From left to right: Nikolay Zhugin, Pavel Lekontsev, Sergey Logunov, Vladimir Kochnev and Vladislav Kolbanov in the courtroom. July 2023

Unjust Verdicts

In Orenburg, An Appellate Court Upholds the Suspended Sentence of Five Believers

Orenburg Region

According to the decision of the Orenburg Regional Court, on January 24, 2024, the verdict came into force for five Jehovah's Witnesses—Vladislav Kolbanov, Vladimir Kochnev, Pavel Lekontsev, Nikolay Zhugin, and Sergey Logunov received from 2.5 to 3.5 years suspended for friendly meetings with fellow believers.

The state prosecutor asked the appellate court to uphold the verdict. The believers' lawyer called the accusation's demands unfounded, stressing that in the verdict the court specifically noted: "Actions aimed at inciting hatred and enmity, calls for violence . . . the defendants are not charged."

The believers themselves once again stated that they consider any guilty decision unjust and infringing on their right to freedom of religion. "It is impossible to establish from the appealed verdict on what basis the court refused to consider the actions imputed to me as an exercise of my right to freedom of religion within the framework of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses," Nikolay Zhugin noted in his appeal. Vladimir Kochnev emphasized: "The court did not establish the presence of motives of religious hatred or enmity in my actions. All my actions were completely peaceful."

Case of Kochnev and Others in Orenburg

Case History
In May 2018, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation opened a criminal case against Vladimir Kochnev, Vladislav Kolbanov, Pavel Lekontsev, Sergey Logunov and Nikolay Zhugin. Believers from Orenburg were accused of organizing and financing an extremist organization’s activities and participating in it because of friendly meetings in a café. After the searches, three men were released on recognizance not to leave, and two were detained. Kochnev spent 76 days in pre-trial detention and 72 days under house arrest, while Kolbanov spent 149 days under house arrest. In December 2019, the case went to court, but a month later it was returned to the prosecutor’s office due to the vague nature of the charges. The retrial of the case by another judge began in February 2021. The accusation is based on the testimony of the agent V. Yudin. In August 2023, the judge sentenced the believers to suspended sentences: Logunov and Zhugin — to two and a half years, Kochnev — to two years and eight months, Lekontsev — to three years, and Kolbanov — to three and a half years. The appellate court upheld the verdict.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Orenburg Region
Suspected of:
according to the investigation, together with others he conducted religious services, which is interpreted as “organising and participating in 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 Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Orenburg Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2), 282.3 (1), 282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-1/2023 (1-2/2022; 1-139/2021; 1-62/2020; 1-501/2019)
Промышленный районный суд г. Оренбурга
Диана Судоргина
Case History