Case of Berchuk and Golik in Blagoveshchensk

Case History

In October 2017, the FSB began covertly filming the private life of Dmitry Golik and his wife, as well as the peaceful worship services of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Blagoveshchensk. In June 2018, a criminal case was opened against Aleksey Berchuk, and a month later searches were carried out at 7 families of believers. Berchuk and Golik were charged with organizing an extremist community. In January 2019, Berchuk was detained at a Moscow airport and taken into custody. A measure of restraint in the form of a written undertaking not to leave was chosen for the believers. On February 6, 2020, the case was submitted to the Blagoveshchensk City Court. On June 30, 2021, judge Tatyana Studilko found the believers guilty and sentenced them to a record cruel punishment: 7 and 8 years in a general regime colony. On September 2, 2021, the Amur Regional Court reduced Dmitriy Golik’s prison term by 10 months. The verdict against Aleksey Berchuk was upheld. In February 2022, the Court of Cassation upheld the verdict.

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    October 1, 2017

    An FSB officer conducts operational-search activities, presumably covert video surveillance in places of worship.

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    June 22, 2018
    I. A. Beloglazov, senior investigator of the FSB of Russia for the Amur Region, initiates a criminal case for faith under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation against Aleksey Berchuk. The investigation interprets the exercise of the right to freedom of religion as the organization of the activities of an extremist community.
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    July 20, 2018

    Investigator Beloglazov conducts searches in 7 houses of residents of Blagoveshchensk. The searches were authorized by Oleg Filatov, judge of the Blagoveshchensk City Court of the Amur Region.

    It becomes known that the operatives installed a listening device in the apartment where Dmitry Golik lives with his wife. For almost six months, the details of their personal lives were listened to.

    Beloglazov initiates a criminal case against Dmitry Golik under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The believer is issued a decision on the measure of restraint in the form of a subscription not to leave and proper behavior. He is interrogated in the status of the accused.

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    July 23, 2018 Search
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    January 21, 2019

    When passing through passport control at the Moscow airport, security forces detain and detain Alexei Berchuk. The believer learns that a criminal case was initiated against him on June 22, 2018.

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    January 22, 2019

    Berchuk was charged under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    January 23, 2019

    I. Beloglazov, senior investigator of the FSB of Russia for the Amur Region, accompanies Alexei Berchuk to Blagoveshchensk, where his case is being investigated. He signed a recognizance not to leave.

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    February 8, 2019
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    October 1, 2019

    The investigation into the case has been completed. The case proceeds to the stage of familiarization of the accused with the case materials in accordance with Article 217 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation.

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    March 16, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A preliminary hearing is underway. The judge rejects Alexei Berchuk's petitions to return the case to the prosecutor and to exclude evidence.

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    March 18, 2020

    The investigator for especially important cases of the investigative department for the city of Blagoveshchensk of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the Amur Region, M. V. Semenyak, decides to recognize Dmitry Golik accused of committing a crime under Part 1.1. Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation — "inducement, recruitment or other involvement of a person in the activities of an extremist organization."

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    June 25, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The preliminary hearing scheduled for this day has been postponed to July 9.

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    July 9, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A preliminary closed hearing in the case of Dmitry Golik is underway. The defense is filing a motion to merge his two criminal cases into one proceeding and merge them with the case of Alexei Berchuk. Judge of the Blagoveshchensk District Court Tatyana Studilko grants this petition in order to "ensure the comprehensiveness, completeness and objectivity of the consideration of the case ..., as well as to promote the effective administration of justice."

    The defense is petitioning to terminate the criminal case against Dmitry Golik under Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, since the believer himself denies committing any actions aimed at involving himself in the activities of the liquidated religious association, and the victim himself does not consider himself as such. The court refuses.

    The judge leaves unchanged the measure of restraint in relation to believers Golik and Berchuk - they are still under recognizance not to leave.

    The assistant prosecutor is requesting that the trial be held behind closed doors. The court grants the petition, despite the disagreement of the defense, the defendants and the victim.

    The next court hearing will take place on July 16.

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    July 16, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The Court rejects the request to admit the decision of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and to adjourn the hearings due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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    July 24, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor reads out the indictment. Believers express disunderstanding and disagreement with the accusation.

    Dmitriy Golik says: "To read the Bible with my friends, I don't need a legal organization. There is not a single piece of evidence of my guilt in the materials of this criminal case, and the charges against me are far-fetched, unsubstantiated and illegal. [...] My service to God does not depend on the presence or absence of legal entities. You can serve God everywhere: in a city where there is an LRO, in a village where there is no LRO, or even where there are no other people at all."

    Aleksey Berchuk: "I believe that the charges against me are unclear, vague, arbitrary, based on religious discrimination, contrary to the norms of the current legislation, and therefore illegal. [...] Neither before the liquidation of the LRO, nor after, as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, did I receive any verbal or written instructions from the legal entity on how to worship Jehovah God, what religious materials to study, what spiritual songs to sing, etc., and I did not need them. [...] I believe that the accusation is an involuntary, and perhaps even a deliberate attempt, under pain of criminal prosecution, to force me to renounce my faith in God, change the Church or leave the Russian Federation. And this is nothing more than a sign of genocide. I regard the criminal prosecution as politically motivated repression for believing in God."

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    July 29, 2020

    A minor victim is being questioned. He testifies that he enjoyed studying the Bible with Dmitry Golik. Dmitry did not agitate him to join the LRO of Jehovah's Witnesses, did not incite hatred towards others. The witness notes that the believer taught him the manner of communicating with his parents, how to treat his relatives correctly so that there would be no quarrels.

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    July 30, 2020

    The testimony is given by the mother of the previously interrogated victim. She informs the court that she herself asked Dmitriy Golik to study the Bible with her son, as she had recently suffered a stroke and could not fully raise her son. She is not familiar with Alexei Berchuk.

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    September 30, 2020

    The study of the case materials continues, the protocols of the LRO are announced. The defense draws the court's attention to the fact that the names of the defendants are not on the lists of the LRO of Jehovah's Witnesses in Blagoveshchensk.

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    November 10, 2020

    Audio recordings of worship services are listened to, written evidence is studied. The lawyer notes that there are no extremist statements in the materials studied, but there are encouragements to love, peace, readiness to forgive and respect the authorities.

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    December 14, 2020

    The court again rejects the request to postpone the hearing due to the pandemic, as well as the request to return the case to the prosecutor to terminate the criminal case, but attaches the resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

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    January 29, 2021

    The court continues to examine the case materials, including the memorandum certificates. Alexei Berchuk refutes the prosecutor's words that he allegedly agreed with other persons about the events, and the phone number indicated in the case file does not belong to him.

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    February 6, 2021

    The case goes to the Blagoveshchensk City Court of the Amur Region, it will be considered by judge Tatyana Studilko.

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    February 17, 2021

    The defendants declare the incompetence of the specialists who performed the examinations studied at previous meetings. For example, in psychological and linguistic expertise, some interpreted phrases are taken out of context.

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    March 1, 2021

    The study of the case materials continues. The lawyer draws the court's attention to the positive characteristics of the defendants on the part of the operational officer.

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    May 5, 2021

    Witnesses who are familiar with the defendants are being questioned. One of them says that the topics of love, kindness, and respect are usually discussed at Jehovah's Witnesses services.

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    May 17, 2021

    The questioning of prosecution witnesses is ongoing. Nikolay Karendov, an FSB operative, acknowledges that the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses is not forbidden, but he believes it is against the law to gather for worship. He notes that at the services of Jehovah's Witnesses he did not hear any calls that violate the laws of the Russian Federation.

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    May 25, 2021

    The employer of several believers testifies as a witness. He reports that he has no complaints against them, no statements inciting religious or racial hatred, and he has not heard from them against the authorities. They did not use alcohol or drugs.

    The testimony is given by the landlord who rented housing to the family of Dmitry Golik. He describes them as ideal tenants: "They paid on time, always in order."

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    June 4, 2021

    One of the witnesses reports that he is familiar with Dmitry Golik. He says that after 2016 he began to lead a "wrong lifestyle," so he ceased to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses. No certificate was issued to him. He explains that there is no hierarchy among believers; An elder is a believing man, but a more responsible shepherd.

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    June 22, 2021 Prosecutor requested punishment

    During the debate of the parties, the prosecutor asks for punishment: Aleksey Berchuk - 8 years of imprisonment in a general regime colony, a ban on holding leadership positions for 6 years, restriction of liberty for 1 year and 6 months; Dmitriy Golik was sentenced to 7 years in a penal colony, a ban on holding leadership positions for 5 years and restriction of freedom for a period of 1 year and 6 months.

    After the debate, Aleksey Berchuk and Dmitry Golik make their last word, explaining to the court the absurdity of the accusations.

    The verdict is expected to be announced on June 30, 2021.

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    June 23, 2021
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    June 30, 2021 First Instance Sentence

    After the verdict was announced, Aleksey Berchuk and Dmitry Golik were taken into custody in the courtroom and sent to pre-trial detention center No. 1, located at 55 Seryshevsky Lane, Blagoveshchensk.

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    July 29, 2021

    There is information that Alexander Berchuk and Dmitry Golik were sent from Blagoveshchensk to another pre-trial detention center - pre-trial detention center No. 2 in Ussuriysk. They can write letters.

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    August 26, 2021 Court of Appeal

    Amur Regional Court (Blagoveshchensk, Shevchenko St., 6). The panel of judges, chaired by Judge Alexei Nazarov, begins but does not end the appeal hearing. The meeting will continue on September 2, 2021. On this day, believers will address the court with the last word.

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    September 2, 2021 Court of Appeal

    The Amur Regional Court partially satisfies the appeal of the believers. The court changes the qualification of Dmitry Golik from Part 1 and Part 1.1. on Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The believer is sentenced to imprisonment for a term of 6 years and 2 months, followed by restriction of freedom for 1 year and 2 months. The sentence to Aleksey Berchuk remains unchanged - 8 years in a general regime colony. The verdict comes into force.

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    September 3, 2021
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    September 21, 2021

    It becomes known that believers Aleksey Berchuk and Dmitry Golik began the process of moving to the place of serving their sentences, they left the pre-trial detention center in Ussuriysk. Now Berchuk and Golik cannot receive letters of support.

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    October 8, 2021

    It becomes known that Dmitry Golik and Alexei Berchuk were placed in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in the city of Blagoveshchensk (Amur Region).

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    October 20, 2021

    Aleksey Berchuk is being transferred to the place of serving his sentence. He moved to Chita, then to Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk and through Yekaterinburg to Saransk.

    Dmitry Golik is also in the process of transferring, now he is in Khabarovsk.

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    October 31, 2021 Life in prison

    Dmitry Golik arrives at Correctional Colony No. 8 in Blagoveshchensk. In the process of being transported to the place of serving his sentence, the believer traveled more than 4,100 kilometers along the route: Blagoveshchensk-Ussuriysk-Blagoveshchensk-Khabarovsk-Blagoveshchensk.

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    November 9, 2021

    It becomes known that Alexei Berchuk, convicted for his faith, is in pre-trial detention center-1 in the Irkutsk region.

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    November 11, 2021

    Alexey Berchuk leaves the pre-trial detention center in Irkutsk. It is known that he is temporarily in one of the penitentiary institutions in Yekaterinburg.

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    December 15, 2021 Life in prison

    It becomes known that Aleksey Berchuk arrived at Correctional Colony No. 3 in the Republic of Mari El, which is located in the suburbs of Yoshkar-Ola, 7,000 km from the believer's house. Its transfer took about 3 months. The believer can receive letters of support.

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    December 22, 2021 Life in prison

    The lawyer visits Aleksey Berchuk in the colony. The believer says that the transfer was not easy for him: the path was difficult, Alexei was sick on the way. Now he feels good.

    The barracks in which the convicts are held consists of several floors. There are 4 cells on each floor, each of which contains approximately 20 people. There are now 12 people in the cell with Alexei.

    The believer has the opportunity to walk and play sports. He enrolled in training as an electrician.

    Aleksey is supported by reading the Bible and letters from fellow believers, which are redirected from the address of his previous content.

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    February 16, 2022 Court of Cassation

    The Ninth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction in Vladivostok does not satisfy the complaint of Aleksey Berchuk and Dmitry Golik against the guilty verdict and the appeal decision, leaving them unchanged.

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    March 23, 2023 Transfer of a prisoner Life in prison

    It becomes known that Dmitry Golik is being taken to a penal colony in the Amur Region. He has been quarantined until April 4.

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    October 9, 2023 Life in prison Incentive

    Aleksey Berchuk works as a shoe repairman in the colony and regularly receives rewards. He does not complain about his health. He has the opportunity to call up his family, once every 2 months they give long-term visits with his wife. He also receives a lot of support letters. The believer has a Bible.

    In general, the attitude of the management and staff of the colony towards the prisoner is good. There are no problems with food, it is possible to buy groceries in the store. Three times a week, a believer can maintain his health by exercising.

    Recently, there was an open day in the colony, and Aleksey was able to see friends who came to visit him.

    Vladimir Atryakhin and Georgy Nikulin from Saransk are held in the same colony. The believers live on the same floor, while Vladimir and Alexei have adjacent beds.