Yelena and Sergey Chechulins

Unjust Verdicts

In Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, a Court Gave a Married Couple of Jehovah's Witnesses a Two-Year Suspended Sentence for Their Faith

Kamchatka Territory

On April 22, 2024, Ivan Pantyashin, judge of the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy City Court, gave the Chechulins each a 2-year suspended sentence, a 3-year probation period and additional restrictions of 6 months for talking about the Bible. The believers do not agree with this decision and can appeal the verdict.

Sergey, 55, who grew up in an orphanage, works as a repairman in a heat supply organization, and 45-year-old Yelena works as a nurse. The Chechulins found out about the criminal prosecution in October 2022 during interrogation at the Investigative Committee, where they were taken after a search in their home. The spouses were accused of organizing the activities of an extremist organization (part 1 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), and later the court reclassified the charge to participation in the activities of an extremist organization (part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). The investigation lasted 1 year and 3 months. It took the court 3 months to find the believers guilty.

Expert studies on conversations of the believers in the case materials stated: "There are no statements inciting hostile (violent) actions of one person or group of persons against another person or group of persons." This did not prevent the prosecutor from requesting 6 years in a penal colony for the couple.

In her final statement to the court, Yelena spoke about the basic beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses and explained why the charges of continuing the activity of a banned legal entity are untenable: " For centuries, Christians have gathered to study the Holy Scriptures and discuss spiritual matters. What kind of meeting did the apostle Paul mean when he said "do not forsake your meetings"? Definitely not legal entities that are set up in accordance with the laws of different countries. The words of the apostle Paul are 2000 years old, whereas the legal entities that we are accused of organizing—appeared, existed for a short time and disappeared. But the worship of God does not."

"We are being prosecuted for our right to religious beliefs, guaranteed to us by the most important document of the country, the Constitution of the Russian Federation . . . We are unfairly and without proof accused of enmity and hatred toward persons not identified by the prosecution. Not a single person has been named, whom we would have insulted, humiliated or inappropriately compared his views, beliefs, race or gender with our views and beliefs," Sergey Chechulin said in court. "We could get angry, but we do not. We understand that the faith of every Christian is tested differently."

Sergey expressed gratitude to those who are supporting his family, especially to fellow believers: "They often share encouraging thoughts, pray for us and send parcels. Letters are especially joyful. They come from different parts of the world. We are also strengthened by those who come to court hearings."

Russian law enforcement officers often initiate criminal cases against several family members at once. By November 2023, under this scheme, at least 71 families in 35 regions of the Russian Federation became easy prey for the security forces.

The Case of the Chechulins in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy

Case History
Sergey Chechulin and his wife Yelena became defendants in yet another criminal case against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. In September 2022, the Investigative Committee initiated a case against them on suspicion of organizing the activity of an extremist organization. A month later, their home was searched, and the couple was placed under a recognizance agreement. In November 2023, the case went to court, where the charge was reclassified as participating in the activity of an extremist organization. The prosecutor requested 6 years in a penal colony for the Chechulins. In April 2024, they were each given a 2-year suspended sentence, a 3-year probation period and additional restrictions of 6 months. In June 2024, the Court of Appeal upheld this decision.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Kamchatka Territory
Suspected of:
in "convening meetings, organizing collective religious speeches and services, in accordance with the ideology of the religious association of Jehovah's Witnesses at these meetings ... Conducted routine training with other persons on the postulates of the religious association "Jehovah's Witnesses"" (from the decision to initiate a criminal case)
Court case number:
September 25, 2022
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Kamchatka Territory
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2)
Court case number:
1-70/2024 (1-997/2023)
Court of First Instance:
Петропавловск-Камчатский городской суд
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Иван Пантяшин
Case History