Case of the Popovs in Vilyuchinsk

Case history

In July 2018, mass searches took place in Kamchatka. Armed FSB officers arrested Mikhail and Yelena Popov from Vilyuchinsk. The couple spent 11 and 5 days in the temporary detention facility, respectively. The Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against the Popovs under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. According to the prosecution, the couple organized the activities of an extremist organization and involved local residents in it. This is how the investigation interpreted participation in worship services and discussion of the Bible with several people who feigned interest in it. The case went to court in September 2019. At one of the hearings, Judge Aleksandr Ishchenko [called] (/en/news/2019/12/1464.html) “extremist statements” a reference to the fact that in World War II Catholics and Protestants from some European countries shot at their fellow believers from other countries. In February 2020, the court softened the article of the charges and imposed fines on the believers: Mikhail 350 thousand rubles, and Yelena 300 thousand rubles. The appeal reduced the amount to 250 thousand rubles each.

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    2017

    Someone K.I. Ovchinnikova, an acquaintance of E.V. Popova, is allegedly interested in conversations about the Bible.

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    November-December 2017

    Ovchinnikova introduces K. E. Poltoratskaya to E. V. Popova, and they, pretending to be interested in the Bible, begin to talk about God and the Bible. They get acquainted with the spouses. They report their conversations to the FSB.

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    March 31, 2018

    K.I. Poltoratsky (husband of Poltoratskaya) agrees to participate in the ORM, dedicated to the observation of the Memorial of the Death of Christ, to which Poltoratsky and Ovchinnikova P.I. are invited.

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    June 18, 2018

    FSB officer A. S. Konstantinov submits a report on the discovery in the actions of the Popov spouses of a crime under Part 1 of Article 282.2 and Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    July 25, 2018

    Initiation of a criminal case against the Popovs under Part 1 of Article 282.2 and Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. 26.07.2018 The case is accepted for proceedings by Lieutenant Colonel of Justice Viktor Ushakevich, acting head of the investigation department.

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    July 27, 2018

    Judge of the Vilyuchinsky City Court V. M. Voronova authorizes searches in the home of the Popovs and two other residents of Vilyuchinsk. The investigator decides to search the cars as well.

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    July 30, 2018

    Dozens of armed FSB and CPE officers, under the direction and initiative of investigator Ushakevich, conduct searches in the homes and cars of local residents, some of which were not authorized by the court. Operatives detain and interrogate the Popovs.

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    July 31, 2018

    The judge of the Vilyuchinsky city court N. M. Khorkhordina makes a decision on the recognition of unauthorized searches as lawful (carried out in cases of "urgency").

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    August 1, 2018

    Judge of the Vilyuchinsky City Court N. M. Khorkhordina makes a decision on the election of a measure of restraint for Mikhail Popov in the form of detention for a period of 1 month 26 days (until 24.09.2018), and also extends the period of detention of Elena Popova in custody up to 72 hours (until 04.08.2018).

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    August 3, 2018

    The judge of the Vilyuchinsky city court N. M. Khorkhordina chooses for Elena Popova a measure of restraint in the form of house arrest for a period of 1 month 26 days (until 24.09.2018).

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    August 7, 2018

    The head of the investigation department, M. A. Kartashev, issues orders to bring the Popov spouses as defendants under Part 1 of Article 282.2 and Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    August 9, 2018

    O. V. Alekseeva, a judge of the Kamchatka Regional Court, makes an appeal decision to cancel the measure of restraint in the form of detention to Mikhail Popov.

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    August 10, 2018

    The judge of the Kamchatka Regional Court, E. P. Kirillov, makes a decision to cancel the measure of restraint in the form of house arrest to Elena Popova.

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    August 11, 2018
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    September 25, 2018

    Judge O. V. Alekseeva recognizes the search of the Popovs' house as lawful.

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    June 17, 2019

    The Popovs are involved as defendants in a criminal case.

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    August 12, 2019

    The believers were handed an indictment.

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    September 3, 2019

    The Popovs' case was transferred to the Vilyuchinsky City Court for consideration on the merits. The case is being heard by Judge Oleksandr Ishchenko.

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    October 15, 2019

    The court hearing was adjourned to familiarize itself with the case materials.

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    October 31, 2019

    The court refuses to return the case to the prosecutor. Further meetings are scheduled for 12, 13, 14, 15, 26 and 27 November 2019.

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    November 12, 2019

    Hearing. A break has been announced

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    November 13, 2019

    Hearing. A break has been announced

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    November 14, 2019

    Hearing. The meeting was postponed

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    November 15, 2019

    Hearing. A break has been announced

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    November 26, 2019

    Hearing. The written materials of the case are examined. A break has been announced.

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    November 27, 2019

    Hearing. 6 examinations testifying in favor of the innocence of believers were investigated. The next meetings are scheduled for December 3, 4 and 5.

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    December 3, 2019

    The court begins to familiarize themselves with the Watch Tower Society's documentaries and feature films seized during searches of believers. The judge repeatedly draws attention to the "foreign" origin of the videos, the nationality of the participants in the films, the sounding English speech and geographical locations. When the acquaintance with the film begins, according to the plot of which the father ties balloons on the field so that his children can imagine the size of Noah's ark, Judge Ishchenko worries that he may be accused of promoting the "American way of life."

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    December 4, 2019

    The court continues to examine the Watch Tower Society's documentaries and feature films seized during searches of believers. Judge Ishchenko's nervous tension reaches its peak when watching a film about the history of Jehovah's Witnesses in the twentieth century. The judge loses patience with the words of the announcer (literally): "In 1939, when World War II broke out, almost every religious group sent its parishioners to war. Catholics from France and America killed Catholics from Germany and Italy, and Protestants from England and America killed Protestants from Germany. Jehovah's Witnesses have made it clear that they do not support this bloodshed." Hearing this, Judge Ishchenko, according to the transcript of the hearing, suddenly declares: "I interrupt the viewing of this film. Criticism of other religions begins, exaltation of one over the other. Interrupt the movie! Write it all down in the protocol. [...] The court stops broadcasting it because it contains obvious extremist statements against other religions!"

    The defense makes official objections to the actions of the presiding judge at the court session. (According to the official clarification of the Russian Supreme Court, "criticism of other religions" is not extremism.)

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    December 5, 2019

    When examining the book "The Secret of Family Happiness" seized from believers, Judge Ishchenko, having learned that the copyright to the book belongs to a legal entity registered in the United States, expresses surprise that such a publication ended up in Vilyuchinsk, a closed territorial entity. (Later, after the defense's objection, the court found that the production of publications abroad is not a sign of extremist activity.)

    Witnesses from the defense, three of whom are business partners of Mikhail Popov, are being interrogated. The next meetings are scheduled for December 17-19, 2019.

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    December 11, 2019
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    17.12.2019 — 18.12.2019

    A petition has been filed for the admission of evidence and the appointment of a forensic comprehensive computer-technical examination of sound recordings, as well as for the interrogation of a specialist. The court refuses to satisfy them, with the exception of a few documents.

    Motions have been filed to exclude a number of evidence. The prosecutor asks for time to prepare. The next court hearings are scheduled for January 14, 15, 21 and 22, 2020.

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    January 14, 2020

    Oleksandr Ishchenko, a judge of the Vilyuchinsky City Court, refuses Mikhail and Elena Popov's requests to exclude evidence (digital discs with the results of the "Wiretapping" and "Surveillance" ORMs, protocols of searches and inspections of objects).

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    January 15, 2020

    During the interrogation of the expert religious scholar, Judge Alexander Ishchenko does not hide his negative attitude towards the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, as the following excerpt from the transcript shows:

    Judge: Jehovah's Witnesses are unwilling to obey some of the basic laws of society. They refuse to defend their homeland. Isn't this the opposition of oneself to society? Who, then, should defend the Motherland if the majority become Jehovah's Witnesses? What will happen to the country then? Isn't that a threat to our national security?

    Expert in religious studies (Sergey Ivanenko): If I were in the United States, I would think about this, because there are more than a million Jehovah's Witnesses there.

    Judge: I'm not interested in the United States, I'm interested in Russia.

    Religious Expert: The Number of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia Is Less Than in the United States...

    Judge (interrupts the specialist): Now less, and tomorrow there will be more! You yourself said that there is a tendency to increase their number! What will happen tomorrow if there are a lot of them?

    Expert Religious Scholar: You know...

    Judge (interrupts the specialist): Who will defend the Motherland? [...]

    Religious expert: In America, singing the anthem is a very important part of life. Jehovah's Witnesses show respect for those who sing the hymn, but Jehovah's Witnesses do not participate in the singing of the hymn.

    Judge: And in Russia, Jehovah's Witnesses at least sing a hymn, don't you know?

    Religious expert: They don't sing in Russia either.

    Judge: They don't sing... That is, Jehovah's Witnesses do not recognize the symbol of state power.

    Religious expert: Jehovah's Witnesses do not honor the flag, but they will not spit on it and will not burn it, this is also a fact. Jehovah's Witnesses will not do this for reasons of principle, but at the same time they respect state symbols. They will not whistle when other people sing the anthem of Russia. They have certain moral attitudes... (The judge sighs heavily, loudly.)

    The lawyer expresses his objections to the actions of the judge. He points out that the nature of the questions that the judge asked the expert indicates the formed position on the case, the accusatory bias of the judge and the interest in a certain outcome of the case.

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    January 21, 2020

    The defense declares the challenge of the expert (Maria Serdyuk), and also petitions for the appointment of a number of re-examinations, including religious studies, fingerprinting, phonoscopic and the exclusion of evidence. The court refuses.

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    January 22, 2020

    The judge has been challenged. (Earlier, for example, on December 4 and 5, 2020, the defense objected to the actions of Judge Oleksandr Ishchenko). The court does not satisfy the application for recusal of the judge. Defendants Mikhail and Elena Popov testify. The judicial investigation is coming to an end.

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    February 10, 2020

    In the debate, the prosecutor asks to impose a penalty on Mikhail Popov in the form of a fine of 550,000 rubles. Elena Popova, the prosecutor asks for a fine of 500,000 rubles.

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    February 13, 2020

    The announcement of the verdict scheduled for this day is postponed to February 14.

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    February 14, 2020

    Judge of the Vilyuchinsky City Court Aleksandr Ishchenko convicts the Popovs case, mitigating the charge from organizing an extremist community and involving in it (Part 1 and Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) to participating in a banned organization (Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Mikhail is fined 350,000 rubles, and Elena is fined 300,000 rubles.

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    February 21, 2020

    The Popovs are filing an appeal against the conviction.

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    May 6, 2020 Court of Appeal

    The Kamchatka Regional Court adjourns the hearing until May 13, 2020.

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    May 19, 2020 Court of Appeal

    The Kamchatka Regional Court is considering the appeal of Mikhail and Elena Popov against the verdict of the Vilyuchinsky City Court of February 14, 2020. The believers consider the sentence passed on them to be erroneous, they did not commit any crime against the state, all charges are reduced only to their family religion, the freedom of which is proclaimed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. After the debate of the parties and the last word of the defendants, the court retires to the deliberation room and announces its decision: the guilty verdict shall be upheld, and the punishment shall be mitigated. Instead of a fine of 650,000 rubles, the spouses must pay 500,000 rubles to the treasury for their faith. The verdict comes into force.