In the photo: Adam Svarichevskiy, Anton Olshevsky, Sergey Afanasyev, Sergey Kardakov and Sergey Ermilov

Unjust Verdicts

A Court in Blagoveshchensk Sentenced Five of Jehovah's Witnesses to More Than 6 Years in prison. Religious Meetings and Talks Are Viewed as a Crime

Amur Region

On December 21, 2022, Judge Daria Varkalevich of the Blagoveshchensk City Court of the Amur Region sentenced Sergey Afanasiyev to 6.5 years in prison, Sergey Kardakov to 6 years and 4 months in prison and Sergey Yermilov, Anton Olshevskiy and Adam Svarichevskiy to 6 years and 3 months in prison. They were taken into custody in the courtroom.

The persecution of believers in Blagoveshchensk began back in 2017. Many of them were under covert surveillance. Later, their homes were searched. In October 2019, FSB Investigator Obukhov initiated a criminal case against Anton Olshevskiy and Sergey Yermilov, and he charged Svarichevskiy, Afanasiyev and Kardakov within a year. All five were accused of organizing the activities of an extremist organization, and Afanasiyev was also accused of financing it. The essence of the actions that the court considered criminal came down to reading the Bible, praying, singing religious songs and discussing Christian teachings.

Religious persecution also affected the wives of two believers—Valentina Yermilova and Yekaterina Olshevskaya. Since July 2021, they have been charged in a different criminal case, which is also being investigated by Investigator Obukhov.

In September 2021, the case went to trial. During the hearings, it became obvious that there were no victims in the case, and there is no proof of any illegal actions on the part of those accused. All five defendants pleaded not guilty and stated to the court that the only reason they are being prosecuted is their faith in God.

In his closing statement, Sergey Afanasiyev said: “Whom have I harmed? I didn't see a single victim. For one reason: there aren't any. If I was not one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I would not be on trial.” Anton Olshevskiy expressed a similar thought: “I am sure that the criminal case against me is nothing less than persecution for my faith and an attempt to force me to renounce my convictions.” Sergey Yermilov said: “I believe that accusing me of involvement in extremist activities is either a gross error of the investigation or a deliberate distortion of facts in order to discredit the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses.” Adam Svarichevskiy, whose parents were exiled to Stalin's labor camps because of their faith in Jehovah, also emphasized: “I am convinced that I did nothing unlawful against God’s standards or against the government.” Sergey Kardakov pointed out: “During the judicial investigation, not a single piece of evidence was presented to indicate that my life and my worship to God in any way undermine the security of the state. The prosecutor's office has been trying to prove for a year that I was one of Jehovah's Witnesses, but I have never denied it.”

Yermilov, Olshevskiy, Svarichevskiy, Afanasiyev and Kardakov had been under a recognizance agreement for 2 to 3 years, until the verdict was announced. It has not yet entered into force and can be appealed. The criminal case materials against these five believers from Blagoveshchensk were separated from the case of Aleksey Berchuk and Dmitriy Golik, who are already serving long sentences in prison. In total, criminal cases were initiated against 23 people in the Amur Region because of their faith as Jehovah's Witnesses.

In August 2022, the European Court of Human Rights unequivocally sided with Russian Jehovah's Witnesses. “Both the applicants’ religious activities and the content of their publications appear to have been peaceful in line with their professed doctrine of non-violence. […] Not one of the banned publications was found to contain calls or incitement to violence or any insulting, slanderous or discriminatory statements against members of other faiths.” (§ 157)

Case of Olshevskiy and others in Blagoveshchensk

Case History
In July 2018, searches were carried out at 7 addresses in Blagoveshchensk as part of a criminal case against local believers. A little over a year later, Obukhov, an investigator of the FSB Directorate for the Amur Region, opened a criminal case against Anton Olshevskiy and Sergey Yermilov on suspicion of participating in extremist activities. In September 2020, Adam Svarichevsky, Sergey Afanasyev and Sergey Kardakov also became defendants in this case (his house was searched). In March 2021, the charges against believers were changed: all five were accused of organizing the activities of an extremist organization, and Afanasyev was also accused of financing it. In September 2021, the case of the believers went to court. A year and two months later, the court found the believers guilty of extremism and sentenced Afanasiyev to 6.5 years, Kardakov to 6 years and 4 months, and Yermilov, Olshevsky and Svarichevsky to 6 years and 3 months in prison. The appeal and cassation upheld the verdict.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Amur Region
Suspected of:
According to the investigation he took part in activities of the liquidated organization through direct involvement in religious activities (with reference to the decision of the Russian Federation Supreme Court to liquidate all 396 registered organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses)
Court case number:
October 21, 2019
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigation Office of Russian Federal Security Office for Amur region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1), 282.3 (1)
Court case number:
1-135/2022 (1-1408/2021)
Благовещенский городской суд Амурской области
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Дарья Варкалевич
Case History