Case of Olopova in Tolyatti

Case History

In May 2023, in Tolyatti, officers of the Investigative Committee and the FSB broke into the homes of at least three families of believers, including Sona Olopova, against whom a criminal case was opened for her faith. After interrogation, they took a written undertaking not to leave the place. At the end of July 2023, the case went to court. There was a secret witness in the case who said that the services were held without signs of extremism and were not related to the activities of any legal entity. The prosecutor asked the court to sentence the believer to 4 years in prison. In January 2024, she was sentenced to 2 years of forced labor. An appeal in April 2024 upheld this decision.

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    May 15, 2023 Case initiated

    Anatoly Grekov, senior investigator of the Central Interdistrict District Department of Tolyatti, is initiating a criminal case against 36-year-old Sona Olopova on charges of participating in the activities of an extremist organization (part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). The investigation calls the confession of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses illegal activity.

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    May 16, 2023 Search Recognizance agreement

    In Tolyatti, searches are being conducted in three homes of Jehovah's Witnesses. At about 1:00 p.m., the security forces broke into Anatoliy and Sonya Olopov. Electronic devices and personal records are seized from them. Sona's passport is also taken away. After the search, the believer is taken to the Investigative Committee, where she remains until 19:00. At the end of the interrogation, Sona is asked not to leave the place.

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    July 31, 2023 Case went to court

    The case goes to the Central District Court of Tolyatti. It will be considered by judge Tatyana Begunova.

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    September 6, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Court hearings begin. The prosecutor reads out the charge, the defendant expresses her attitude to it. Interrogation of a prosecution witness, the daughter of one of the believers. She knows Sona Olopova personally, but cannot confirm that she distributed banned literature.

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    September 20, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation Secret witness

    The defense files a motion to declassify the secret witness, the court rejects it.

    The secret witness Ivanov is being interrogated. He claims that Sona distributed banned literature, but did not see it personally. He adds that he has never heard from the defendant calls for the refusal of medical intervention or the severance of family ties. He expresses the opinion that "believing in God is one thing, but listening to instruction [...] "That means it's an organization."

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    October 25, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Expert studies with violations

    Experts Lenar Galiev and Kirill Kirushin from Naberezhnye Chelny State Pedagogical University are being interrogated. In their opinion, the use of God's name in conversations makes a person a member of a legal entity.

    According to the defense, experts confuse the concepts of a religious organization as a legal entity and a religious denomination as a religious movement. Believers' use of God's personal name, Jehovah, may indicate that they belong to the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, but not to a religious organization as a legal entity.

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

    The case materials are being examined. Sona Olopova submits a petition to view video recordings from the case file. The defense is requesting that witnesses be summoned for questioning.

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    November 28, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The judge rejects the request to interrogate the witnesses, but grants the request to view the video recordings from the case file.

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    December 11, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Specialist Lazarev is interrogated about the use of the Zoom program. He knows nothing about Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Sona Olopova petitions for the study of the written materials of the case.

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    December 25, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    The court refuses the defendant to exclude from the case file examinations and protocols of interrogations of experts, but attaches documents confirming Olopova's chronic diseases. Also, the judge gets acquainted with the contents of the medical book, which the defendant brought with her.

    The believer is being interrogated. The defense draws the court's attention to the fact that the accused provides beauty services to all women, regardless of their nationality and religious views. The believer also says that she has never participated in rallies and protests and tries to help others financially as much as possible.

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    January 16, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court reads out the personal notes of the believer seized by the Investigative Committee. Olopova draws attention to the fact that they contain her personal reasoning, not intended for dissemination, and an examination for the presence or absence of extremism in them was not carried out.

    At the request of the defense, the court attaches documents confirming that the defendant has a cardiac disease, certificates stating that her parents are pensioners, as well as an extract from the medical record of the believer's mother.

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    January 23, 2024 Prosecutor requested punishment Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor is requesting 4 years of imprisonment and 8 months of additional restriction of liberty for Olopova.

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    January 24, 2024 Final statement Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Sona Olopova gives her last word.

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    January 25, 2024 First Instance Sentence Art. 282.2 (2) Secret witness Expert studies with violations Forced labor
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    April 3, 2024 Court of Appeal Forced labor Art. 282.2 (2) Secret witness Fabrications Expert studies with violations