Case of Sycheva in Obluchye

Case History

A trial took place in the city of Obluchye - a modest and law-abiding nurse Anastasia Sycheva, who single-handedly raised two nephews, was found guilty of extremism for her “wrong” faith and sentenced to 2 years probation. According to the investigation, she “committed deliberate actions related to the resumption and continuation of the activities of the local religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Birobidzhan.” A criminal case under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation was initiated by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation for the Jewish Autonomous Region in September 2019. This was preceded by wiretapping of telephone conversations between believers. The hearings, chaired by Olga Afanasyeva, judge of the Obluchensky District Court, lasted more than 10 months. On March 11, 2021, the regional court upheld the verdict. After 8 months, a similar decision was made by the court of cassation. In March 2022, Anastasia’s criminal record was cleared.

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    September 25, 2019

    The Investigative Department of the Federal Security Service of Russia for the Jewish Autonomous Region initiates a criminal case for faith under Article 282.2 (2); According to the investigation, she "committed deliberate actions related to the resumption and continuation of the activities of the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Birobidzhan" (from the decision to initiate a criminal case). Innocent victims of law enforcement officers are: Anastasia Sycheva (born in 1977).

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    March 11, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    During the preliminary hearing, Judge Olga Afanasyeva grants the believer's petitions to refuse a lawyer and to copy the case materials additionally.

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    March 17, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The hearing was adjourned.

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    June 2, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The hearing was postponed due to the extension of the self-isolation regime in the Jewish Autonomous Region.

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    June 15, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The Obluchensky District Court is holding a hearing on the criminal case against Anastasia Sycheva. 2 listeners are allowed to attend the meeting.

    The prosecutor reads out the case file. Judge Olga Afanasyeva satisfies the request of the defense to issue audio records of the court session.

    The next hearing is scheduled for June 23 at 11:00 a.m. It is planned to read the case materials.

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    June 23, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Two believers who came to support Anastasia were allowed to attend the meeting. Both use personal protective equipment.

    A new prosecutor is taking part in the hearing. He shows the court the materials of the criminal case, including letters, photographs, as well as videos from the wedding of acquaintances and a friendly meeting in a café.

    The judge makes a remark to the prosecutor because he reads out the case materials too quickly, some simply list and give few comments on them.

    The next meeting is scheduled for July 2, 2020.

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    July 3, 2020

    The court is studying the video materials that the believers, according to the prosecution, watched at worship meetings. In one of them, with the help of the Bible, it was explained how the problem of crime would be solved. Three believers who came to support the defendant were allowed to attend the hearing.

    The next meetings are scheduled for July 10, 14 and 15 at 11:30 a.m.

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    July 10, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    6 people come to the court session to support Anastasia Sycheva. The judge satisfies the request of the state prosecutor to consider the case in a closed court session. As a result, all those present are removed from the courtroom, and the defendant is forbidden to make audio recordings of the trial. All this unreasonably hinders the principle of publicity of the trial.

    At the request of the prosecutor, the participants in the trial watch a video recording of one of the religious meetings, as well as listen to audio recordings of telephone conversations. The defendant explains that the services teach compassion, mercy, patience and other Christian qualities, encourage them to avoid violence and immorality. "What kind of extremist are we talking about? I don't understand," she emphasizes.

    The next hearings are scheduled for July 14 and 15 at 11.30 a.m.

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    July 14, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court session is held behind closed doors. Anastasia's telephone conversations are tapped, in which, in her opinion, not only are there no signs of extremism, but, on the contrary, the interlocutors' respect for each other is shown. The prosecutors and the judge do not comment on anything, they do not ask any questions. Documents on disks are viewed at an accelerated pace.

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    July 15, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Referee: Olga Afanasyeva. Obluchensky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region (Obluchye, 60 Let Oktyabrya Street, 14).

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    September 24, 2020

    At the request of the prosecutor, the judge shall make the trial closed. At the hearing, a witness for the prosecution, police officer Zvereva, who knows nothing about the events of which Sycheva is accused, is interrogated. In 2015-2016, Zvereva was involved in the formation of administrative offense cases against the LRO and its leaders, who were found guilty by the courts for possession of extremist materials, although they were planted by believers.

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    November 6, 2020

    The defence submits a motion for publicity as a fundamental principle of judicial proceedings. The judge rejected the motion, arguing that it was done for the "safety of the listeners."

    Anastasia Sycheva provides evidence and emphasizes that the decision of the Supreme Court to liquidate legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia did not concern the religious beliefs of this denomination and the ways of expressing them, such as participation in worship services, which was emphasized by the Russian government.

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    November 10, 2020

    Participants in the trial review recordings of meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses during which the doctrine of Jesus Christ's sacrificial death for all people was discussed, which contradicts the charge of participating in extremist activities, such as inciting hatred.

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    November 24, 2020

    Participants in the process continue to watch videos of religious meetings of believers, at which they pray, sing chants and discuss the Bible. After watching it, Anastasia Sycheva explains that, as follows from the video, the meetings did not contain extremist ideas, but appeals to compassion for others. Believers also discussed the Bible, which can help reform those who lead an antisocial lifestyle. The prosecutor could not answer Anastasia's question about which of these he saw as extremism.

    The trial is entering its final stage. On December 11, the defense will finish presenting its evidence and the parties will proceed to the debate. On the same day, the prosecutor may request punishment for the defendant, and Anastasia will make the last speech.

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    December 11, 2020 Prosecutor requested punishment

    Anastasia announces the petition for publicity, but the judge rejects it. The process remains closed.

    A defense witness appears in court. He describes Anastasia as a non-conflicting person: "Nastya and aggression are incompatible." The witness tells the court that after the death of the defendant's sister, Anastasia raised two nephews, cared for her sick mother until her death and is currently taking care of her elderly father, who, for health reasons, can no longer do without outside help.

    The witness also stated that he had attended religious meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses several times and had "not seen anything wrong."

    The court adjourns the debate of the parties until December 22. At the same time, Anastasia will make her last speech.

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    December 22, 2020 Prosecutor requested punishment

    The prosecutor recommends that Anastasia Sycheva be sentenced to 2 years of suspended imprisonment with a probationary period of 2 years. Judge Olga Afanasyeva sets the continuation of the debate and the last word for January 15, 2021. It is possible that the verdict will be announced on the same day.

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    January 15, 2021 Final statement

    Anastasia Sycheva speaks in court with the last word.

    "Today I am being judged for my faith, for continuing my religious activities, that is, reading the Bible, gathering together with friends to discuss the Holy Scriptures together, singing songs of praise to Jehovah and praying to him," Anastasia declares.

    She emphasizes that during the trial, neither the prosecution nor the witnesses presented evidence of the believer's extremist activities. Anastasia explains in detail what she believes in, and why she is far from the ideas of religious and other hatred of people, therefore she cannot pose a threat to society and the state. The believer also talks about the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses have a reputation for good and responsible citizens, and this is proved by their legal activities in more than 240 countries around the world. According to the believer, in times of life's adversity, it was her co-religionists who came to her aid, who, like her, strive to show love for people.

    Anastasia emphasizes that the unfair criminal prosecution has already had a negative impact on her life, although the court has not yet delivered its verdict: her health has deteriorated, her bank accounts have been blocked, and her life is subject to constant court hearings.

    At the end of her speech, Anastasia says: "I ask you to acquit me as a respectable citizen of the Russian Federation and compensate for all the damage caused to me."

    The court schedules the announcement of the verdict on January 21.

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    January 21, 2021 First Instance Sentence

    Olga Afanasyeva, judge of the Obluchensky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region, recognizes Anastasiya Sycheva as a member of a banned organization and sentences her to 2 years of suspended imprisonment with a 2-year probationary period and 6 months of restriction of freedom.

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    January 23, 2021
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    March 11, 2021 Court of Appeal

    The court of the Jewish Autonomous Region upholds the verdict of the lower court.

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    March 12, 2021
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    November 29, 2021

    The hearing is being held in the Ninth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction under the chairmanship of Judge Galina Pozner. The court dismissed the cassation appeal and upheld the previous decisions. The believer insists on her innocence.

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    March 1, 2022 Mitigation of punishment

    The Obluchensky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region is considering Anastasia Sycheva's petition to cancel her suspended sentence and remove her criminal record.

    The representative of the penitentiary inspectorate notes that Anastasia has proven herself on the positive side, she did not commit violations of public order. Assistant Prosecutor K. Ehrlich also speaks in favor of granting the request.

    Taking into account these facts, as well as the fact that Anastasia has served more than half of the probationary period, Judge Natalia Streltsova cancels the suspended sentence and removes the conviction from the believer. This means that after the entry into force of the ruling, all legal consequences associated with a criminal record will be annulled: the believer will be considered unconvicted.