The Case of Komissarova in Tolyatti

Case History

One early morning of September 2023, Galina Komissarova, a resident of Tolyatti, was woken up by a loud knock on the door. Officers of the Investigative Committee, who came to search her home, said that a criminal case had been initiated against her for participating in meetings for worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Following the search, Komissarova was taken for interrogation, after which she was made to sign a recognizance agreement. Due to the stress she experienced, Galina was hospitalized with a hypertensive crisis. In October 2023, the case went to court. The prosecutor requested 4 years in a penal colony. The court gave the pensioner a 2-year suspended sentence.

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    September 7, 2023 Case initiated Art. 282.2 (2) Elderly

    The investigator of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee for the Samara Region, N. G. Sysoeva, makes a decision to initiate a criminal case against 62-year-old Galina Komissarova "on the fact of participation in the activities of a religious association."

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    September 8, 2023 Search Interrogation Recognizance agreement

    Early in the morning, four employees of the Investigative Committee conduct a search in the apartment of Galina Komissarova. Then the woman is interrogated at the local office of the Investigative Committee. Investigator Sysoeva wonders if Galina knows Aleksandr Chagan. The believer is given a written undertaking not to leave the place.

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    September 19, 2023 Art. 282.2 (2)

    Investigator Sysoeva charges Galina Komissarova with the fact that she "from March 1, 2020 to September 30, 2022, more exact dates and times have not been established by the investigation, being in an unidentified place on the territory of the city of Tolyatti, Samara Region, using conspiracy measures, including using a video communication application ... took an active part in the form of collective religious worship, consisting of a consistent study and discussion of the religious literature of Jehovah's Witnesses."

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    October 30, 2023 Case went to court

    Referee: Elena Laskina. Central District Court of Togliatti (Togliatti, Belorusskaya str., 16, room 405). Time: 14:15.

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    December 18, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Elderly

    The first court hearing in the case of Galina Komissarova. 5 people are allowed into the courtroom. The defendant makes several motions, three of which the court satisfies: for additional acquaintance with the case materials, for the admission of evidence of the defense, for familiarization with the protocol. The believer explains that she wants to get acquainted with the materials of the case, since they do not contain a certain disk, which the expert refers to in his conclusion.

    The prosecutor announces the charge, the believer expresses her attitude towards it.

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    January 12, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation Secret witness

    The prosecution is interrogating technical specialist Y. Lazarev. He explains that the Zoom program is a service for video conferencing, its use in Russia is not prohibited. Agrees that the use of a fictitious name during a video conference can be regarded as a protection of personal data.

    Secret witness I. I. Ivanov, who made video recordings of divine services and handed the disks to the investigator, is interrogated via audio link. He says that songs, prayers and Bible talks were heard at such meetings. In general, he characterizes Jehovah's Witnesses as sympathetic people, and Galina Komissarova as a thoughtful and attentive woman. Ivanov reports that he has not heard any extremist statements from the defendant, including calls to undermine the foundations of the constitutional order, break off family relations, and refuse medical intervention.

    Ivanov cannot specify which actions of Jehovah's Witnesses he considers illegal. To many other questions about the work of Jehovah's Witnesses, he says: "I am not an expert."

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    February 5, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    17 people come to the courthouse, 8 of them are allowed to attend the hearing.

    Prosecution witness M. K. Kokhalskaya, who had previously attended services via video link and filmed them on a phone camera, is being interrogated. She says that she has not heard any extremist statements from Galina Komissarova.

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    February 27, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation Expert studies with violations

    Judge Elena Laskina reads out the conclusions of the comprehensive examinations of the video recordings of the services. One of the authors of the examinations, Kirill Kirushin, is being interrogated. Galina Komissarova asks the expert why he concluded that "sources of an extremist nature banned on the territory of the Russian Federation" were promoted during the service. The expert replies that he took these formulations from the plot written by the investigator on the appointment of a forensic examination.

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    March 12, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The reading of the case materials continues: motions for the admission of defense evidence, including an article on Jehovah's Witnesses from the dictionary-reference book "Religions of Russia" by Ekaterina Elbakyan; the results of a sociological study of the Moscow community of Jehovah's Witnesses "Family and the Bible", as well as excerpts from the books of religious scholars Nikolai Gordienko and Sergey Ivanenko. The judge grants the request to view the recording of the worship service.

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    April 2, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Elderly

    Expert Lenar Galiev does not appear at the court hearing. The prosecutor proposes to read out the conclusions of the examination, but the defense insists on personal interrogation of Galiyev due to the fact that his examination is the basis of the charge.

    The defendant Komissarova petitions for the attachment of documents stating that she was not a member of the LRO of Togliatti, about her financial situation and state of health. Judge Elena Laskina granted the motion.

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    May 2, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Elderly

    Galina Komissarova submits two petitions. In the first, she asks the court to oblige the state prosecutor to explain the circumstances to be proved: "Now the case materials have been examined, witnesses have been interrogated, but I still do not know what exactly my words or actions are interpreted by the prosecution as extremist. Therefore, I cannot defend myself effectively in court, because I do not understand what I need to defend myself against." The judge rejects the motion.

    The defendant also petitions for the return of personal property seized as a result of the search: a webcam, a Wi-Fi router, a phone, a tablet and flash cards. The defendant explains that the prosecution did not request them for examination during the trials.

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    May 30, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation Expert studies with violations Elderly

    Interrogation of religious scholar L. M. Galiyev via video conferencing. The judge reads out the conclusions of three examinations from the case materials made by Galiev. The defendant Komissarova draws the court's attention to the expert's lack of necessary education. During interrogation, Galiev often evades answering many of the defendant's questions and does not see the difference between religion and legal entity.

    Galiev also said that he was not faced with the question of identifying signs of extremism among the participants of the service, among whom was Komissarova. However, he mentions this in his report and admits that he was simply repeating the wording of the investigator.

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    June 17, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Elderly Interrogation Publications by religious scholars

    With the judge's permission, Galina Komissarova reads excerpts from the publications of two religious scholars, Nikolai Gordienko and Sergey Ivanenko, and comments on them. The believer also tells how biblical knowledge helped her in raising her own children.

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    July 8, 2024 Final statement First Instance Sentence Suspended sentence Art. 282.2 (2) Elderly In the courtroom

    "The motives of all my actions are dictated by the desire to confess my faith, to try to show love for God and for people," Galina Komissarova says her final statement.