RUSSIA : NGOs express serious concerns about rights of defense violations in Russian Scientology case

Scientologists are in jail in Saint Petersburg for the sole fact of practicing their faith, which Russian authorities regard as “extremist,” a charge also used against other groups. We have followed with great concern news published in the Russian media about serious irregularities in the case of Scientologist Ivan Matsitsky, who has been in jail in the last seventeen months. The FSB is being accused of fabricating evidence, and the prosecuting judge of having violated the rights of the defense by not providing Matsitsky and his attorneys with the materials of the case within the date required by the law, and by extending Matsitsky’s pre-trial detention beyond any reasonable limit.

We understand that Matsitsky’s attorney has filed complaints against both Judge Evgeny Isakov and the FSB. We urge the Russian authorities to seriously investigate the complaints, to restore Matsitsky’s right of defense, and to abandon their faulty interpretation of the notion of extremism, which is used as a tool to ban unpopular religious minorities.
November 2o, 2018

  • CAP-LC Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience
  • CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions
  • EIFRF European Inter-Religious Forum for Religious Freedom
  • FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief
  • FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe
  • HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers
  • Soteria International

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Scientologist’s attorney complains about the judge and asks for disciplinary action against him

The defense attorney of the spiritual leader of St Pete Scientologists Ivan Matsitsky filed a complaint with the Judiciary Qualifications Board of St Petersburg against St Petersburg City Court judge Evgeny Isakov, who, back in October this year, extended pretrial detention of the Hubbard’s follower who is being charged with organizing of an extremist conspiracy, incitement of hatred or enmity, and illegal entrepreneurship. The attorney believes that the judge neglected his duties, and thus the defense attorney asks the Board to take disciplinary action against Isakov.

By Dmitry Marakulin
Kommersant (18.11.2018) – Kommersant S-Petersburg newspaper, issue #203,, of 6 Nov 2018, page 11 – In October this year, the investigative branch of the FSB Department in St Pete and Leningradsky Area filed a motion with the St Petersburg City Court, asking to extend the length of Ivan Matsitsky’s pretrial detention. One of the premises that this motion was based on was that the defendant hadn’t finished studying the materials of his criminal case.
On the 16th of October the judge of the St Petersburg City Court Evgeny Isakov granted the request of the regional FSB Department by extending Ivan Matsitsky’s detention, who had refused to study materials of the case, by four months.
Attorney Evgeny Tonkov who represents Ivan Matsitsky believes that the language of the ruling issued by Mr. Isakov does not meet “the requirements of being lawful, reasonable and substantiated.” In particular, as Mr. Tonkov told Kommersant, extension of detention “beyond every limit” is possible only in exceptional cases, which his client’s situation is not (the follower of Hubbard has been in the detention center for over a year). Besides, the attorney points to the following circumstances. Under the law, his client should have been provided with the materials of the case, for study, no later than 30 days prior to the end of the detention period. The prosecution stated in their motion that this was done on the 4th of May. But attorney Tonkov claims that his client has never been presented with materials of the criminal case. “The court was obliged to take this fact into account but it didn’t even touch upon it in the ruling,” – says Tonkov. Moreover, the defense attorney told Kommersant that the judge prohibited him from questioning the investigator about this matter in the course of the court hearing.
The attorney, having disagreed with the judge’s conduct, has appealed to the Board, claiming that Evgeny Isakov had “neglected his duties and ignored the fact that the investigator had failed to present the defendant and his attorneys with materials of the criminal case, and the judge failed to perform his direct duty to examine and evaluate this legal fact.” “The ruling mentions only three factual circumstances from the thirty-six arguments that were made by the defense,” – attorney comments. Attorney Tonkov is asking the Board to conduct a review based on his complaint and take disciplinary action against Isakov.
Executive Partner of the law firm “Natela Ponomareva & Partners” Natela Ponomareva notes the “low efficiency of complaints against the judge to the Board”: “This is due to the fact that laws protect the judiciary from liability for their decisions, unless a court decision that has come in force finds that the judge was guilty of flagrant malpractice or of issuing a knowingly unlawful court act.” According to Ms. Ponomareva, bureaucracy and unethical or oftentimes rude attitude of judges in the course of a trial constitute the majority of arguments which the members of the Board really pay attention to.
The united press service of St Petersburg courts told Kommersant that they had not received attorney Tonkov’s complaint yet. “Arguments of all complaints against judges are subject to mandatory verification. Should the applicant’s arguments be confirmed, the Board will take the necessary measures,” – added the press service.
The spiritual leader of Scientologists and his four fellow members have been charged under Part 2 of Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Russia (illegal entrepreneurship committed by an organized group that generated exceptionally large revenue), Part 2 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code of Russia (incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as disparagement of human dignity committed by an organized group), and Parts 1 and 2 of Article 282.1 of the Criminal Code of Russia (organization of extremist conspiracy and participation in it).
It follows from the materials of the criminal case that the sales of various courses and programs presented as religious activities had generated around 420 million Rubles for Scientologists. According to the prosecution, incitement of hatred or enmity consisted of disparagement of “dissenting” members that the prosecution recognized as a social group. Those were called “potential trouble sources” (PTS). An “ethics order” would be issued against them, which then would be publicly announced. The prosecution considers that the fact of the suspects’ involvement in extremism is confirmed by video recordings of sermons, by literature that was seized when the Scientologits’ office and their homes were searched (in 2011 the Shelkovo City Court of the Moscow Area declared it extremist).
From the five defendants, only two are in jail – Ivan Matsitsky and accountant Sakhib Aliev.
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