you feel about the country's President Vladimir Putin?"

In the city of Kemerovo, searches in the homes of civilians were carried out on January 23, 2018. The case, initiated on January 19, 2018 under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, is being conducted by the investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for especially important cases, Colonel of Justice Oksana Rybalkina. She petitioned the court to conduct searches in the homes of citizens, arguing that, according to her, at least 14 local residents continue to practice the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. The judge of the central district court of Kemerovo, Irina Ivanova, granted at least 12 of her petitions in one day. As a result, a search was conducted in 12 houses of peaceful believers, which continued, among other things, at night. In some cases, armed masked SOBR officers forcibly opened doors when they broke in, placed civilians facing the wall with their hands raised, or threw them to the floor. The apartments were sometimes invaded by more than 10 people, including members of the police, the National Guard and the Investigative Committee. Citizens were denied the opportunity to make a phone call or have a lawyer invited; the refusal was accompanied by the explanation of Stanislav Shlagov, senior detective of the CPE for especially important cases: "We are not in America." Citizens, including women and the elderly, are experiencing a condition close to shock. Many have exacerbated chronic diseases. Phones, tablets, computers, personal belongings, storage media were seized. It is reported that the witnesses present during the searches were familiar with the police officers and actively helped them, in some cases with their tips.

The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, having banned the activities of the religious organization "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia", did not deprive believers of the constitutional right to freely practice their religion. However, Judge Ivanova, for example, having allowed investigator Rybalkina to conduct searches, did not provide any evidence that citizens continue to participate in the activities of the organization liquidated by the court, and not just exercise their inalienable constitutional right to freedom of religion. 11 appeals have already been filed with the Kemerovo Regional Court against court decisions authorizing searches.

It is noteworthy that the Ministry of Justice of Russia, which asked for the liquidation of the legal entity of Jehovah's Witnesses, insisted that the constitutional rights of individual believers were not affected by their lawsuit.

Case of Voykov and Shalyapin in Belgorod

Case History
In February 2018, police officers, the Interior Ministry Investigative Department, and armed SOBR fighters raided at least 16 homes of local Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgorod. Peaceful believers were subjected to rough verbal and physical treatment. Dozens of people, including a group of people with hearing disabilities, were forcibly taken to the police for questioning. The last of the interrogated was released only the next morning. Two believers, Anatoliy Chaliapin and Sergey Voikov, were detained for two days and then released on their own recognizance. They are accused of participating in the activities of a banned organization, as the investigation interprets the participation of men in the services of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The criminal case was handled by an investigation team consisting of 12 employees of the Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia in the Belgorod Region. In August 2019, the investigation of the case was suspended, but a month later the prosecutor’s office overturned this decision, and the case was sent for additional investigation.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Suspected of:
according to the investigation “out of religious motives they participated in meetings during which they engaged in propaganda and examined literature”, which is interpreted as “participating in the activity of an extremist organisation” (citing the court decision to liquidate the Local Religious Organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses of the city of Belgorod)
Court case number:
February 5, 2018
Current case stage:
preliminary investigation
Investigative Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Directorate of Russia for the Belgorod Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2)
Case History