Case of Guzev in Birobidzhan

Case History

In February 2021, the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Konstantin Guzev to 2,5 years of suspended imprisonment. A criminal case for faith under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation against a law-abiding builder-repairman was opened in May 2018. A similar case was brought against his wife, Anastasia. Since December 2019, his case has been considered by judge Alexei Ivashchenko. At the hearing, the prosecutor called Konstantin’s house a “crime scene” because he was discussing the Bible with friends via video link. The prosecutor requested 4 years in prison for the believer. In May 2021, the appellate court upheld the verdict, but in December 2021, the court of cassation overturned it and returned the case to the appeal stage. In March 2022, the court of the Jewish Autonomous Region in a different composition again approved the conviction. The court of cassation overturned this decision and sent the case for a new appeal. In July 2022, a decision was made to expunge the criminal record.

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    May 14, 2018

    The Investigative Department of the Federal Security Service of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates a criminal case for faith under Articles 282.2 (1), 282.2 (2), 282.3 (1) against local believers. According to the investigation, together with others, they held worship services, which is interpreted as "organizing the activities of an extremist organization" (with reference to the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to liquidate all 396 registered organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses).

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    May 17, 2018

    A large-scale operation codenamed "Judgment Day" is underway in Birobidzhan with the participation of 150 security officials.

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    July 29, 2019

    The Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates the 3rd criminal case in Birobidzhan for faith under Article 282.2 (2) - against Konstantin Guzev. According to reports, the case was separated from the case file against Alam Aliyev.

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    December 23, 2019

    The case goes to the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region and is referred to federal judge Alexei Ivashchenko, who is also considering the case of Yevgeny Egorov and Igor Tsarev. The criminal case is assigned the number 1-49/2020.

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    January 29, 2020

    A preliminary hearing is underway. Guzev submits 3 petitions. The court satisfies the request for familiarization with the materials of the criminal case and rejects the petition for the refusal of defense counsel and for the consolidation of 10 criminal cases.

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    February 4, 2020

    Hearing in the court of first instance. At 11:00 (local time), hearings begin at the address: Birobidzhan, Pionerskaya str., 32. About 10 people come to support the believer.

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    February 21, 2020

    Hearing in the court of first instance. Of the 16 students in the trial, the prosecutor expels three (Aliyev, Golik, Zagulin) because they are accused in similar cases. During the meeting, the case materials (from the 10th to the 24th volume) are announced. During the hearing, the prosecutor officially declared the defendant's house the scene of the crime.

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    November 18, 2020

    2 prosecution witnesses are being questioned. One of them is a police officer Zvereva, who participated in 2015-2016 in the formation of cases of administrative offenses against the Local Religious Organization. Courts found believers guilty of possession of extremist materials, although they were planted on them. She also testified at the hearings in the cases of Evgeny Golik, Anastasia Sycheva and Tatiana Zagulina. Zvereva does not know anything about the episodes imputed to Konstantin Guzev.

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    December 30, 2020

    Konstantin Guzev requests that the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which condemns the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, be accepted. The prosecutor believes that this "clutters up the criminal case." Judge Alexei Ivashchenko rejects the defendant's petition, since, in his opinion, "these documents are a judgment on specific cases of other persons."

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    February 3, 2021

    At the court hearing, the participants in the trial view video materials secretly filmed during religious meetings of believers. Konstantin Guzev comments on them, drawing attention to how biblical teachings improve people's lives and encourage them to do good deeds.

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    February 10, 2021

    In the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region, debates are underway. The prosecutor requests for Konstantin Guzev a sentence of 4 years of imprisonment in a general regime colony, 1 year of restriction with the obligation to report once a month to the regulatory authorities.

    The believer does not plead guilty to extremism, emphasizing that he did not commit any real crime.

    "The evidence presented by the prosecutor only confirms that I profess the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. In other words, this evidence proves that there was no corpus delicti in my actions," says Konstantin Guzev, pointing out that the accusations boil down to the fact that he read the Bible with friends at home via Skype.

    Commenting on the accusations of inciting discord and enmity, the believer notes: "It is absolutely alien to me to feel hatred or enmity towards anyone, and even more so to commit violent or other illegal acts [...] If I felt hatred for people, and even more so if I called for violence or other illegal actions against someone, then I simply could not become Jehovah's Witness or would cease to be one."

    The court schedules the next hearing for February 17. Konstantin Guzev plans to make his last speech. On the same day, the court may announce the verdict.

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    February 17, 2021 Final statement

    Konstantin Guzev speaks in court with the last word. At the very beginning, he says: "I have not done anything reprehensible: neither against our country, nor against the citizens who live in it, nor against the laws of the state."

    Then he quotes the Bible: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind," but Judge Ivashchenko interrupts him, stating that it is necessary to speak on the merits of the accusation. Guzev explains that the arguments and quotes he cites show the absurdity of the accusation against him.- Extremism and Jehovah's Witnesses are incompatible concepts.

    The believer also tells the court how faith in God changed his life: he became a peace-loving person and got rid of bad habits. He says that Jehovah's Witnesses "work hard to live up to the high moral standards of Jehovah God. Everyone tries to fight bad inclinations at the level of thoughts and develop qualities pleasing to him [God]."

    In conclusion, the believer sums up: "For twenty years I have been trying to show with my life that it is better to forgive the offender than to take revenge. Understanding all this, I cannot be an extremist in any way, I cannot deliberately incite conflicts, insult and humiliate people. [...] Jehovah's Witnesses should not be persecuted, but should be taken as an example in how all mankind can live in peace and friendship. This is exactly what people crave today, but cannot achieve.

    The verdict is scheduled to be announced on February 18.

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    February 18, 2021 First Instance Sentence Final statement

    Referee: Oleksiy Ivashchenko. Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region (Pionerskaya Street, 32). Verdict: Guilty. Verdict: 2.5 years of suspended imprisonment plus a probationary period of 2 years with the obligation to report to the supervisory authority once a month.

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    May 13, 2021 Court of Appeal

    The court of the Jewish Autonomous Region rejected Konstantin Guzev's appeal against the decision of the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region. The verdict of the believer was left unchanged.

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    December 23, 2021

    The Ninth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction in Vladivostok decided to cancel the decision of the appellate instance - 2.5 years of suspended sentence - and send the case against Konstantin Guzev for a new trial to the court of appeal in a new composition.

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    March 14, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance Court of Appeal

    The court of the Jewish Autonomous Region re-examines the case of Konstantin Guzev and confirms the guilty verdict.

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    March 15, 2022
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    July 15, 2022

    The Birobidzhan District Court removes Konstantin Guzev's criminal record.