Case of Polyakevich and Skutelets in Pechora

Case History

In January 2020, security forces searched 12 houses in Pechora. Several people were detained. Among them are Gennadiy Polyakevich and Gennadiy Skutelets. On the same day, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation opened a criminal case on extremism against Polyakevich and Skutelets. The court sent Polyakevich to a pre-trial detention center, where he spent 301 days, and placed Skutelets under house arrest for 364 days. In November 2020, another investigator of the Investigative Committee opened a new criminal case against Nikolay Anufriyev, Eduard Merinkov, Viktor Shchannikov, Aleksandr Vorontsov, and Aleksandr Prilepskiy. They were put on recognizance not to leave. The case went to court in May 2021, and eight months later it was returned to the prosecutor. In December 2022, at the age of 58, Aleksandr Prilepskiy died from the effects of COVID-19. In April 2023, the case went to court again.

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    January 28, 2020 Search

    In the early morning in Pechora, security forces conduct searches at 12 addresses. 68-year-old Pavel Ogorodov, 60-year-old Gennady Polyakevich, 28-year-old Maksim Terentyev and 43-year-old Gennady Skutelets were arrested.

    Ogorodov and Terentyev were released on the same day.

    The investigator of the Department for Particularly Important Cases of the Investigative Department of the TFR, A. Belov, initiates a criminal case against Polyakevich and Skutelets under Article 282.2 (parts 1 and 2, respectively) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    January 29, 2020 Search
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    January 30, 2020

    Judge of the Pechora City Court Andrei Barabkin sends Gennady Polyakevich to a pre-trial detention center for two months - until March 27, 2020, and Gennady Skutelets is placed under house arrest for the same period.

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    February 3, 2020

    Gennady Polyakevich's lawyer Denis Vladimirov is filing an appeal against the arrest of his client with the Judicial Collegium for Criminal Cases of the Supreme Court of the Komi Republic.

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    March 16, 2020

    The term of the preliminary investigation in the criminal case is extended until June 28, 2020.

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    March 23, 2020

    Judge of the Syktyvkar City Court Yelena Koyusheva extends the term of arrest of Gennady Polyakevich until June 28, 2020, despite the fact that he has a minor child dependent on him.

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    March 24, 2020

    Judge of the Pechora City Court of the Komi Republic Igor Chichagov extends the house arrest of Gennady Skutelets until June 28, 2020. At the same time, the court takes into account the state of his health and allows him to leave the apartment, but not more than three hours a day - to visit medical institutions and walk.

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    May 20 — 25, 2020

    Believers from Pechora are summoned en masse for interrogation as witnesses in the case of Gennadiy Polyakevich and Gennadiy Skutelets . Subpoenas are handed over to believers in person or by phone. Among those interrogated were seven people, including a man who is not one of Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as Pavel Ogorodov, who had previously suffered a stroke. He had already faced a search and detention on January 28, 2020. The threats of the investigator during a new interrogation cause Pavel a lot of stress, as a result of which later, already at home, he has a microstroke.

    During the interrogation of another believer, who was already interrogated on January 28, 2020, the investigator exerts psychological pressure, threatening to open a criminal case against the believer and his mother.

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    June 25, 2020

    Judge of the Pechora City Court of the Komi Republic Andrei Barabkin extends the house arrest of Gennady Skutelets for another three months. By this day, the believer has been under house arrest for five months.

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    June 26, 2020

    Judge of the Syktyvkar City Court of the Komi Republic V.G. Shpileva extends the period of detention of Gennadiy Polyakevich in the pre-trial detention center for 3 months - until September 28, 2020. According to the judge, it is impossible to soften the measure of restraint, since the believer is accused of "committing an intentional grave crime." This is how the court ruling calls Polyakevich's meetings with fellow believers. It also states that the believer spoke of "the need to continue serving Jehovah, despite the persecution by the authorities." With this wording, Judge Shpileva ignores the explanations of the government and the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation that the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses is not prohibited in Russia.

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    July 14, 2020

    Judge of the Pechora City Court of the Komi Republic Natalia Valerievna Shelepova, at the request of investigator A. A. Buts, allows searches in the apartments of Igor Markin and Viktor Shchannikov.

    In support of the need for a search, the investigator refers to criminal case No. 12002870035000003, which was initiated against Gennady Polyakevich and Gennady Skutelets

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    August 24, 2020

    In Pechora, security forces invaded the homes of believers at 12 addresses. Judging by the documents, new searches were carried out in the framework of the case of Polyakevich and Skutelets Almost seven months after the initiation of the case, the investigator came to the conclusion that other believers may also be involved in the activities of the liquidated local religious organization.

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    September 5, 2020

    On the basis of the decision of the Pechora City Court, a search is being conducted in the home of the believer E. Kh. 6 people are participating in the search. The investigator asks if money is stored in the apartment and threatens that in case of non-delivery, the floors in the apartment will be opened. The believer is not given a search warrant. The investigator also informs that later E.Kh. will be summoned for questioning.

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    November 10, 2020

    A. A. Buts, an investigator of the Department for Investigation of Especially Important Cases of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, initiates a new criminal case against six believers: Nikolai Anufriev (63 years old), Eduard Merinkov (45 years old), Pavel Ogorodov (69 years old), Viktor Shchannikov (59 years old), Alexander Vorontsov (35 years old) and Alexander Prilepsky (56 years old).

    The new case shall be joined with the previously initiated case under Ch. 282.2 (1) and (2) in respect of Gennadiy Polyakevich and Gennadiy Skutelets (1) and (2).

    Previously, Viktor Shchannikov and Pavel Ogorodov had already been searched. In May, after another interrogation, Ogorodov suffered a microstroke.

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    November 25, 2020

    Judge of the Pechora City Court of Syktyvkar Maksim Moiseev changes Gennady Polyakevich's measure of restraint from detention to house arrest for a period of 2 months (until January 27, 2021 inclusive). The believer is released from custody in the courtroom, he goes home to Pechora.

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    January 27, 2021

    After 364 days of house arrest, the court released Gennadiy Skutelets on his own recognizance.

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    May 25, 2021 Case went to court

    The case goes to the Pechora City Court of the Komi Republic. It will be considered by judge Oksana Luzan.

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    January 20, 2022

    The Pechora City Court, composed of the presiding judge O. P. Luzan, decides to satisfy the defense's request to return the criminal case against all seven believers to the Pechora Interdistrict Prosecutor.

    The indictment found irregularities. For example, the text of the indictment does not contain information about the extremist actions of the defendants, which would indicate not only the intention to profess religion, but also plans to continue the activities of the banned religious organization. The indictment reflects in detail only their actions directly related to religion (chanting, watching videos, reading the Bible, etc.).

    The Court also mentions paragraph 4 of paragraph 20 of the Resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation (as amended on 28.10.2021), which states that individual or joint confession of religion, worship or other religious rites and ceremonies in themselves, if they do not contain signs of extremism, do not constitute a crime under part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation .

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    December 31, 2022

    At noon, 58-year-old Alexander Prilepsky died. He died in intensive care from the effects of covid.

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    January 17, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The state prosecutor asks questions to which the witness gives contradictory answers. The testimony of the witness from the materials of the criminal case, given by him during the preliminary investigation, is read out.

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    April 18, 2023 Case went to court

    The materials of the case against the believers are resubmitted for consideration to the Pechora City Court of the Komi Republic. It will be considered by judge Oleksiy Korovenko.

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    June 15, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor reads out the indictment. Nikolay Anufriev expresses his attitude to the charges.

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    July 6, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Eduard Merinkov and Aleksandr Vorontsov present their views on the prosecution. Merinkov's lawyer is petitioning for the return of the criminal case to the prosecutor in connection with the violations.

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    July 7, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Viktor Shchannikov expresses his attitude to the accusation. The widow of Alexander Prilepsky speaks at the meeting, who also disagrees with the charges brought against her husband.

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    July 26, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Gennady Polyakevich and Gennady Skutelyets speak with their attitude to the charges.

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    September 27, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The judge postpones the consideration of the defense's motion to return the criminal case for further investigation. The written materials of the case are examined.

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    October 4, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    A prosecution witness who has attended Jehovah's Witnesses' services since childhood is being questioned. The man says that he has not heard from believers calls for extremist activities, disobedience to state authority, manifestations of violence or intolerance on ethnic grounds.

    The witness answers some questions by referring to Article 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, therefore, at the request of the prosecutor, his written testimony is read out.

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    November 1 and 15, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    At the hearings, the testimonies of witnesses are read out.

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    December 6, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court grants the request to examine the audio recordings and attach the ECHR judgment in the case of LRO Taganrog and Others v. Russia.

    The defense requests the examination and inclusion of written documents in the criminal case as evidence for the defense. The court attaches 1 document out of 11 claimed.

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    December 7, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    At the meeting, audio recordings of liturgical meetings are listened to. The judge is interested in who owns this or that voice that sounds on the recording.

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    January 31, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    At the meeting, video and audio files of liturgical meetings are listened to.

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    28 February and 17 April 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The defendants Eduard Merinkov, Viktor Shchannikov and Gennady Polyakevich defend themselves.

    Eduard Merinkov explains in detail the topic of donations and says that "Jehovah's Witnesses do not have mandatory monetary contributions, tithes, and the like." Explains the difference between an LRO and an ordinary citizen who believes in God.

    Viktor Shchannikov quotes from the Bible on the topic of meetings of Christians of the first century: "They were similar to those meetings that are recorded on our audio files ... This is the generally accepted form of worship of Jehovah's Witnesses."

    The court also reads out the position of Aleksandr Prilepsky from his earlier petition (the believer died in December 2022).

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    April 17, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Defendants Nikolai Anufriev and Alexander Vorontsov speak in their defense.

    Nikolay Anufriev notes that the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of April 20, 2017 "did not sanction the political repression of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia." He explains: "It is a mistake to believe that it will be fulfilled only when there is not a single Jehovah's Witness left in Russia. This judicial act does not prohibit the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses as a religious denomination in general, and does not require believers to stop exercising their constitutional rights and freedoms."

    Aleksandr Vorontsov declares that his worship of God is not connected with the activities of the liquidated local religious organization (LRO) and its charter: "My faith is not based on any charter. I did not devote my life to the charter, but to Jehovah God, and it is not according to the charter that I try to live every day, but according to the Bible... I have nothing to do with this legal document. But to keep the laws of God written in the Bible is my direct responsibility as a Christian."

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    May 22, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The defendants Gennady Skutelets and Gennady Polyakevich speak in their defence. Polyakevich explains: "Among the many pieces of evidence examined, there are no facts of my correspondence and any interaction with the Administrative Center after its liquidation."

    Skutelets, like the other defendants, pleaded not guilty and refers to the right to peacefully practice his religion, enshrined in the Constitution of the Russian Federation.