Alexander Pryanikov with his wife, Venera and Daria Dulov in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation

Unjust Verdicts

For the Second Time, the Supreme Court Has Overturned the Acquittal of Jehovah's Witnesses—This Time in the Case of Believers From Karpinsk

Sverdlovsk Region,   Moscow

On March 14, 2023, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation overturned the acquittal of Aleksandr Prianikov and Venera and Darya Dulova and sent the case back for another consideration at the appellate instance.

In January 2020, the Karpinsk City Court of the Sverdlovsk Region gave believers suspended sentences ranging from one to two and a half years. The appellate court overturned the verdict due to violation of the principle of transparency and sent the case back for a new trial. The second verdict duplicated the previous court decision, but it was also appealed. In March 2022, the Sverdlovsk Regional Court found the believers not guilty of extremism. This happened shortly after the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation clarified that the worship services of Jehovah's Witnesses do not in themselves constitute a crime under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, despite the liquidation of the believers' legal entities.

In accordance with this position, the regional court ruled that Pryanikov and the Dulovas “did not continue or resume their participation in the activities of [an extremist organization] but only disseminated their religious beliefs among the population of the city of Karpinsk. In addition, the testimonies of witnesses in this case proved only that the convicted persons belonged to the religious denomination “Jehovah's Witnesses”. The court of cassation agreed and upheld the acquittal on appeal. But Deputy Prosecutor General Igor Tkachev appealed these court decisions to the Supreme Court.

Speaking before the Supreme Court on March 14, 2023, Aleksandr Pryanikov said: “The accusations are far-fetched and do not contain any evidence. For years now, I have had to defend myself in courts simply because I want to live a peaceful life and practice my religious views without violating the law.”

Venera Dulova also emphasized the groundlessness of the accusation of extremism: “My husband and I have different religious beliefs. But this did not divide our family in any way and does not affect our relationship. If I was motivated to hate another religion, then perhaps our family would have broken up long ago. My husband defended us three times in court and said that he saw nothing wrong with the fact that my daughter and I began to profess the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses.”

Darya Dulova, addressing the panel of judges, said: “Since the age of 18, I have been persecuted for my faith as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. For a 23-year-old, five years is a long time. The criminal case kept me in one place. And finally, an acquittal that lifted my spirits! I began to see a better future ahead of me; I began to set life goals for myself. And now, once again, they want to take it all away from me.”

Since 2021, another case against the Dulovas and Pryanikov has been considered in court, also on charges of extremism.

In June 2022, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a landmark decision in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses, ruling that their persecution in Russia is unlawful.

Case of Prianikov and Others in Karpinsk

Case History
In June 2018, Venera Dulova and Aleksandr Pryanikov were detained for talking about the Bible. A criminal case was opened against them under an extremist article. A year later, Daria Dulova became the third defendant in the case. In January 2020, they were sentenced to suspended sentences ranging from 1 year to 2.5 years. An appeal in Yekaterinburg overturned the verdict and returned the case to the court of first instance. This time, the prosecutor requested a more severe punishment, but the court duplicated the first verdict. In March 2022, the appellate court again overturned the verdict, acquitting the believers. The cassation court did not change this decision. However, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation overturned it in March 2023 and returned the case to the appeal stage, which returned the case to the prosecutor’s office, after which the cassation sent it for a new appeal hearing. A fourth appellate decision upheld the convictions of Aleksandr and Venera. Daria is exempt from criminal liability, as the statute of limitations has expired. All three believers are defendants in another criminal case for their faith.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Sverdlovsk Region
Locality:
Karpinsk
Suspected of:
"Within the jurisdiction of the city of Karpinsk... together with a group of people, being fully aware that the religious organization Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia was declared extremist and its activities in the Russian Federation were prohibited, [he] participated in its activities by directly taking part in events, carrying out propaganda of its activities, familiarizing with religious literature."
Court case number:
11802650042000038
Initiated:
July 30, 2018
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigating:
СО в г. Краснотурьинске СУ Следственного комитета РФ по Свердловской области
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2)
Court case number:
1-11/2021 (1-184/2020; 1-5/2020; 1-167/2019)
Court:
Карпинский городской суд Свердловской области
Case History