Near the Pozharsky District Court, December 2023

Unjust Verdicts

The Court in Luchegorsk Found Four Jehovah's Witnesses Guilty of Extremism. Two of Them Are Pensioners, and One is a Father of Three Minors

Primorye Territory

Luchegorsk residents Nikolay Dikhtyar, Andrey Lyakhov, Yuriy Ponomarenko, and Oleg Sergeyev were found guilty of organizing and participating in an extremist organization because they continued to gather for peaceful religious meetings with other Jehovah's Witnesses. The verdict was handed down on May 2, 2024 by the judge of the Pozharskiy District Court of the Primorye Territory, Mikhail Atroshko.

Yuriy Ponomarenko was given a suspended sentence of 6 years and 6 months, Oleg Sergeyev — 6 years and 4 months, Andrey Lyakhov — 2 years and 8 months and Nikolay Dikhtyar — 2 years and 6 months. The period of probation is from 2.5 to 5 years. The believers also received terms of restriction of freedom ranging from 1 to 1.5 years.

Oleg Sergeev has three young children. "The most difficult thing for me was to stay calm," said the believer. "I was worried about what would happen to my wife and children if I was deprived of my liberty." Nikolay Dikhtyar is a 69-year-old pensioner. He and his wife raised four children (three of their own and another boy who was orphaned). Now he takes care of his wife, who suffered a stroke a few years ago. Yuriy Ponomarenko is also retired.

The Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case against the believers in July 2021. Ponomarenko was the first to fall under suspicion – he was added to the Rosfinmonitoring list and his accounts were blocked. A few months later, the others were charged.

The court considered the case for almost two years. One of the witnesses for the prosecution was FSB officer Prokhor Vasin, Ponomarenko's neighbor. Pretending to be interested in the Bible, he secretly videotaped conversations with the defendant. During the interrogation, Vasin admitted that no one had encouraged him to do anything against the law.

The believers insist on their innocence. In his final statement, before the verdict was announced, Yuriy Ponomarenko, 65, said: "During four searches of my house, they searched for any notes where the name Jehovah was mentioned. It turns out that they want to charge me just because I practice the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, which is not banned in Russia ... There is no evidence in the case materials of incitement to hatred of others, i.e. extremism. There aren't any because I am following the Bible commandment, 'Be peaceable with all men.'"

As Nikolay Dikhtyar stated, his conscience is clear before God, people and the law: "One thing I regret is that I only became one of Jehovah's Witnesses at the age of 40, having learned the truth that saved me from many rash actions."

Andrey Lyakhov, in turn, said: "I do not deny that I am a believer, one of Jehovah's Witnesses, that I read the Bible, sing songs and pray to God. But no legal entity has ever told me how to do this. My faith has never depended and does not depend on the presence or absence of a local religious organization in my city."

Oleg Sergeyev emphasized: "Studying the Bible, I came to the conclusion that those who want to please God must love not only their neighbors, but all people."

Earlier, Oleg Sergeyev's father, Sergey Sergeyev, was convicted for his faith on the basis of similar charges. As a result, 8 residents of Luchegorsk, a town with a population of just over 17 thousand people, have already been prosecuted for peaceful religious activity. A total of 58 Jehovah's Witnesses have faced criminal prosecution for their faith in the Primorye Territory.

The Case of Ponomarenko and Others in Luchegorsk

Case History
In July 2021, Yuriy Ponomarenko’s home was searched in Luchegorsk. The Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case against him on suspicion of organizing the activity of an extremist organization. In November of the same year, as part of the Ponomarenko case, another search was carried out - in the home of Oleg Sergeyev. He was charged under the same article. In March 2022, two more defendants appeared in the case - Andrey Lyakhov and Nikolay Dikhtyar were charged with participating in the activity of an extremist organization. In June 2022, the criminal case against the believers went to court. Almost two years later, in May 2024, the believers were given suspended sentences ranging from 2.5 to 6.5 years.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Primorye Territory
Court case number:
July 16, 2021
Current case stage:
verdict did not take effect
Investigative Directorate for the city of Dalnerechensk of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Primorsky Territory
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2), 282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-6/2024 (1-22/2023; 1-197/2022)
Court of First Instance:
Пожарский районный суд Приморского края
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Михаил Атрошко
Case History