Case of Vladimirova and Galkevich in Smolensk

Case history

In May 2019, the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened a criminal case for faith against pensioners from Smolensk Valentina Vladimirova and Tatyana Galkevich. The women were accused of “participating in joint prayers to Jehovah and discussing interpretations of the Bible,” which the investigation interprets as participation in extremist activities. Their homes were searched, and women were taken into custody. Galkevich spent six months behind bars and about nine months under house arrest. Vladimirova also spent six months in a pre-trial detention center, and then almost 2.5 years under house arrest. In October 2020, the case went to court, but it was immediately returned to the prosecutor. The religious expertise of the case was carried out by a graduate of the Orthodox Theological Academy. After 2 months, the retrial of the case began, but in March 2022 it was returned to the prosecutor’s office for revision. In April 2023, the case went to court again, and in February 2024, a sentence of 2 years suspended was passed.

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    May 14, 2019

    The Investigative Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Smolensk Region initiates a criminal case for faith under Article 282.2 (2). According to the investigation, Valentina Vladimirova (born in 1956), Tatyana Galkevich (born in 1959) "participated in joint prayers to 'Jehovah' and discussion of Bible interpretations." Vladimirova is also accused of "providing the premises of her apartment for holding meetings" of fellow believers in conditions of secrecy.

    Law enforcement officers conduct a series of searches in the homes of other local believers. One of them, A.Zh., is taken away by the security forces directly from the hospital. During the interrogation, the investigator asks prepared questions about religion.

    Valentina is detained. Her apartment is being searched, but law enforcement officers do not find evidence of the crime. The woman is interrogated for about 14 hours, at which time she becomes ill, she has to call an ambulance. During the interrogation, investigator O. K. Bulgakov focuses on the woman's religion.

    After interrogation, Valentina is imprisoned for 48 hours in a temporary detention facility. According to Valentina, before being transferred to the pre-trial detention center, she is subjected to psychological pressure in order to force her to confess to something she did not commit.

    The protection of the believer is complaining about the actions of the security forces.

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    May 16, 2019

    Tatyana Galkevich and Valentina Vladimirova are placed in a pre-trial detention center by a court decision.

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    May 17, 2019

    Tatyana Galkevich is charged with committing a crime under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and interrogated as an accused. A decision was also made to bring Valentina Vladimirova as a defendant in a criminal case.

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    May 18, 2019

    The judge of the Leninsky District Court of Smolensk, Lyudmila Kuzub, makes a decision on the election of a preventive measure in the form of imprisonment of Tatyana Galkevich and Valentina Vladimirova in custody for a period of 2 months, until July 14, 2019.

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    May 22, 2019
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    May 27, 2019

    The Regional Court of Appeal shall uphold the decision of the lower court.

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    July 10, 2019

    The Leninsky District Court of Smolensk extends the detention of believers for another 2 months, until September 14, 2019.

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    September 10, 2019

    The court orders an extension of the detention for another 2 months, until November 14, 2019.

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    November 11, 2019

    The detention of women has been extended again.

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    November 21, 2019

    By an appeal decision, 60-year-old Tatyana Galkevich was released from the Smolensk pre-trial detention center under house arrest. She spent more than six months in prison. Valentina Vladimirova, who was arrested with her, remains behind bars.

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    November 22, 2019

    By the appeal decision of the Smolensk Regional Court, Valentina Vladimirova was released under house arrest after 191 days in a pre-trial detention center.

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    December 31, 2019

    As a result of the stress and prolonged detention in the pre-trial detention center, Vladimirova's health is deteriorating. She is hospitalized.

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    January 10, 2020

    The Leninsky District Court of Smolensk extends the term of house arrest for believers by 1 month, until February 14, 2020.

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    February 4, 2020

    Criminal case No. 11901660013000061 is merged into one proceeding with criminal case No. 11901660013000065. The new criminal case was assigned No. 11901660013000061.

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    February 9, 2020

    The Leninsky District Court of Smolensk extends the term of house arrest for believers for 3 months at once, until May 12, 2020.

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    March 2, 2020

    Tatyana Galkevich was officially charged in the criminal case in the final version. She is being interrogated as an accused. Tatyana pleaded not guilty.

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    March 18, 2020

    The accused Vladimirova and Galkevich are notified of the end of the investigative actions.

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    April 28, 2020

    Deputy Head of the Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, Major General of Justice O.A. Danynin once again extends the preliminary investigation period in the case for another 3 months (and a total of 15 months), until August 12, 2020.

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    May 6, 2020

    Major of Justice O.K. Bulgakov, Deputy Head of the Investigation Department for the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Smolensk Region, petitions the court to extend Tatyana Galkevich's house arrest for another 3 months, until August 12, 2020. having evidentiary value in the case," he said. Bulgakov notes that his request is due to the "particular complexity of the investigation" of this criminal case. The petition is supported by investigator R.V. Filipchuk and prosecutor O.Y. Gavrilov.

    Judge of the Smolensk Regional Court D.V. Tkachenko extends Tatyana Galkevich's term of detention under house arrest for another 3 months until August 12, 2020.

    The court also decides to extend the period of Vladimirova's detention under house arrest until November 12, 2020.

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    August 6, 2020

    The Smolensk Regional Court cancels the measure of restraint in the form of house arrest for Tatyana Galkevich. She is under recognizance not to leave.

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    September 1, 2020

    The religious examination was entrusted to Dmitry Shatov, a graduate of the Sergiev Posad Moscow Orthodox Theological Academy, "a specialist in church and practical disciplines." He is a candidate of theology, specializing in the "eldership of the Valaam ascetics." The participation of such a "specialist" in the case causes bewilderment among believers.

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    October 2, 2020

    Tatyana Galkevich and Valentina Vladimirova are facing an indictment of about 400 pages. The believers are charged with the fact that they "together with other persons unidentified during the investigation took part in the activities of a religious association, in respect of which the court adopted a final decision on its liquidation in connection with the implementation of extremist activities."

    According to investigators, a general scheme for committing crimes was developed among Jehovah's Witnesses in Smolensk. The believers "carefully prepared and planned in detail joint actions to hold weekly religious meetings of the extremist organization," for which Tatyana and Valentina provided their apartments. At the same time, women "took conspiracy measures to conceal the activities of an extremist organization." However, the indictment repeatedly mentions only that those present at the services sang songs together, pronouncing the name Jehovah, and also addressed him with prayers of thanksgiving.

    According to the conclusion of the forensic psychological, linguistic and religious examination, the main content of the materials studied is to discuss religious topics and biblical texts, prayers to God, statements about the properties of Jehovah and the attitude of the participants of the meeting to him. The examination was prepared by the Interregional Center for Information Security and Forensic Examination.

    Tatyana Galkevich and Valentina Vladimirova do not admit their guilt in committing crimes under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and do not agree with the charges.

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    October 14, 2020

    In the Leninsky District Court of Smolensk, a preliminary hearing is held for 8 hours. The defendants apply for the exclusion of inadmissible evidence, as well as for the termination of the criminal case. The defense believes that "the preliminary investigation bodies unreasonably equated the confession of faith of Jehovah's Witnesses with extremist activity."

    The prosecutor opposes the inclusion of all submitted petitions, including the mitigation of the measure of restraint for Valentina Vladimirova. The believer feels unwell, and the prosecutor asks the court to allow the accused to listen to the petitions while sitting.

    Judge Valentina Povarenkova, on the basis of inadmissible evidence, decides to return the criminal case against Valentina Vladimirova and Tatyana Galkevich to the prosecutor's office of the Bryansk region for further investigation. However, the court refuses to change Vladimirova's preventive measure from house arrest to recognizance not to leave.

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    February 25, 2021

    The Second Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction rejects the appeal to return the criminal case to the prosecutor for further investigation.

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    March 24, 2021

    A prosecution witness is being questioned. In court, she gives contradictory testimony that is at odds with those she gave earlier. The judge warned that she would be legally responsible for the defendant's slander or false information. As a result, answering the lawyer's question, the witness admitted that she had developed a hostile attitude towards Vladimirova. "Yes, she is a sectarian!" the woman declared.

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    March 30, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Judge of the Leninsky District Court Denis Nikishov returns the case to the prosecutor of the Bryansk region for revision.

    The measure of restraint for Valentina Vladimirova is also changed: she is released from house arrest in the courtroom and they take a written undertaking not to leave her place.

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    May 24, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Preliminary hearing in the Industrial District Court of Smolensk. Due to the absence of specific illegal actions on the part of the defendants, the defense requests that the case be returned to the prosecutor. Valentina Vladimirova draws attention to the phonograms from the case materials, on which she participates in the discussion of the topics: "How to take care of your heart", "Marriage and celibacy, which are a gift from God". She says: "This communication is marked in the materials of the criminal case as conversations on religious topics. And the confession of the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses does not automatically mean the continuation of the activities of the liquidated legal entities, so I did not have the intent to commit a crime."

    The court does not satisfy the petition.

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    June 2, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Interrogation of prosecution witnesses. There are contradictions in the answers of one of them. For example, in the interrogation protocol, she names one date of acquaintance with Valentina Vladimirova, and answering the prosecutor's question, another.

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    July 19, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Interrogation of detective A. A. Medvedev, who led the ORM in relation to the defendants. When asked what activities Galkevich and Vladimirova were engaged in, he answers: "Some readings, hearings and explanations on all religious issues." When asked by the lawyer whether he had recorded any facts of distribution of extremist literature and recruitment of other persons, the witness answered in the negative. Medvedev says he did not know that, according to the ruling of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of April 20, 2017, the faith and worship of Jehovah's Witnesses are not prohibited. He also has no information about the involvement of women in the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses as a legal entity.

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    September 5, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Interrogation of Vladimirova's son. He says his mother is a hospitable and religious person.

    The Court examines the first two volumes (out of 17) of the case file. The prosecutor draws the court's attention to the fact that the defendants participated in the discussion of biblical texts.

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    October 25, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The remaining volumes of the case materials are announced and examined.

    Valentina Vladimirova reads out three motions to declare inadmissible evidence of their guilt on the basis of the testimony of 6 prosecution witnesses.

    Witnesses for the prosecution draw attention to the fact that Vladimirova and Galkevich belong to the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, although the mere fact of belonging to one religion or another cannot confirm the guilt of believers. In addition, they met during a period not imputed to the defendants.

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    November 17, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The defendants read out their written notes. Valentina Vladimirova explains to the court the difference between the services of Jehovah's Witnesses and the meetings of the members of the LRO.

    Tatyana Galkevich: "No law prohibits gathering — peacefully, without weapons, together with friends (fellow believers) — to read the Bible, to praise our God Jehovah in songs and prayers at home. No law regulates peaceful meetings of like-minded people."

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    January 23, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Closing arguments for the defense Prosecutor requested punishment Elderly

    The debate of the parties is taking place. Prosecutor R. G. Magomedgadzhiyeva requests 5 years probation and 4 years of restrictions for believers.

    Valentina Vladimirova, speaking in the debate, draws the court's attention to the fact that "the prosecution, believing that all Jehovah's Witnesses as a religion, as well as all publications of Jehovah's Witnesses, are banned in general," considered that "the usual holding of worship ceremonies ... is nothing more than a crime of an extremist nature, that is, a continuation of the activities of the liquidated organization of Jehovah's Witnesses."

    The defendant also notes that the operational-search measures were carried out with violations, without the permission of the court, and the expert opinions were carried out by specialists who do not have qualified knowledge.

    The defendant concludes: "The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation did not forbid either me or Tatyana Galkevich, together with my friends or with my family, to discuss biblical issues and thus to perform worship services. And this constitutional right does not depend on the presence or absence of a legal entity or any registration. Discussion of the Bible by a group of people is not included in the list of extremist activities."

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    February 13, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Final statement

    Referee: Lyudmila Kovaleva. Industrial District Court of Smolensk (Smolensk, Gagarin Ave., 46). Time: 10:00.

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    February 14, 2024 Final statement First Instance Sentence Art. 282.2 (2) Elderly Suspended sentence