Case of A. Lokhvitskaya in Birobidzhan

Case History

The life of Anna Lokhvitskaya, a garment production technologist, changed dramatically in the summer of 2019 when her husband, Artur, was criminally prosecuted for discussing the Bible among friends. On February 6, 2020, FSB Investigator Dmitry Yankin initiated criminal cases against Anna and five other residents of Birobidzhan on suspicion of participating in extremist activities. The believer was charged with “studying the Bible with others on Skype.” The hearings in the Birobidzhan District Court were held behind closed doors. During the arguments, the prosecutor requested that Anna be sentenced to four years in a general regime penal colony with subsequent restrictions for another two years. On July 20, 2021, Judge Vasilina Bezotecheskih, who also heard cases against three other believers (among them Anna’s mother-in-law), gave Lokhvitskaya a two-and-a-half-year suspended prison sentence. On December 16, 2021, the Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region upheld this verdict.

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    February 6, 2020

    D. Yankin, a senior investigator-criminalist of the investigative department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region, initiates 6 criminal cases for faith against 6 women at once: 57-year-old Irina Lokhvitskaya, 26-year-old Anna Lokhvitskaya, 26-year-old Tatyana Sholner, 35-year-old Tatyana Zagulina, 40-year-old Anastasia Guzeva and 41-year-old Nataliya Kriger . All six women are charged with part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. According to investigators, they resumed the activities of the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in Birobidzhan, which was liquidated in 2016, as well as the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. (Earlier, the defendants in the criminal case under similar articles were the husbands of Natalia Krieger, Tatyana Zagulina and Anastasia Guzeva - Valery Krieger, Dmitry Zagulin and Konstantin Guzev. And Irina and Anna Lokhvitsky were prosecuted after their son and husband Artur Lokhvitsky.)

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    February 12, 2020

    FSB investigator D. Yankin is initiating another case under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation against 44-year-old Andrey Gubin. On the same day, I. Fedorov, a senior investigator of the FSB Investigation Department, opened a similar case against 55-year-old Oleg Postnikov. (A total of 19 criminal cases were initiated against 22 believers in the city.)

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    February 17, 2020

    Senior investigator-criminalist of the investigation department of the FSB of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region D. Yankin signs a decree on bringing Anna Lokhvitskaya as a defendant in criminal case No. 12007990001000002. The ruling notes that Lokhvitskaya was active in religious activities, "took a direct active part in the illegal religious event of Jehovah's Witnesses in the form of a meeting of the congregation" and studied the Bible together with others, using the Skype program for this purpose.

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    February 18, 2020

    Senior forensic investigator D. S. Yankin charges Anna Lokhvitskaya with committing a crime under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. A measure of restraint is chosen for the believer in the form of a recognizance not to leave and proper behavior.

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    August 19, 2020

    The Birobidzhansky District Court receives materials from the criminal case against Anna Lokhvitskaya.

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    September 16, 2020

    The judge of the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region, Vasilina Bezotecheskikh, without the participation of the parties, makes a decision on the appointment of a closed court hearing in the criminal case of Anna Lokhvitskaya. It is noteworthy that on the same day the same judge makes similar decisions in the cases of three other women. Among them are Irina Lokhvitskaya, Anna's mother-in-law, as well as Natalia Kriger and Anastasia Guzeva. All four women are close relatives (wife or mother) of believing men who are accused under a similar article of the Criminal Code and whose cases are being considered in parallel in the same court.

    Anna's case will be considered behind closed doors, i.e. without the participation of the media, listeners and relatives. According to the judge, an open hearing of the case may lead to the disclosure of secrets protected by law - personal data of persons, including minors, whose data appear in the case file.

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    September 29, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The judge adjourns until 19.10.2020.

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    October 19, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor reads out the indictment, after which Anna Lokhvitskaya expresses her disagreement with it. The judge attaches the attitude to the accusation of the defendant to the case file.

    The questioning of witnesses begins. The testimony is given by a soldier who participated as a witness in searches of other believers from Birobidzhan. He explains that the searches were peaceful and calm, he personally participated in the search of an elderly married couple.

    Referee: Vasilina Bezotecheskikh. Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region (Birobidzhan, Pionerskaya Street, 32).

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    October 28, 2020

    The questioning of prosecution witnesses is ongoing. One of them tells the court that a believer in another criminal case ordered her to hold a wedding and a friendly meeting. When asked by Anna Lokhvitskaya what she can say about the dates imputed to the defendant, and personally about her, the witness answers: "Nothing, I don't even know you."

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    April 6, 2021

    The court considers video and audio recordings of worship services of Jehovah's Witnesses. Anna Lokhvitskaya explains to the court that the video shows ordinary religious activity, where believers sing songs, pray, study the Bible, learn to reflect and plan time correctly. "The prosecutor wants to present [these videos] as evidence for the prosecution, but in fact it exonerates me," says the believer. She also draws the judge's attention to the fact that all recordings are polite, there are no curses.

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    April 28, 2021

    The Court attaches to the case file the Resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the non-enforcement of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.

    A prosecution witness, police officer Yulia Zvereva, who attended the worship building and meetings of believers in Birobidzhan even before the ban on legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses in 2017, is being questioned. When asked by Lokhvitskaya about where Zvereva was on the dates of the events imputed to the believer, the witness says that she was at work. Zvereva also explains that she only watched videos of joint meetings of believers in the FSB department. She admits that she has not heard from Lokhvitskaya calls for genocide or violence on religious grounds, as well as allegations of the superiority of one person over another depending on his religion.

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    May 19, 2021

    Anna Lokhvitskaya files a motion to declare inadmissible the testimony of the witness Zvereva, given during interrogation by the investigator. The judge states that he will take this petition into account when sentencing.

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    May 31, 2021 Prosecutor requested punishment

    The debate of the parties is taking place. The state prosecutor states that "the correction of Anna Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya is impossible without isolation from society." He requests for her 4 years of serving a sentence in a general regime colony, followed by restrictions for 2 years: not to change her permanent place of residence without the permission of a specialized body, to appear at the criminal inspectorate 2 times a month to monitor her behavior.

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    July 15, 2021

    Anna Lokhvitskaya and her lawyer speak in the debate. On July 19, Anna will say the last word. On the same day, the court may announce the verdict.

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    July 19, 2021 Final statement
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    July 20, 2021
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    December 16, 2021 Court of Appeal

    The Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region is considering the appeal of Anna Lokhvitskaya. The panel of judges chaired by Elena Pyshkina approves the verdict of the first instance.

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    September 21, 2022