Unjust Verdicts

For the First Time in Russia, a Court Sentenced a Woman to a Six-Year Prison Sentence for Adhering to Beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses

Astrakhan Region

On January 25, 2022, Aleksandr Lepsky, a judge of the Trusovskiy District Court of Astrakhan, considered Anna Safronova’s participation in Bible discussions extremism and sentenced her to 6 years in a penal colony, as requested by the prosecutor. After the verdict was announced, the believer was taken into custody.

In her last speech, Safronova said: “A conscience taught by the Bible does not allow me to harm the state and the people living in it. I have nothing to do with extremism. I am actually accused of believing in Jehovah God, praying to him, talking to others about the Bible and remaining a Jehovah's Witness, that is, enjoying the right guaranteed by Article 28 of the Constitution.” As in other "extremist" cases against Jehovah's Witnesses, in Safronova's case there are no victims or damage caused to anyone or anything. The verdict has not entered into force and can be appealed.

Anna Safronova is a 56-year-old widow. She takes care of her mother, who is already over 80. The women had to go through searches twice. The first one took place in the summer of 2020, when a raid took place in the homes of 26 more families of believers. Then Anna was a witness in the case of other Astrakhan believers accused of extremism. A year later, Anna and her mother's apartment was searched again. This time, Safronova was already a suspect. She was interrogated and sent to the detention center for 1 day.

On May 28, 2021, the investigator for especially important cases of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Astrakhan Region, Nikolay Banko, opened a criminal case against Anna Safronova under Part 2 of Art. 282.2 and part 1 of Art. 282.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, accusing her of participating in worship services of Jehovah's Witnesses and financing extremist activities. Among the evidence of Anna's “criminal intent” is a discussion of the Bible with fellow believers via video link and the singing of songs and prayers to Jehovah God. The investigation considers the financing of extremism to be the fact that Safronova helped collect voluntary donations for the common needs of believers. For example, to pay for the ZOOM program, video cameras and microphones to communicate with fellow believers. Almost immediately after the initiation of the criminal case, Anna was included in the list of extremists of Rosfinmonitoring, due to which her bank accounts were blocked.

Anna Safronova became the first woman, Jehovah's Witness, in Russia to be sentenced to such a long prison term. In addition to her, after the guilty verdict, two more believers are currently behind bars: Olga Ivanova from Astrakhan (sentence - 3.5 years) and Valentina Baranovskaya from Abakan (2 years). In addition, Olga Ponomareva and Anna Yermak from the Krasnodar village of Kholmskaya were sentenced in absentia to 5 and 4.5 years in prison, respectively. Another woman, Tatyana Velizhanina from Sochi, is awaiting a court decision in a pre-trial detention center.

According to the decision of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of October 28, 2021, “the divine services of Jehovah’s Witnesses, their joint performance of rites and ceremonies, in themselves do not constitute a crime under Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, despite the liquidation of their legal entities.

The case of Safronova in Astrakhan

Case History
In June 2020, Anna Safronova’s apartment was searched, and she became a witness in a case against four believers from Astrakhan. A year later, the investigation initiated a criminal case against the believer herself, accusing her of participating in the activities of an extremist organization and financing it. She was included on the Rosfinmonitoring list of extremists, and her bank accounts were blocked. Soon after, the apartment, where Anna’s mother, who is over 80, also lived, was searched again. Safronova was placed under house arrest. In November 2021, her case went to court, and by the end of January 2022, Anna was sentenced to six years in a penal colony, which was an unprecedented harsh sentence for women who are Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. This is exactly what the prosecutor requested. In April 2022, the Astrakhan Regional Court, and later the cassation court, approved this verdict.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Astrakhan Region
Suspected of:
According to the investigation, she "personally took part in online meetings ... in the form of collective religious worship, sequential singing of songs and prayers to Jehovah God, studying articles and watching videos."
Court case number:
May 28, 2021
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Astrakhan Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2), 282.3 (1)
Court case number:
1-5/2022 (1-306/2021)
Трусовский районный суд г. Астрахани
Александр Лепский
Case History