Unjust Verdicts

Matryona Spiriadi, 68, and Aleksandr Vergunov, 24, Based in Abakan, Were Each Handed a Two-and-a-Half-Year Suspended Sentence for Reading the Bible


On April 4, 2022, the judge of the Abakan City Court, Yuriy Lotsky, sentenced Matrena Spiriadi and Aleksandr Vergunov to 2.5 years of suspended sentence. By its decision, the court equated the discussion of the Bible among friends with participation in the activities of an extremist organization.

The criminal case against the civilians of Khakassia—Aleksandr Vergunov, Matrena Spiriadi and Irina Sidorova—was initiated on April 20, 2020 by the investigative department for the city of Abakan of the Investigative Committee of the Investigative Committee for the Krasnoyarsk Territory and the Republic of Khakassia. Three months later, 44-year-old Irina Sidorova died in the hospital after two surgeries. Her minor child was left without a mother.

A year after the initiation of the case, the senior detective of the CPE of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Republic of Khakassia, police major Artem Kononov, searched the homes of Vergunov and Spiriadi. The believers were under an obligation to appear promptly when summoned by an interrogating officer, investigator, or to court.

At the time of the initiation of the case, Aleksandr Vergunov was doing alternative civilian service in a medical center for newborns. The draft board took into account his beliefs that did not allow him to take up arms.

Matrena Spiriadi grew up in a large family, she was the youngest of 11 children. Now the believer lives with a disabled grandson suffering from cerebral palsy, whom she continues to take care of, despite her own health problems: she suffers from hyperglycemia. Due to the nervous shock after the searches, the blood sugar level of an elderly woman rose to a critical level. In this regard, she constantly has to take many medications. The investigation did not consider the life situation of the elderly woman as a mitigating circumstance.

The Abakan City Court has been hearing the case since June 29, 2021. To prove the guilt of the believers, the prosecution brought in 42 witnesses, most of whom were not acquainted with the defendants and had a superficial understanding of Jehovah's Witnesses. One of the two secret witnesses under the pseudonym "Nadezhda Petrova" for some time made secret audio recordings of conversations with believers, providing information to law enforcement officers. Many witnesses were unable to recognize the defendants in the courtroom, while others were confused in their testimony.

The line of accusation, as in many similar cases against Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, was based only on proving the defendants' religious affiliation. Among the evidence are books “evidencing involvement in the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The file contains the conclusions of religious expert examinations of audio recordings of “meetings to glorify Jehovah and sermons on specific topics: ‘Do not give up, doing good!’, ‘Forgive your enemies,’ and others.” At the same time, no specific facts of the commission of unlawful actions by believers at the trial were provided.

Aleksandr Vergunov drew the court's attention to this in his final statement: "All the evidence collected only shows that I was exercising my constitutional right to freedom of religion."

Speaking before the court with her last word, Matrena Spiriadi said: “As a believer, I profess the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. It is a peaceful Christian religion whose teachings are based solely on the Bible. I have been studying the Bible for a long time and it does not make me worse. On the contrary, this holy book helped me to break with bad habits in due time. I also learned from the Bible how to build relationships with people and keep peace with them.”

Although there is not a single victim in the case, the prosecutor asked the court to sentence the believers to 5 years in a penal colony, but the court limited itself to a suspended sentence. Vergunov and Spiriadi insist on their complete innocence. The verdict has not entered into force and can be appealed.

The case against Aleksandr Vergunov and Matrena Spiriadi was separated from another high-profile case against believers in Abakan, Roman Baranovskiy and his mother Valentina . A 70-year-old believer and her son are sent to a colony for their faith in God.

According to clarification of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, the profession of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses cannot in itself be considered extremism. The world community expresses its concern about the unlawful use of anti-extremist legislation to organize religious repression.

The case of Vergunov and Others in Abakan

Case History
Several criminal cases were singled out from the high-profile case of the Baranovskiys , a mother and son. One of them was opened by the Abakan Investigation Department on April 20, 2020 against Aleksandr Vergunov, Matryona Spiriadi and Irina Sidorova (she died three months later). At that time, Vergunov was doing alternative civilian service at a medical center, and Spiriadi was the guardian of his disabled grandson. After more than a year of investigation, the case was submitted to the Abakan City Court of the Republic of Khakassia. It was considered by Judge Yuriy Lotsky. On April 4, 2022, the court sentenced the believers to 2.5 years of probation. The appeal upheld the verdict.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Suspected of:
"as followers of the religious teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses," attended worship services and discussed the Bible
Court case number:
April 20, 2020
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigative Directorate for the city of Abakan, Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee for the Krasnoyarsk Territory and the Republic of Khakassia
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2)
Court case number:
1-30/2022 (1-719/2021)
Абаканский городской суд Республики Хакасия
Юрий Лоцкий
Case History