Photo: Igor Ivashin

Unjust Verdicts

In Yakutia, a Judge Sentenced a Father of Two Children to Six Years’ Probation for Believing in Jehovah

Sakha (Yakutia)

On April 1, 2020, Zhanna Schmidt, judge of the Lensky District Court of the Republic of Sakha, sentenced 43-year-old Igor Ivashin to six years of suspended imprisonment for believing in Jehovah God and discussing the Bible. Ivashin called the accusations of extremism far-fetched: there is no evidence and no victims in the case.

In the past, geologist, and in recent years, locksmith Igor Ivashin, along with 22 other co-religionists, was detained on the basis of accusations of extremism in June 2018. Prior to that, employees of the Investigative Committee and the Center for Countering Extremism monitored local Jehovah's Witnesses for a year and a half and listened to Ivashin's telephone conversations.

The believer was the only defendant in this case. All his guilt was that he continued to discuss the Bible with his fellow believers, sing religious songs together and pray to God after 396 legal entities - organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses - were banned in Russia.

"The prosecution asks to convict me under the article extremism, seeing it in the fact that I sang songs, watched films with my friends and carried out religious preaching. And since the state prosecutor is well aware that these actions cannot constitute a crime in themselves, he sees my guilt in the fact that I sang not just songs, but songs of Jehovah's Witnesses. It turns out that my so-called guilt is that I am a Jehovah's Witness," Ivashin said in his last speech, calling the accusations of extremism unsubstantiated.

The judge, not heeding the arguments of the believer, issued a guilty verdict, although not as severe as the prosecutor demanded - the prosecutor Oksana Slastina requested seven years in a general regime colony. As a result, Ivashin received 6 years probation with a probationary period of three and a half years. In addition, the court banned Ivashin from holding senior positions in any public organizations for five years. He also forbade for one year without permission to leave Lensk and change his place of work without notifying the regulatory authorities.

Despite the relative leniency of the sentence, the suspended sentence with probation condemns the believer to a life of constant fear, since he can go to prison at any time if law enforcement authorities consider his individual religion "an extension of the organization's activities." Ivashin intends to appeal the verdict.

The verdict to Igor Ivashin comes against the backdrop of the European Union's demand to stop bullying Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. Ivashin is already the 32nd Jehovah's Witness to be convicted by the Russian legal system. Eight believers are currently serving sentences in penal colonies for their beliefs, some of whom have been beaten and humiliated.

Case of Ivashin in Lensk

Case History
In June 2018, 22 Jehovah’s Witnesses were taken to police stations in Lensk, Yakutia, during mass searches. Operational-search activities were carried out by employees of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), including investigators Andrey Romanenko and Andrey Myreev. During the interrogations, it turned out that civilians had been under surveillance for more than six months. During this time, the telephone conversations of Igor Ivashin, one of the detainees, were tapped. In addition, audio and video surveillance were conducted in his apartment. As a result, a criminal case was initiated under the article “organization of the activities of an extremist organization”. The prosecutor requested that Igor Ivashin be sentenced to 7 years in prison, but on April 1, 2020, the judge of the Lensky District Court of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Zhanna Schmidt, sentenced him to 6 years probation for believing in Jehovah God. The Court of Appeal upheld the verdict.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Sakha (Yakutia)
Locality:
Lensk
Suspected of:
according to the investigation, together with others he conducted religious services, which is interpreted as organising the activity of an extremist organisation (with reference to the decision of the Russian Supreme Court on the liquidation of all 396 registered organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses)
Court case number:
11802980009000034
Initiated:
June 29, 2018
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Investigative Department of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-144/2019
Case History