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What Happened in Abakan? Details Around the Sentence that Sent a 70-Year-Old Woman and Her Son to Prison for Believing in Jehovah


On February 24, 2021, the Abakan City Court convicted 70-year-old Valentina Baranovskaya and her son, Roman. Both are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Following the verdict, they were immediately taken into custody from the courtroom. Sadly, three months later the appeal court upheld the unjust verdict. They were cruelly and inhumanely sentenced to two and six years in prison, respectively.

Yegiazar Chernikov, attorney: “There is no way that it can be said that they committed any crime. They were just practicing their religion.”

Friends of the family say what happened is beyond their comprehension: “Why did they imprison such an old and sick woman, and for that long?” A friend of Valentina: “When the ruling was announced, someone was crying quietly because it was impossible to accept this without tears.” A friend of Roman: “It lies outside the realm of human reason that they could possibly be “extremists.””

Her sentence is the first one in modern-day Russia where a court has convicted and imprisoned a female Witness for her faith, and a 70-year-old at that. She is also the first Witness to be imprisoned for participating in, not organizing, a banned organization. Prior to this, Jehovah’s Witnesses who were accused of violating this article were fined or given a suspended prison sentence.

About the reasons and prerequisites for the absurd verdict says lawyer Yegiazar Chernikov: “The main grounds for prosecuting Valentina and her son are once again the [Supreme Court] decision, which I would call egregious, that was handed down on April 20, 2017. On page 32 of the decision, the Supreme Court specifically noted that the ruling did not interfere with or violate the rights of citizens to meet together or worship freely. Nevertheless, the courts of the Russian Federation who are using this decision are totally ignoring the language in that section.” There is a curious detail in the case. “The charges were based on the evidence of one woman, who, pretending to want to study the Bible, recorded everything on camera; all their discussions, and handed it over to the FSB,” says Valentina's friend, who followed the trial.

The criminal case against Valentina and Roman was initiated in April 2019. Their home was subsequently searched. Then in July 2020, due to being under constant stress, Valentina suffered a stroke. Yegiazar Chernikov, attorney: “She was hospitalized, and then they discovered that she had heart problems as well. But despite those circumstances, the court still decided that she needed to be imprisoned, isolated from society.” A friend of Valentina: “Sometimes they had to call an ambulance five or six times a week because her blood pressure would skyrocket, and she would have problems with her heart.”

Despite Valentina’s health problems and advanced age, the detention authorities forced her to wash the floor of her cell. According to their friends, Valentina and Roman are managing to stay positive despite being imprisoned and separated. In letters, Valentina relates that she eagerly awaits the time when they will be released and reunited. A friend of Roman: “Roman is very worried about his mother. I know that for now, while they’re still in the pretrial detention facility, they’re allowed to write to each other.”

How did the Baranovskys meet the hardships that befell them? A friend of Valentina: “The Baranovskiys handled this persecution in a praiseworthy manner. They never panicked. They remained calm and viewed it as something to be expected, and what every Christian should be ready for.” The lawyer who visited Valentina in the detention center said: “Every time I met Valentina, I never heard her express any negative sentiments with regard to her persecutors. She understands what is happening and why it is happening. But she will not renounce her faith just to make life easier, although she was given the opportunity to do so in the course of the investigation.”

Even this shameful and inhuman verdict did not frighten Valentina and Roman. They remain loyal to their faith. Their friends hope that justice will soon be restored and that this elderly mother and her son will once again enjoy freedom.

Case of Baranovskiy in Abakan

Case History
In April 2019, the investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation A. Pachuev opened a criminal case against Roman Baranovsky and his mother, Valentina. At the same time, armed law enforcement officers searched their house. Believers from Abakan were accused of organizing the activities of an extremist organization and participating in it. In the summer of 2020, the case was submitted to the Abakan City Court. Against the background of severe stress, Valentina had a stroke. In February 2021, Judge Yelena Shcherbakova found the believers guilty and sentenced Roman to 6 years in prison and Valentina to 2 years. The 70-year-old believer became the first woman Jehovah’s Witness in Russia to be sentenced to actual imprisonment. The Supreme Court of Khakassia upheld this decision. In the fall of 2021, despite Valentina’s serious illnesses, the court denied her early release. Her repeated petition was granted, and on May 4, 2022, Valentina was released. Roman continues to serve his sentence in a penal colony.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Suspected of:
[to be determined]
Court case number:
April 10, 2019
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
[to be determined]
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2), 282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-34/2021 (1-707/2020)
Абаканский городской суд
Елена Щербакова
Case History