Yevgeniy Godunov, Anzhela Putivskaya, Yuliya Popkova and Gurami Labadze in the courtroom. November, 2023

Unjust Verdicts

First Sentence for Faith was Handed Down in Tula. Four of Jehovah's Witnesses Received Suspended Sentence

Tula Region

On November 20, 2023, Nina Panarina, judge of the Proletarsky District Court of Tula, convicted four Jehovah's Witnesses: Yevgeniy Godunov and Gurami Labadze received 6 years and 6 months suspended each, Yuliya Popkova and Anzhela Putivskaya — 2 years and 6 months suspended.

The believers faced criminal prosecution for their religious beliefs in April 2021, when law enforcement officers conducted a series of searches in Tula and the neighboring city of Kireyevsk. Then they learned that the FSB Directorate for the Tula Region had opened a criminal case against them for organizing the activities of an extremist organization (Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). After searches and interrogations, Gurami Labadze was placed under house arrest. Anzhela Putivskaya and Yuliya Popkova, who have a number of chronic diseases, as well as Yevgeniy Godunov ended up in jail. About a month later, they were also placed under house arrest, and 2 months later they were all placed on recognizance agreement. Later, the charges against Anzhela Putivskaya and Yuliya Popkova were reclassified under Part 2 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

The investigation lasted 2 years, and the case went to court in April 2023. During the interrogation, prosecution witnesses gave evasive answers, their testimony did not correspond to those recorded in the case file. When asked by the defense whether the defendants showed hatred and discrimination against others and distributed banned literature, the FSB officer replied: "We were simply guided by the fact that they are Jehovah's Witnesses." Although the prosecution was unable to indicate what specific extremist actions the defendants committed, the prosecutor requested a 6-year suspended sentence for the men and a 2.5-year suspended sentence for the women.

Believers told how they coped with difficulties during imprisonment. Labadze spent 100 days under house arrest, not even allowed to leave his apartment on the landing, receive guests, and use the telephone and the Internet. "When you find yourself in such difficult, unusual conditions, it brings you especially closer to God, because this time you are not reading someone else's story, but you are experiencing his support," he says. "You are overwhelmed with gratitude from the fact that all your needs are taken care of by your co-religionists ... Where else in this world can you find such friends? And Jehovah taught them all this."

Yevgeniy Godunov, who spent a month in jail and 2 months under house arrest, recalls: "When it is difficult, one of the best ways to switch is to reflect on Jehovah's creations. In the pre-trial detention center, from nature there was only sprouted onions, they even gave him a name. Fortunately, I received many beautiful postcards and photos of nature. Such postcards were read and carefully examined not only by me, but also by everyone in the cell. In his final statement, he stated: "The prosecution asks that I be convicted for being an honest man who respects the laws of the land; for being one of Jehovah's Witnesses, observing and using Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation; For the fact that I have never committed criminal acts. It's stupid to give up good beliefs... Today I am in the dock for my faith in God and for wanting to live the way Jesus Christ taught."

In her final statement, Anzhela Putivskaya described how her apartment was invaded by a group of security officials, two of whom were armed with machine guns, and she was searched for exhausting, many hours. "Despite my poor health," the believer said, "the staff opened the windows, creating a draft, and thereby aggravated my condition. They also exerted psychological pressure on me, speaking obscenely about my religion, and forbade me to take my belongings and medical documents with me about my cancer."

All this difficult time, believers tried not to lose heart. Numerous letters of support written by fellow believers from all over the world helped them to maintain good spirits in the pre-trial detention center.

Gurami Labadze, Yevgeniy Godunov, Yuliya Popkova and Anzhela Putivskaya still insist on their innocence and can appeal this verdict on appeal and cassation.

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.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Tula Region
Suspected of:
"took active organizational actions ... expressed in the organization of religious demonstrations ... and the implementation of preaching" (from the decision to initiate criminal proceedings)
Court case number:
March 25, 2021
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
SO FSB in the Tula region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
Court of First Instance:
Пролетарский районный суд г. Тулы
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Нина Панарина
Case History