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DECEMBER 17, 2015

Kyrgyzstan Court Upholds Acquittal of Two Women Convicted Under False Charges

Kyrgyzstan Court Upholds Acquittal of Two Women Convicted Under False Charges

On October 29, 2015, a three-judge appeal panel of the Osh Regional Court upheld the acquittal of two of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oksana Koriakina and her mother, Nadezhda Sergienko. The prosecutor falsely accused the women of defrauding local residents of Osh while engaged in their religious activity.

Investigation Based on Groundless Charges Reveals Religious Discrimination

Police arrested Oksana Koriakina and Nadezhda Sergienko in March 2013 on fabricated charges. The women had solid evidence, corroborated by eyewitnesses, to prove their innocence. Nonetheless, the criminal investigation proceeded, and the Osh City Court placed Oksana and Nadezhda under house arrest pending their trial.

The Osh City Court later concluded that the preliminary investigation was illegally slanted against Oksana and Nadezhda and that the investigators committed “numerous violations of criminal procedural legislation.” For example, the investigators did not examine the scene of one incident until four months after the alleged crime, nor did they retrieve material evidence related to the charges. They so egregiously violated procedures for identifying the defendants in a lineup that the results were later declared invalid. Throughout the investigation and trial, the alleged victims repeatedly changed their testimony.

The trial judge concluded that the alleged victims were prejudiced against Jehovah’s Witnesses and that the investigators had mistreated Oksana and Nadezhda “for being members of the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” For example, although the two Witnesses were accused of fraud, when investigators searched their homes months later, the search protocol focused on gathering so-called banned religious literature. The investigators found none.

Burdensome House Arrest

The pretrial house arrest prohibited Oksana and Nadezhda from leaving the city of Osh without permission from the local authorities. During curfew hours they were confined to their homes—a significant burden for both women. For over two years, Oksana and Nadezhda were required to be at home during curfew hours, which restricted their daily routine and religious activity.

Additionally, Nadezhda had difficulty in obtaining employment because authorities held her passport. When she experienced a health crisis, she could not leave her home during the curfew to go to the hospital for treatment. Oksana had to seek permission from the judge in order to travel outside of Osh with her husband. She and her husband experienced emotional distress and sleepless nights, worrying about the outcome of the case.

Justice Prevails

The Osh City Court acquitted Oksana and Nadezhda on October 7, 2014, because there was “no evidence proving their guilt.” However, repeated appeals by the prosecutor delayed proceedings for another year, which extended their house arrest until the October 2015 appeal court hearing.

“The prosecutor did not present anything that refuted the defendants’ testimony (alibis) or any proof that defendants O. Koriakina and N. Sergienko were guilty of committing the violations.”—Appellate Court Judge

On October 29, 2015, the three-judge appeal panel of the Osh Regional Court upheld the trial court’s ruling. The appellate court ruled that “the arguments in the [prosecutor’s] appeal and the appeal submission were not proven during the trial.” The appeal court affirmed that Oksana and Nadezhda were not guilty and ordered their immediate release from house arrest. Further, the courts concluded that Oksana and Nadezhda are entitled to receive monetary compensation for property and pecuniary damages related to their wrongful prosecution and trial.

Oksana said: “My mother and I are relieved that the court exonerated us and that we are no longer restricted by house arrest. We look forward to having the freedom to live a full life by spending time with our family and friends and being fully involved again in our religious activities.”

Oksana, Nadezhda, and other Witnesses in Kyrgyzstan are grateful that the courts saw through the religious prejudice displayed by some local officials in Osh and upheld the law. They hope that this decision will lead the local government to acknowledge their constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom and grant legal registration to Jehovah’s Witnesses in southern Kyrgyzstan.