The case of Godunov and Others in Tula

Case History

In April 2021, security forces searched 17 addresses of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tula and Kireevsk. In March of the same year, the FSB opened a criminal case against Gurami Labadze, Yevgeny Godunov, Angela Putivskaya and Yulia Popkova against each on charges of extremism. The investigation considered it a crime to “organize religious speeches” and “carry out preaching activities.” After searches and interrogations, Gurami was placed under house arrest, and Angela, Yulia and Yevgeniy were placed in a pre-trial detention center. A month later, they were also placed under house arrest. Later, all were replaced by a measure of restraint on their own recognizance. The case went to court in April 2023, and in November the court handed down a sentence: Godunov and Labadze - 6 years and 6 months of suspended imprisonment, Putivskaya and Popkova - 2 years and 6 months of probation.

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    March 25, 2021 Case initiated

    The Investigative Department of the FSB Directorate for the Tula Region initiates criminal cases against Gurami Labadze, Angela Putivskaya, Yulia Popkova and Yevgeniy Godunov.

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    April 13, 2021 Search

    Putivskaya and Popkova were detained. They are charged under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (organization of extremist activities).

    The cases of Labadze, Godunov and Putivskaya are combined into one proceeding.

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    April 14, 2021

    The Central District Court of Tula decides to detain Putivskaya and Popkova. They are placed in Tula pre-trial detention center No. 1.

    Yevgeny Godunov was also detained and charged with committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (organizing the activities of an extremist organization).

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    April 16, 2021

    The Central District Court of Tula issues a decision on the detention of Yevgeny Godunov.

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    May 20, 2021 House arrest

    A court hearing to review the measure of restraint. For Gurami Labadze, the court extends house arrest until July 25, 2021. He is allowed to walk for 2 hours. Anzhela Putivskaya and Yevgeny Godunov were released from the pre-trial detention center under house arrest until the same date. The court also imposes a measure of restraint on Yulia Popkova in the form of house arrest, but for an indefinite period. The believer is forbidden to leave her place of residence for 24 hours without the permission of the investigator.

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    July 22, 2021 Recognizance agreement

    Senior investigator of the investigation department of the FSB in the Tula region, Captain of Justice Alexei Yartsev replaces Putivskaya, Popkova and Godunov with a written undertaking not to leave and proper behavior. The believers spent 2 months under house arrest.

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    March 9, 2022

    The case of Popkova is combined into one proceeding with the case of Labadze, Putivskaya and Godunov.

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    April 18, 2023 Case went to court

    The case is submitted to the Proletarsky District Court of Tula. It is appointed to Judge Nina Panarina.

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

    The hearings on the merits begin. Public defenders are appointed to believers. The prosecutor reads out the indictment. The defendants plead not guilty and speak with an attitude to the charges.

    The judge reports on the interrogation of the prosecution witness - law enforcement officer A. G. Antoshin. Since this witness was not declared earlier, the defense is motioning to postpone the interrogation of Antoshin. The court grants the request.

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

    11 listeners are allowed into the courtroom, although many more people came to the courthouse to support the defendants.

    The prosecution witnesses, employees of the Center "E", are being questioned. They give testimony that does not correspond to that recorded in the case file. Witnesses answer the defendants' questions evasively.

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    May 31, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    The questioning of prosecution witnesses who attended worship meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses prior to 2017 continues.

    One of them claims that the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses is extremist because they are convinced of its truth. He also adds that the defendants posted anonymous letters in mailboxes, although there is no mention of this fact in the case file. The defense objected, calling this accusation false.

    Another witness, A. G. Antoshin, states that the defendants "discussed extremist books" during the services. When asked by the defense how he defined it, he answers: "Somehow I understood."

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    June 7, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Two witnesses are being questioned. One of them, an FSB officer, when asked by the defense whether the defendants called for incitement to hatred and whether they distributed banned literature, answers: "We were simply guided by the fact that they are Jehovah's Witnesses."
    The second witness says that no one urged him to join an extremist organization and did not apply for material assistance.

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

    Three secret witnesses are being interrogated - Olshevsky, Panin and Lisov.

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    July 26, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor reads out the protocols of searches, transcripts of telephone conversations and religious services. They discuss what the Bible says about marriage and money, as well as the repression of Jehovah's Witnesses in the USSR.

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    August 2, 2023 Interrogation Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Interrogation of two secret witnesses.

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

    Interrogation of expert Irina Salnikova, who, on the instructions of the FSB, performed a linguistic analysis of several case materials. The defense asks questions in order to establish the scientific nature of the examination and draw attention to the conclusions that the defendants consider erroneous. Salnikova gives vague answers and refers to a memo developed by the FSB, which is not publicly available. Lawyers ask to familiarize themselves with it, but the judge rejects the petition.

    The court removes most of the defense questions, among them: does the expert have scientific publications on the denomination of Jehovah's Witnesses? Does she know what the defendants are accused of? Is she familiar with the Supreme Court's decision in the case of the liquidation of Jehovah's Witnesses' legal entities?

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

    The court proceeds to the questioning of other experts. The prosecutor and the judge once again prevent the defense from asking questions.

    In the conclusion, made by Elena Melezhko, it is indicated that the use of the name Jehovah is characteristic of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. The defense points out that even Leo Tolstoy used this name in his writings, which the expert is surprised at.

    The defense also asks whether the experts are sure that the defendants quoted from publications recognized as extremist. They answer that they could not verify it. They add that the search for these phrases on the Internet led to blocked resources, and this, in their opinion, means that the materials are extremist.

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    November 2, 2023 In the courtroom Prosecutor requested punishment Final statement

    The prosecutor requests 6 years of suspended sentence for Gurami Labadze and Yevgeniy Godunov, 2 years and 6 months suspended sentence for Yulia Popkova and Angela Putivskaya.

    Believers deliver the last word.

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    November 20, 2023 First Instance Sentence Art. 282.2 (1) Suspended sentence

    Referee: Nina Panarina. Proletarsky District Court of Tula (Tula, Marata St., 162a). Time: 14:00.