Three Jehovah’s Witnesses: Guilty, guilty, then acquitted but maybe guilty again

The Russian Supreme Court did not take the opportunity to uphold justice for innocent believers from Kamchatka

HRWF with (15.12.2022) – On December 15, 2022, the Judicial Board for Criminal Cases of the Russian Supreme Court reversed the acquittal verdict against three of Jehovah’s Witnesses and sent their case for a new appeal hearing. The court contradicted the Supreme Court Plenum’s explanations, which stated that worship services do not constitute a crime under Article 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code.


The case was considered by Supreme Court judges Aleksey Shamov, Vasiliy Zykin, and Sergey Zelenin. About 20 people attended, including media and representatives of diplomatic missions from at least six countries. “We regret that the judges departed from the fundamental position of the Supreme Court,” says Yaroslav Sivulskiy of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “The widespread persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is based on the fact that the ordinary religious practice of believers is wrongly interpreted as a continuation of the organization, which was banned in 2017. The criminal prosecution of our dear fellow believers from Kamchatka is also based on this misunderstanding. To clear up this misunderstanding, the Plenum of the Supreme Court issued a clarification a year ago that is binding on all courts. Our believers are not guilty of anything.”


The case– against Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenov and their acquaintance Vera Zolotova (born in 1946) – was filed in 2018. All three spent some time behind bars, and their homes were searched. In September 2020, a court found them guilty of participating in the activities of a banned organization and sentenced them to 2 years of suspended imprisonment. The Kamchatka Territory Court upheld the conviction on appeal, but in November 2021 the Ninth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction in Vladivostok, citing the decision of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of 28 October 2021, sent the case for a new appellate hearing. On January 18, 2022, the Kamchatka Territory Court issued a verdict of acquittal, which went into effect immediately. The Court of Cassation upheld that decision, but the Deputy Prosecutor General of Russia asked the Russian Supreme Court to send the case for a new appellate hearing.


Notably, in terms of international law, the believers are innocent and subject to rehabilitation, as in June 2022, the European Court of Human Rights, in its judgment in the case LRO Taganrog and Others v. Russia (32401/10), ruled that the 2017 decision to liquidate all legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, to ban their activities and seize property, to ban printed publications and the official website is illegal; and also ruled to end the criminal prosecution of believers and release prisoners. Since June 2022, the implementation of ECtHR judgments in the Russian Federation was suspended.


At this stage, the case of spouses Bazhenov and Vera Zolotova is being returned to the stage of appeal; their sentence will be reviewed by the Kamchatka Territory Court. They are considered to have been convicted and their sentence has not entered into force.

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website