Marina with her family at the penal colony on the day of the wedding

Inside Penal Colonies and Detention Centers

Stronger Than Prison Shackles. The Wedding of Jehovah's Witness Sergey Shulyarenko Took Place in The Penal Colony in Blagoveshchensk

Jewish Autonomous Area

On September 27, 2023, near IK-8 in the Amur Region, a rare for such place festive atmosphere reigned - about 20 people with flowers and gifts gathered for the wedding of prisoner of conscience Sergey Shulyarenko and his bride Marina.

By that day, Shulyarenko had spent almost four months in the colony out of the six years and nine months appointed by the court for his faith. He lives in a barrack for 100 people, studies carpenter-machine operation and attends English classes.

"On the wedding day, fellow believers provided invaluable support and assistance," Marina said. "When we arrived at the colony, we were surprised to see a large support group. Everyone was joyful and happy." According to her, visitors to the colony watched with surprise.

Registration of marriage, which took a little more than five minutes, took place in the presence of the parents of the newlyweds. For this event, Shulyarenko was allowed to dress up accordingly. The colony staff took memorable photographs for Sergey and Marina. Afterward, the couple and their parents celebrated their wedding in the visiting room.

Speaking on how the newlyweds build their family life in spite of the prison shackles, Marina said: "Sergey tries to call as soon as the opportunity arises. We tell each other what interesting things happened to us, mention our problems, news. Every time we share what we need each other to pray for. The letters are also a huge support. We try our best to encourage each other, set each other up for a positive attitude and assure each other of love.

Since the liquidation of Jehovah's Witnesses' legal entities in Russia, criminal prosecution for faith has already changed the lives of almost 800 people, 139 of whom have been sentenced to prison for terms ranging from two to eight years. The international community, including the European Court of Human Rights, considers what is happening illegal and calls on Russia to stop the repression of believers.

The Case of Aliyev and Others in Birobidzhan

Case History
In May 2018, in the city of Birobidzhan a special FSB operation with the participation of 150 security officials, code-named "Judgement Day", took place. More than 20 families of Jehovah's Witnesses have become victims of criminal prosecution, including Alam Aliyev,Valeriy Kriger, Sergey Shulyarenko, and Dmitriy Zagulin. The believers were charged with holding meetings for worship, which the investigation deemed to be the organizing the activity of an extremist organization and financing it. They spent more than 5 months in pretrial detention. In November 2020, the case went to court. The hearings lasted more than 2 years, and in December 2022, the court sentenced Zagulin to 3 years and 6 months, Aliyev to 6 years and 6 months, and Shulyarenko and Kriger to 7 years in a penal colony. The court of appeal confirmed the terms of Zagulin and Aliyev, and reduced those of Shulyarenko and Krieger by 3 months. The court of cassation upheld the verdict in March 2024. The wives of three of the convicts were also prosecuted: Svetlana Monis, Tatyana Zagulina and Natalya Kriger. In September 2023, Sergey Shulyarenko's wedding took place in the penal colony.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Jewish Autonomous Area
Suspected of:
according to the investigation he together with others conducted religious services, which is interpreted as “organising the activity of an extremist organisation” (with reference to the decision of the Russian Supreme Court on the liquidation of all 396 registered organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses)
Court case number:
May 14, 2018
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigative Department of the Directorate of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1), 282.3 (1)
Court case number:
№ 1-8/2022 (1-65/2021; 1-609/2020)
Биробиджанский районный суд ЕАО
Яна Владимирова
Case History