In the photo: Valery Shalev, Evgeny Deshko and Ruslan Korolev

Unjust Verdicts

Appeal in Smolensk Upheld the Penalty on Three Believers — Suspended Sentence for Discussing the Bible

Smolensk Region

On August 31, 2021 the Smolensk Regional Court upheld the appeal against the conviction of three local Jehovah's Witnesses. Thus, 32-year-old Yevgeniy Deshko was given a 6-year suspended sentence, while 43-year-old Valeriy Shalev and 42-year-old Ruslan Korolev were given 6.5-year suspended sentences.

In April 2021, the judge of the Industrial District Court of Smolensk, Marina Masalskaya, sentenced Shalev, Korolev and Deshko to suspended imprisonment, also assigning them various probation periods and additional punishments. There was also another defendant in the case, Viktor Malkov. He died a year after the initiation of the case, including due to the fact that he did not receive proper treatment in the pre-trial detention center and under house arrest. The court found him guilty, but Malkov's case was dismissed due to his death. Victor's good name was defended in court by his widow, Vera Malkova. The court found all of the defendants extremists for talking about God and Christian teachings, reading the Bible together, singing religious songs and praying. All these actions on the part of Jehovah's Witnesses are interpreted by Russian law enforcement agencies as the organization or continuation of the activities of an extremist organization, although this faith is not prohibited in the country.

The sentence was appealed. Speaking to the court during the appeal hearing, Vera Malkova said that knowing the teachings of the Bible helped her and her husband save their marriage and make them happy. "Our peaceful life suddenly changed dramatically when my husband was arrested and put in a detention center ... The persecution severely damaged my husband's health and his heart gave out and stopped," said the widow, calling the accusations against her husband unfounded. She asked the court to abolish the sentence and rehabilitate Viktor Malkov.

Valeriy Shalev, in turn, said that as a Jehovah's Witness, he does not accept extremism and other violent acts: "Over the past 100 years in our country there has been a change of system, a change of government, large-scale repression, and World Wars raging. And in all this aggressive environment Jehovah's Witnesses have not even indirectly stained themselves with a single drop of blood." "I am very glad that I am being judged not for some evil deeds, but for my faith," he stated earlier before the pronouncement of the verdict of the court of first instance.

Yevgeniy Deshko refused to take up arms and serve in the army because of his religious beliefs. Instead, from 2012 to 2014, he did alternative civilian service in a gerontological center, helping the elderly as a medical attendant. In an earlier statement to the court, he said, "I did not and could not have had the intent to commit a crime. Although there are no victims, even though I did hard work for several years just because I don't want to learn how to kill and apply violence, I am being judged as an extremist."

Ruslan Korolev drew the court's attention to the fact that his faith helped him not to follow in the footsteps of his father, who died from the consequences of alcohol abuse. According to the believer, if he had not become a Jehovah's Witness, "he could have been in prison a long time ago."

Valery Shalev, Ruslan Korolev, Yevgeny Deshko and Vera Malkova on the day of sentencing. April 2021.
Valery Shalev, Ruslan Korolev, Yevgeny Deshko and Vera Malkova on the day of sentencing. April 2021.

During the period of criminal prosecution, Yevgeniy, Valeriy and Ruslan spent from 4 to 8 months in a pre-trial detention center and another from 3 to 7 months under house arrest.

In April another conviction was handed down in Smolensk region for the faith: 44-year-old Mariya Troshina and 46-year-old Nataliya Sorokina were given 6-year suspended sentences for believing in Jehovah God. They appealed the decision of the Sychevskiy District Court.

The criminal case against two other believers from Smolensk, 65-year-old Valentina Vladimirova and 61-year-old Tatyana Galkevich, is currently pending in court.

The international community strongly condemns the criminal prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. Dr. Hubert Seiwert, professor emeritus of comparative religious studies at Leipzig University (Germany), said in an interview: "I can't imagine that a court with enough information could come to the conclusion that Jehovah's Witnesses are extremists or could be dangerous politically. [...] In addition, it is worth recalling that Jehovah's Witnesses were banned only by dictatorial regimes, for example Nazi Germany. And I do not think that today's Russia is like that."

Case of Shalev and Others in Smolensk

Case History
In April 2019, Jehovah’s Witnesses from Smolensk—Ruslan Korolev, Valery Shalev, and Viktor Malkov—were sent to jail. The day before, searches were carried out in their homes. Yevgeny Deshko was detained in Dagomys (Krasnodar Territory) as the fourth suspect in this criminal case. The believers spent 4 to 8 months in jail and another 3 to 7 months under house arrest. Due to the stress and conditions of detention in the pre-trial detention center, Viktor’s heart problems worsened, and he died without waiting for the trial. The criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation was investigated by the FSB of Russia in the Smolensk Region. In the Industrial District Court of Smolensk, the prosecutor asked Judge Marina Masalskaya to send Shalev and Deshko to jail for 8 years, and Korolev for 9 years for discussing Christian teachings. In April 2021, a judge found them guilty, but sentenced them to suspended imprisonment ranging from 6 to 6.5 years. In August 2021, the Court of Appeal approved the punishment for the believers. The cassation court upheld the decisions of the lower courts.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Smolensk Region
Locality:
Smolensk
Suspected of:
According to the investigation he “organized and held a joint prayer to ‘Jehovah’, carried out a demonstration of videos ... informing adherents on issues of participation in conventions ... organizing and conducting subsequent joint meetings” (from the indictment)
Court case number:
11907660001000014
Initiated:
April 25, 2019
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Investigative Department of the Directorate of the FSB of Russia for the Smolensk Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-2/2021 (1-159/2020)
Court:
Промышленный районный суд г. Смоленска
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Марина Масальская
Case History