Case of Puyda and Others in Magadan

Case History

After a series of searches in Magadan in May 2018, Konstantin Petrov, Yevgeny Zyablov and Sergey Yerkin were placed in a pre-trial detention center. On the same day in Khabarovsk, Ivan Puyda was searched. He was arrested and then taken 1600 km away to the Magadan pre-trial detention center. The believers spent two to four months behind bars, and then were placed under house arrest. In March 2019, the FSB conducted another series of searches. The number of defendants in the case later reached 13, including six women, including the elderly. The investigator regarded the holding of peaceful worship services as organizing the activities of an extremist organization, participating in it and financing it. In almost four years of investigation, the case against 13 believers grew to 66 volumes. It went to court in March 2022. At the hearings, it became clear that the case was based on the testimony of a secret witness - an FSB informant who kept secret records of peaceful worship. In March 2024, the believers were given suspended sentences from 3 to 7 years.

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    May 30, 2018

    The investigator of the Magadan Region Directorate of the FSB Directorate A. A. Aspiev issues a decision to initiate a criminal case under Article 282.2 (1) against 4 believers; According to the investigation, they, together with others, conducted worship services, which is interpreted as "organizing the activities of an extremist organization" (with reference to the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to liquidate all 396 registered organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses).

    The victims of law enforcement officers are: Ivan Puida (born in 1978), Konstantin Petrov (born in 1986), Yevgeny Zyablov (born in 1977) and Sergey Yerkin (born in 1953).

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    May 31, 2018

    Officers of the FSB of the Russian Federation in the Magadan region conduct searches at night in the houses of Puida, Petrov, Zyablov and Yerkin. The search in the apartment of Ivan Puida, located in Khabarovsk, is led by senior investigator I. A. Yevtushenko.

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    June 1, 2018 Search

    Puida, Petrov, Zyablov and Yerkin are elected a measure of restraint in the form of detention for 2 months. Believers are placed in a pre-trial detention center.

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    June 7, 2018

    Petrov, Zyablov and Yerkin are charged under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    June 8, 2018

    Puida is charged under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    June 9, 2018

    The Khabarovsk Regional Court does not satisfy the appeal against the election of a measure of restraint for Ivan Puide in the form of detention.

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    June 14, 2018

    The Magadan Regional Court does not satisfy the appeals against the election of a preventive measure in the form of detention of Petrov, Zyablov and Yerkin.

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    June 26, 2018

    Ivan Puida is being transferred from SIZO-1 in Khabarovsk to SIZO-1 in Magadan.

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    June 28, 2018

    Investigator B. A. Shungaev appoints an outpatient psychiatric forensic examination to Puide, Petrov, Zyablov and Yerkin.

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    July 9, 2018

    Investigator B. A. Shungaev appoints a portrait forensic examination to Puide, Petrov, Zyablov and Yerkin.

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    July 25, 2018

    Puida, Petrov, Zyablov and Yerkin are extended by the Magadan City Court, at the request of an FSB investigator. Appeals are filed.

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    August 3, 2018

    An appeal hearing is underway against the decision of the Magadan City Court to extend the period of detention. Petrov is chosen a milder measure of restraint in the form of house arrest. Puida, Yerkin and Zyablov remain in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in the Magadan region.

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    September 25, 2018

    The Magadan City Court extends for 2 months Zyablov (until November 29, 2018) and Yerkin (until November 30, 2018) a measure of restraint in the form of detention.

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    September 26, 2018

    Also, Puida's detention and Petrov's house arrest are extended for 2 months (until 29.09.2018). At the same time, the latter increases the permissible walking time to 2 hours.

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    October 5, 2018

    The Magadan Regional Court is holding an appeal hearing on the measure of restraint. The detention of Puida, Yerkin and Zyablov was replaced by house arrest until November 29, 2018.

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    October 24, 2018

    Investigators B. A. Shungaev, D. V. Antonov appoint several complex religious and linguistic forensic examinations.

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    March 20, 2019 Search

    The Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia for the Magadan Region initiates a criminal case under Article 282.2 (2) against believers: Lyubov Asatryan (born in 1951), Irina Khvostova (born in 1992), Oksana Solntseva (born in 1966), Inna Kardakova (born in 1980), Galina Dergacheva (born in 1956), Mikhail Solntsev (born in 1962), Viktor Revyakin (born in 1957) and Sergey Agadzhanov (born in 1957).

    Investigator Shungayev orders searches of the homes of all new suspects. On the same day, employees come to the homes of believers. All 9 believers are chosen a measure of restraint in the form of a written undertaking not to leave.

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    March 25 - 28, 2019

    Sergey Agadzhanov, Lyubov Asatryan, Mikhail and Oksana Solntsev, Galina Dergacheva, Viktor Revyakin, Inna Kardakova and Irina Khvostova are charged under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    March 27, 2019

    The measure of restraint for Puida, Petrov, Yerkin and Zyablov is changed from house arrest to recognizance not to leave.

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    April 1, 2019

    The criminal cases of thirteen believers are combined into one proceeding (no. 11807440001000013).

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    June 7, 2019

    Starting from June 7 and until July 2, 2020, Agadzhanov, Asatryan, Solntsev, Dergacheva, Revyakin, Kardakova and Khvostova are charged under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, Puida, Petrov, Yerkin and Zyablov under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    January 27, 2020

    Senior investigator-criminalist D. V. Antonov takes over the criminal case of 13 believers.

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    May 19, 2020 Search
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    August 9, 2020

    Captain of Justice D. V. Antonov, senior investigator-criminalist of the investigation department of the FSB Directorate for the Magadan Region, initiates another criminal case against Yevgeny Zyablov under Part 1 of Article 282.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (financing of extremism). The new case is assigned a 12007440001000020 number. It is combined with the 11807440001000013 case into one proceeding.

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    February 5, 2021

    Senior investigator-criminalist of the investigation department of the FSB of Russia in the Magadan region, Captain of Justice Antonov D.V. re-charges Ivan Puide with committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation in a new edition.

    The essence of the accusation boils down to the fact that in the period from September 18 to September 24, 2017, Ivan entered into a conspiracy with other believers aimed at continuing the activities of a religious organization banned by the court.

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    February 8, 2021

    Investigator D. Antonov prosecutes Yevgeny Zyablov as a defendant under Part 1 of the Criminal Code. 282.2 (1) and Article 282.2 (1) 282.3 (organization and financing of extremist activities, respectively).

    According to the indictment, Zyablov "entered into a preliminary criminal conspiracy" with Puida, Petrov and Yerkin and committed actions "aimed at continuing the illegal extremist activities of the Organization on the basis of the remaining religious group." In addition, the defendant "publicly delivered a speech in which he called for the adoption of the canons of religion in the doctrinal version of the religious organization Jehovah's Witnesses, which is banned in Russia."

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    February 9, 2021

    Senior investigator-criminalist Antonov D.V. re-charges Konstantin Petrov with committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 282.2 in a new edition.

    According to the investigation, Petrov and Puida deliberately "committed grave crimes against the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the state."

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    February 10, 2021

    Senior investigator-criminalist Antonov D.V. brings a new charge against Sergey Yerkin under Part 1 of Article 282.2 and Part 1 of 282.3. In his actions, the investigation also sees "grave crimes against the foundations of the constitutional order and security of the state."

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    February 26, 2021

    D. V. Antonov, senior investigator of the Magadan Region Directorate of the FSB, initiates a criminal case under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. against 67-year-old Galina Pechko.

    The investigator combines criminal cases against several believers into one proceeding. The case is assigned No. 11807440001000013.

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    March 2, 2021

    Galina Pechko is being interrogated as a suspect. She is chosen a measure of restraint in the form of a written undertaking not to leave.

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    March 5, 2021

    Investigator Antonov officially prosecutes Galina Pechko as a defendant under Part 2. Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    March 25, 2021

    FSB investigator Antonov officially prosecutes 70-year-old believer Lyubov Asatryan as a defendant under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    March 29, 2021

    FSB investigator Antonov officially prosecutes 40-year-old believer Inna Kardakova as a defendant under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code.

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    January 10, 2022

    Ilya Maksimov, acting prosecutor of the Magadan region, approves the indictment.

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    March 14, 2022

    The prosecutor of the Magadan region, Oleg Sedelnikov, sends the criminal case in 62 volumes to the Magadan City Court for consideration on the merits.

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    April 25, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The first hearing in the case of 13 believers is being held in the Magadan City Court.

    At the beginning of the hearing, the defendants file motions to refuse lawyers. Judge Tatyana Belaeva rejects them, but grants other petitions of believers with additional acquaintance with the case materials and gives the appointed defenders time to familiarize themselves with the case.

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    June 29, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The petition for publicity of the process remains unsatisfied - the hearings are held behind closed doors.

    The prosecutor reads out the indictment. 13 defendants declare their disagreement with the charges and insist on their complete innocence.

    Yevgeny Zyablov: "I learned from the Bible not to repay evil to anyone, to be at peace with everyone, not to take revenge, to forgive, to treat others as myself."

    Oksana Solntseva: "I am alien to any violence, incitement to hatred, and even more so an encroachment on changing the political system."

    Inna Kardakova: "What is my 'criminal intent'? The people with whom I discussed the Bible invited me to visit them. The evidence in the case confirms the lawfulness of my actions."

    Lyubov Asatryan: "I am a Christian, one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I read the Bible and try to live by it. Believing in and worshiping the living God, Jehovah, is not evil or extreme. This is my life!"

    Ivan Puida: "The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation did not forbid me to be a believer. At the same time, I am accused of believing in God."

    Sergey Yerkin: "There was no evil in our religious meetings, love, joy and kindness flourished there."

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    July 15, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The state prosecutor is changing in the case.

    The defendants emphasize several times that the phrases "continued the activities of the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses banned in Russia", "resumed the activities of the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses banned in Russia in Magadan" and the like do not correspond to reality. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation did not prohibit the doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses, and a legal entity of this denomination never existed in Magadan. The defendants also note that they are charged with peaceful religious activities permitted by law.

    One of the lawyers draws the court's attention to the fact that the evidence includes certificates drawn up by an operational officer that reflect his personal opinion, and not specific facts.

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    July 21, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A witness for the prosecution, the administrator of the hotel, the conference room of which was privately rented by believers, is being interrogated. The woman states that she has not heard that any of the defendants called for the overthrow of the constitutional order or spoke negatively about adherents of other religions. She explains to the court that she signed her testimony with the investigator without reading it, and cannot confirm her words, since a lot of time has passed.

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    July 22, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A witness who works as an accountant in the same hotel is being questioned. Due to the statute of limitations of the case, she remembers almost nothing.

    The prosecutor reads out the 15th volume of the materials of the criminal case. The defendants repeatedly draw attention to the fact that there are no specific actions or statements of an extremist nature, as well as references to legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses in the case materials.

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    September 12, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    At the beginning of the hearing, the court interrogates the owner of the hotel where the meetings of believers took place. He says that he always had good relations with Jehovah's Witnesses, and that there were no problems or conflicts. He also explains that he signed all the lease agreements with Yerkin as an individual, and he did not represent any religious organization.

    Irina Khvostova explains that the charges are at odds with the explanation of the Plenum of the Supreme Court, which states that a religious event in itself is not an illegal activity. She also points out that there is not even an indirect mention of her in the disclosed part of the case file and, as she relates to her, she does not understand.

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    October 5, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor reads out the case materials. They contain positive references from the defendants' places of work. Employers describe them as kind, decent, and always helpful. The judge also attaches to the case information about the awards and incentives specified in the work book of Oksana Solntseva, as well as a copy of the certificate of a veteran of labor.

    The defendants draw attention to the fact that the positive characteristics completely contradict the accusation of extremism.

    Next, the examination carried out by experts Schiller and Ognev is discussed.

    The defendants Zyablov and Puida draw attention to the fact that the investigator ordered this examination in a private organization, while refusing the defendants' request to conduct an independent examination in a state institution. It became known that this company has repeatedly fulfilled the orders of the FSB. Puida also notes that the experts do not have the necessary professional experience: one is a biologist by education and a teacher of the Russian language, the other worked at a medical university. Petrov emphasizes the obvious bias of experts towards the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. Defendant Khvostova points out that these experts confuse the concepts of "prohibition of a religious organization" and "prohibition of religion."

    Oksana Solntseva says that Jehovah's Witnesses in the USSR were already persecuted and rehabilitated in 1996. She also quotes a statement made by the President of the Russian Federation in 2018: "There is a shameless, gross interference in church life. Such a policy is fraught with serious consequences. I am convinced that life will put everything in its place, because you cannot force people to go against their faith, their traditions, in the end against truth, justice and just common sense.

    Yevgeny Zyablov refutes the accusation of the destruction of families: "We have strong families, and we are in favor of maintaining unity and love all our lives." With regard to blood transfusions, he says that his father, who is not one of Jehovah's Witnesses, and his four-month-old son have undergone successful bloodless surgeries. Lyubov Asatryan adds: "This was the first time I heard about alternatives to blood transfusions from doctors, not from Jehovah's Witnesses. Experts confirm and support alternatives to blood transfusion and do not believe that this is a crime."

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    October 7, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The consideration of the case materials continues. Konstantin Petrov and Ivan Puida explain that the experts have gone beyond their competence, drawing conclusions on legal issues, despite the fact that one of them is a teacher of the Russian language, and the other is a political scientist. The defendants draw attention to the absurdity of their conclusions. For example, if wires and speakers were seized from Zyablov during a search, it means that he had some kind of special position among his fellow believers. And the found personal document on the choice of treatment method, in their opinion, is a call to refuse blood transfusions.

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    October 10, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Yevgeny Zyablov, referring to the conclusions of the examination, explains that it is illogical and absurd to draw a conclusion about belonging to any organization or participation in extremist activities on the basis of the use of the name "Jehovah" in speech.

    Yevgeny Zyablov says that during the search, personal documents (driver's license, SNILS and others) were seized from him, which do not have any effect on the conduct of the case, but their absence greatly complicated his life and made it impossible to get a job.

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    October 17, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A witness from the prosecution, who previously attended services of Jehovah's Witnesses, is being questioned. The man tells how they went and what topics were discussed - about compassion for people, love and forgiveness. The lawyer clarifies whether any organizational decisions were made at such meetings? The witness denies. He says that the Bible was discussed at the meetings, there were no calls for violence, and monetary donations were voluntary. The witness also admits that no one forced him to study the Bible, everything was done exclusively voluntarily. In the videos of Jehovah's Witnesses, he did not encounter any calls against state power.

    He confirms that the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses are not prohibited in Russia - the activities of a legal entity are prohibited.

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    October 21, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A woman who attended religious meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses before 2014 is being interrogated. She characterizes this creed as peaceful, "directed against conflict", "calling for goodness and non-violence". According to her, the views of Jehovah's Witnesses are based on the teachings of the Bible.

    The prosecutor asks the witness whether the believers had the opportunity to voluntarily leave the religious group. She answers in the affirmative: "If a person does not want, he may not come. That is his right. No one is forcing anyone." It also affirms that Jehovah's Witnesses respect people of other faiths and are obedient to the authorities.

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    October 31, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court announces the list of items seized from Yevgeny Zyablov. Konstantin Petrov draws the court's attention to the fact that the materials read out by the prosecutor repeatedly mention religious publications about family happiness, as well as songs, cartoons and personal photographs. However, these materials are provided to the court as evidence of illegal activity. The defendant continues: "It is not clear what Zyablov was supposed to do after 2017 - to destroy all religious material and personal photos, to become an atheist or to change religion?" Petrov also draws attention to the fact that, according to the prosecutor, the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses and its confession is allegedly prohibited, while the Supreme Court gave explanations that religion is not prohibited.

    The prosecutor continues to read out materials describing the items seized during the search of Ivan Puida's home. The believer notes that most of the materials read out by the state prosecutor are religious publications from 1994-95. He says: "The presence of these publications in itself does not make me a criminal. This is a story from many years ago, I kept them for myself. I consider their use to prove my guilt to be persecution for the faith."

    Written evidence shall be announced. Puida explains: "Just as it is logical for a fisherman to find a fishing rod and nets, so for a believer to find the Bible. The fact of the introduction of three notebooks for the study of the English language remains incomprehensible.

    Konstantin Petrov cites the example of Ivan Puida's grandfather and father, who were subjected to repression, then were rehabilitated and even received certificates and compensation. He says: "So, after conducting extensive research, the government recognized that Jehovah's Witnesses are not dangerous to society by allowing their registration in 1993."

    With regard to the literature seized from the defendants, they explain that all the publications found in their homes indicate that Jehovah's Witnesses strive for peace and love, help people cope with difficult life situations, study the Bible and strive to live in accordance with its commandments.

    Petrov asks the judge to pay attention to the fact that the goal of the prosecution is simply to find some religious material, while all the material that has been seized does not call for any illegal actions.

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    November 1, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The questioning of prosecution witnesses is ongoing. Some of the wording indicated by the investigator in the record of the preliminary interrogation cannot be confirmed by witnesses during interrogation in court. The defendants and their lawyers assume that the preliminary testimonies of these witnesses were written by the investigator.

    Mikhail Solntsev declares that Jehovah's Witnesses do not use the concept of "breaking bread," but it is constantly heard in the testimony of witnesses.

    The first witness reports that, together with a neighbor, she became interested in the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses and communicated about them with the defendant Inna Kardakova. She says: "We looked through the Bible, prayed, talked, drank tea. [Inna] showed in the Bible that paradise would be on earth. [...] The desire to meet was mutual. My husband and I made the decision not to become Jehovah's Witnesses. They didn't press."

    The woman confirms that Jehovah's Witnesses did not harm her and her husband in any way, did not humiliate people professing other religions, did not call for violence or genocide, change the constitutional order or oppose state power.

    The witness's husband echoes his wife's testimony and says that Jehovah's Witnesses were not talking about an organization, but about the Bible.

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    November 14, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecutor continues to read out the case materials. Konstantin Petrov draws attention to frequently used wording: "continued prohibited activities", "propaganda of a banned organization". He says: "In this way, the prosecutor creates an image of the enemy, without backing it up with anything."

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    November 18, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A witness who had previously attended services of Jehovah's Witnesses is being questioned. The lawyer asks the prosecutor not to ask questions that contain the answer he wants. The interrogated person reports that he saw the defendants at worship services. He adds that the donations were voluntary, and he never heard calls for violence or refusal of medical care. He ceased to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses and to attend religious services also voluntarily, but did not meet with any resistance.

    The witness says that although he does not agree with the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, he has no animosity towards the defendants.

    Further, the issues of blood transfusions, eating meat and other topics that are not related to the essence of the accusation are discussed.

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    November 23, 2022

    The materials of the case from volumes 55 to 60 are examined.

    Petrov points out that the prosecutor cannot cite a single phrase of an extremist nature said at worship services by any of the defendants. He recalls: "On the contrary, the prosecution witnesses characterize the defendants as good and pleasant people."

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    November 25, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    During the interrogation, the witness reports that Inna Kardakova regularly talked with her about the Bible, and all this time they "had a wonderful relationship."

    When asked by the judge whether Kardakova forbade her to go to the Orthodox Church, the witness replies that she never said such a thing, never humiliated, or called for any extremist actions. There was also no incentive to refuse medical care.

    Yevgeny Zyablov emphasizes that Jehovah's Witnesses value life, including the unborn child. He says: "The doctors told my wife and me that our child would be born disabled, and therefore advised us to have an abortion. However, it never occurred to us to make such a decision. We insisted that the child undergo heart surgery. Our baby survived, now he is almost 3 years old.

    Konstantin Petrov explains to the court that the New World Translation Bible he kept was purchased by him for personal use even before it was included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials. According to the believer, the mere fact of having a translation does not mean that he planned to distribute it, and, therefore, he did not violate the laws of the Russian Federation.

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    November 28, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court interrogates a secret witness under the pseudonym Chibis Alexei Petrovich. The witness is in a specially equipped room in the courtroom. Interrogation is carried out by means of technical communication, which excludes visual observation of the witness, with a change in his voice.

    The secret witness says that out of interest he has been communicating with Jehovah's Witnesses and attending their meetings since 2012. He notes that believers lead a highly moral way of life, no one has entered into conflicts with him. However, he was irritated that Jehovah's Witnesses believed their faith to be true and also placed so much emphasis on "righteousness" and "decency." According to him, he "had no facts to cling to," but after the Supreme Court decision in 2017, he saw an opportunity to counter believers. To this end, the witness agreed to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.

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

    The interrogation of the secret witness Chibis continues. He talks about the services that took place in the rented premises at the end of 2017 and in the spring of 2018. The witness saw some of the defendants at such meetings. Chibis confirms that they discussed exclusively spiritual issues - about Jehovah God, his son Jesus Christ and the Bible, as well as about showing love, mercy and kindness to people.

    The witness considers these discussions "extremist" because, in his opinion, both the activities of the legal entity of Jehovah's Witnesses and their creed are prohibited. At the same time, Chibis confirms that he has not heard calls for the overthrow of the state system and the like from believers.

    The witness finds it difficult to explain why he believes that prohibited publications were used at the services - he himself did not check this information.

    Chibis believes that the extremism of Jehovah's Witnesses lies in the fact that they believe in Jehovah God, whom they consider to be the one true God. At the same time, the witness declares that "Orthodoxy is the true religion on the territory of the Russian Federation." The judge corrects him: "We do not have a religious state."

    Jehovah's Witnesses, according to the secret witness, do not welcome a secular education. Therefore, the information that the defendant Dergacheva was a teacher in a state educational institution becomes a complete surprise for him. The fact that another defendant, Viktor Revyakin, teaches at a college was also unknown to the prosecution witness.

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    December 5, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court continues to interrogate Chibis. A secret witness says that, while attending meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses, on the instructions of the FSB, he secretly recorded on special equipment.

    The defendants cite a number of inconsistencies in the testimony of the witness. The latter answers the defendants' questions evasively, and at times cannot explain the difference in the testimony given in court and recorded by the investigator in the interrogation protocol. The witness admits that he listed the topics of Jehovah's Witnesses' worship services mentioned during the interrogation not as they originally sounded, but in his own interpretation.

    In the interrogation protocol, Chibis presents a negative view of Jehovah's Witnesses, while during the interrogation in court he admits that the atmosphere at the meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses is peaceful. The witness also says that he has not heard insults from the defendants against representatives of other religions and does not know of any cases where they desecrated religious symbols. He reports that the "methods of conspiracy" that he believes the believers used include closing the door to the apartment.

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    December 7, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The last, 66th volume of the case is announced in court. A prosecution witness is being questioned. She knew only two defendants who came to her to talk about the Bible. According to the witness, the communication took place in a friendly atmosphere, they talked only about God. "I did not find anything extremist in their conversations," the witness notes. "They did not call for going against the authorities and the president."

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    December 9, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The prosecution witness refutes the testimony recorded by the investigator and states that he was pressured during the interrogation.

    He says that he did not delve into the investigator's questions and answered everything in the affirmative because of stress - FSB officers unexpectedly detained him on the street and took him away for interrogation, which was carried out by several people at the same time.

    The witness says that he was present at the services, but does not remember in what years. I have never heard calls to violate the law of the country. He confirms that at the services there were calls to help people, to love them, and also spoke about family values. No one was forced to come or humiliated by representatives of other religions.

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    December 12, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A prosecution witness who was not previously declared by the prosecutor, FSB operative Ivan Tsybulkin, is being interrogated. Audio and video materials of the case are being examined.

    Witness Tsybulkin explains that he does not personally know the accused, but knows all of them, as he carried out operational-search work on their case. He never saw the defendants show disrespect to the authorities or hurt the feelings of other believers by their behavior.

    The witness believes that the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation did not ban the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses.

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    December 14, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court interrogates a prosecution witness from Tyumen via video link. He declares that he does not know any of the defendants. They also say they are unfamiliar with him.

    The witness explains that he had previously communicated with Jehovah's Witnesses several times, but there was no pressure on him: "There were no misunderstandings during the conversation, I did not feel any trick, and I did not hear a controversial interpretation of the Bible [from Jehovah's Witnesses]."

    The witness also claims that there were no calls for non-compliance with the laws, hatred towards other faiths on the part of believers.

    At the request of the prosecutor, the further testimony of the witness shall be announced. He confirms what he read, but says that he signed the protocol without reading, because he does not see well.

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    December 21, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The reading of audio recordings of the service continues. There are biblical speeches with quotes from the Gospels and examples of the positive influence of the Bible on people. As the defendants emphasize, these speeches mention only the canonical concept of "organization of God", we are not talking about legal entities.

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    December 26, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A secret prosecution witness Kharchenko, whose identity is first declassified, is being interrogated via video link. It turns out to be Kirill Vasiliev, who is currently serving an 8-year sentence in a strict regime colony. He says that for some time he was in jail together with Ivan Puida and Konstantin Petrov. There were no conflicts, sometimes they discussed religious topics with their cellmates, for example, they talked about Jesus Christ. Kharchenko admits that there were no violent or degrading actions on the part of the defendants, calls for violence against representatives of another religion or nationality.

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    February 1, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Audio and video recordings of worship services are examined. Konstantin Petrov explains that it is the Bible that is discussed there, and not the legal issues of any organization. For example, the commandment of Christ to love God and people, and the parable of the Good Samaritan, are considered. Petrov explains that the purpose of this service is to help listeners always show love for people. There are no calls for action against the state or incitement of religious hatred on the recordings. In one of the speeches, there is an encouragement to show love to a life partner, even if he does not share religious views.

    The prosecutor suggests not to look at the records in full, because, in his opinion, "the very fact of the presence and participation of the defendants at the congress in the hotel "Ukraine" is important," and their participation consisted in the fact that they "quoted the Bible and repeated the material for assimilation." The judge agrees.

    Petrov declares that it is not illegal to attend a meeting where the Bible is discussed. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation did not prohibit Jehovah's Witnesses from practicing their religion, and if someone restricts this right or exposes this religion in a negative light, then this is a violation of the law. Believers also pay attention to the decision of the Plenum of the Supreme Court and the words of the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation Tatyana Moskalkova.

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    February 3, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The study of the records of worship services continues. The prosecutor asks not to show them, but only to witness the presence of the defendants there.

    The prosecutor repeatedly replaces the word "Bible" with the words "religious literature." Petrov and Agadzhanov draw attention to this distortion of facts, and Solntseva recalls that, according to Russian law, holy books, including the Bible, their content and quotations from them cannot be recognized as extremist materials.

    The defendants draw the court's attention to the fact that there are no statements or actions on the recordings that would confirm the guilt of the defendants in extremism.

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    February 10, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A prosecution witness is being questioned. The woman claims that she saw two of the defendants somewhere, the rest are completely strangers to her. The defendants also do not recognize the witness. She did not hear derogatory remarks about other religions from them.

    The written testimony of the witness shall be read. The woman notes that some words in them were added by someone, since she does not use them.

    The material evidence seized from Ivan Puida and Konstantin Petrov is being examined. No extremist materials intended for mass distribution were found in them.

    The defense once again emphasizes that the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation did not ban the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, and its plenum explained that joint religion is a permissible norm even for members of those organizations that were liquidated by the court.

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    February 13, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The secret witness for the prosecution, Pavel Alekseevich Leskov (pseudonym Chibis), is declassified. He again explains to the court that, as part of his cooperation with the FSB, he kept secret audio and video recordings of liturgical and personal meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    In response to the prosecutor's questions, the witness repeats his earlier testimony regarding his vision of the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses and their worship services. He expresses his personal disagreement with their religious views. However, he notes that Jehovah's Witnesses have never planned any violent actions against anyone.

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    February 15, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The interrogation of the declassified witness Leskov continues. His affidavit given during the investigation shall be read out.

    Leskov answers questions from the defendants. Each of them notes that there are numerous discrepancies between his affidavit and what he says in court. The judge asks Leskov additional questions about the reasons for the contradictions in his testimony. The witness says that he does not understand why this happened.

    During the interrogation, it turns out that Leskov passed to the FSB not only audio and video files of worship services, but also personal notes with his conclusions - what he saw and heard should be considered extremism and what not.

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

    The interrogation of witness Leskov continues. Videos are watched in which Leskov, Yerkin and Revyakin talk about everyday topics, and then discuss spiritual issues. The defense claims that the viewed recordings show that Leskov is clearly and deliberately trying to provoke Yerkin to make compromising statements, for example, trying to force Yerkin to call the passport of a citizen of the Russian Federation "a passport from Satan."

    Konstantin Petrov says that the prosecutor interprets the viewed recordings of conversations in a way that is beneficial to him, and not as it really is.

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    March 3, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Videos of Witness Leskov, Yerkin and other believers continue to be watched, in which they discuss the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Mikhail Solntsev claims that Leskov asked Yerkin for help in studying the Bible after he signed a cooperation agreement with the FSB. Therefore, he considers that the activities of the witness are provocative.

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    March 13, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The judge shall give one of the lawyers the opportunity to speak. He states that the judge asks the witness Leskov questions as an expert, although he is not.

    Petrov also emphasizes that in this conversation, Yerkin and Revyakin recognized that everyone has the right to their beliefs. Yerkin did not hate religion or political parties.

    Zyablov draws attention to the caustic remarks of the witness regarding Jehovah's Witnesses. The judge replies that she has already made a remark to Leskov about this.

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    March 15, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Hidden video recordings made during worship services in the homes of believers are investigated. Explaining why believers gathered together, Petrov says: "The state did not forbid peaceful worship, so such meetings to discuss the Bible continued to be held."

    The lawyer draws the court's attention to the fact that the topics of the conversations recorded on the video do not correspond to those called by the witness. He also notes that the witness did not record some of the conversations with believers on video, but freely stated their content in reports. In this regard, it is impossible to establish whether these conversations took place and whether their meaning is correctly conveyed.

    Ivan Puida notes that Leskov "presents the viewed meeting as something negative, although in fact they talked about the dangers of smoking and foul language." According to the believer, the discussion of such topics "does not destroy the state system, but, on the contrary, has a good effect on society."

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

    The court begins an investigation of the material evidence seized during the searches of Khvostova and Asatryan. Most of them are notebooks with personal notes, both religious and domestic. Irina Khvostova draws the court's attention to the fact that her personal notes were made before 2017, so they cannot be considered as evidence in the case. There are no extremist materials in the seized items.

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    March 20, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    At the meeting, the viewing of video recordings received by the informant Leskov is resumed. This time, the theme of the resurrection of the dead is discussed at the service.

    Ivan Puida draws attention to the fact that the wording in Leskov's written testimony coincides with the text of the FSB indictment.

    The judge prevents the defendants from asking questions of Leskov.

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    March 22, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court proceeds to examine the material evidence seized from the defendants. Among them are printouts with biblical advice on various topics (for example, how to take care of health, how to support those who suffer from depression), as well as materials of a scientific nature.

    The lawyer emphasizes that during the examination of all the material evidence, nothing was found that would indicate their extremist orientation. The defense also notes that the examined evidence dates back to 2003-2015 and is not related to the case under investigation.

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    March 31, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The material evidence seized from Khvostova, Kardakova, Agadzhanov, Solntsev is being examined.

    Konstantin Petrov points out that the prosecutor does not examine the content of many publications. Their study would reveal the inconsistency of the accusations of inciting hatred and enmity against believers.

    One of the lawyers draws attention to the fact that it has not been established whether the materials presented are extremist, and that the dates of the materials to be announced are outside the scope of the charges.

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    April 10, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Lyubov Asatryan petitions to leave the Magadan Region for treatment in Khabarovsk. She had already made a similar statement to the judge in December last year, but was refused. The believer explains that she has been observed by an ophthalmologist for a long time. Due to her visual impairment in 2022, Lyubov is on the waiting list for examination and follow-up surgery.

    The court interrogates the head of the ophthalmology department of the Magadan Regional Hospital, who confirms that this is a progressive disease. The defense argues and provides the necessary documents in favor of urgent treatment under the quota and emphasizes that this is only a week-long break in the meetings.

    In the first refusal of the court, it was stated that it was necessary to attach a referral and tickets to the petition. Asatryan provided all these documents, although the tickets are not cheap for her. According to one of the lawyers, a delay in treatment can lead to the fact that surgery will be impossible. The judge considers these arguments insufficient and refuses to leave.

    The court continues to review the recordings of worship services with comments from informant Leskov. Lawyers note that the witness, instead of stating the facts, continues to put forward subjective assessments about the faith of the defendants: "Why do we listen to such conclusions? No one can be convicted on the grounds that some witness somehow understood that."

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    May 10, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The investigation of the defense evidence continues.

    The court reads out the materials of the case. Ivan Puida draws attention to the fact that the publications, the possession of which he is accused of, were not included in the list of extremist materials at the time of seizure.

    Next, the court listens to the recording of the service.

    The defendant Viktor Revyakin emphasizes that Christians respect the authorities even when they are persecuted, which contradicts the testimony of the secret prosecution witness Leskov. Revyakin's lawyer claims that there is evidence of respect for the authorities in other conversations between Revyakin and Leskov.

    The defendant Konstantin Petrov petitions for the inclusion of certain documents in the case file, the study of which will help the court to see the difference between the implementation of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses and the organization of extremist activities. The court rejects the petition.

    Defendant Oksana Solntseva draws attention to an excerpt from the dictionary "Religions of the Peoples of the Modern World", 1999, which tells about the history of Jehovah's Witnesses and that the only source of their beliefs is the Bible. It emphasizes that all types of worship are performed free of charge and that in this religion there is no hierarchy that exalts some followers over others.

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

    The interrogation of the defendant Sergey Agadzhanov begins. The believer says that he and his wife take care of his wife's mother, who has serious health problems.

    The judge asks Sergey about the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses and the reasons why he began to read the Bible. Judge Tatyana Belaeva wonders why the religious group in which Sergey studied the Bible was not registered or legally registered. Sergey explains that, as he understands, this is not required by law.

    The prosecutor asks what happened at the services in which the defendant participated, what topics were discussed. He is also interested in what the funds from voluntary donations were spent on. Sergey explains that some of them go to help fellow believers, for example, to eliminate the consequences of natural disasters, to rent premises for liturgical meetings.

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    July 14, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Interrogation of defendants. Sergey Agadzhanov talks about what "Armageddon" is and compares translations of the Bible.

    Lyubov Asatryan refutes the accusation point by point. "I try to live by God's commandments," she says.

    Galina Dergacheva explains that she tells others about her beliefs, as the Bible encourages them to do so. "It was Jesus who sent me [to preach], not the people," the believer concludes.

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    July 17, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    Interrogation of Inna Kardakova, Viktor Revyakin and Mikhail Solntsev. The prosecutor asks all three about their financial situation.

    Inna Kardakova explains that her actions were motivated by a desire to help everyone who wants to learn the Bible better, while respecting their freedom of choice.

    Viktor Revyakin applies for a certificate of a veteran of labor, a diploma of graduation, documents for a disabled daughter, characteristics, certificates and other documents from work. Reading these documents, the judge is surprised at the active lifestyle of Victor in his 67 years.

    Mikhail Solntsev submits a petition for the introduction of characteristics from his neighbor and a doctor's report confirming that he suffers from a serious chronic disease. Documents are read out and attached.

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    July 21, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation

    The court proceeds to the interrogation of Oksana Solntseva and Irina Khvostova. They testify on the basis of their written notes.

    At the request of Asatryan and Solntseva, the court attaches to the case characterizing materials, including health certificates.

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

    Pechko, Revyakin and Petrov give their testimony.

    Before that, the latter asks the court to attach documents confirming that in the 1990s the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in the USSR was recognized as illegal and unjustified by political repression. The court refuses.

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    August 9, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    At the request of lawyer Sergey Yerkin, the court attaches to the case the confirmation of several serious diagnoses of the believer. The prosecutor insists on questioning the expert Schiller. The court agrees.

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    October 4, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The court again gives the prosecution the right to present its evidence. At the request of the prosecutor, the court examines the case materials - documents signed by Sergey Yerkin for renting a conference room in a local hotel. Believers explain that these documents have nothing to do with the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, as they were issued after its liquidation. The hall was rented for worship of believers as an unregistered religious group.

    The prosecutor claims that all religious groups were liquidated by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The defense reminds the court that such a statement by the prosecutor is not true.

    The court announces and attaches to the case file a copy of Mikhail Solntsev's work book with information about his awards for conscientious work. Also, a certificate on the state of health of Galina Dergacheva, who is a veteran of labor, was attached to the case file. The defendant draws the court's attention to the fact that her health deteriorated significantly after the start of the criminal prosecution.

    Ivan Puida petitions for the admission of documents on the persecution of his grandfather, Peter Partsei, as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, first in Nazi Germany, then in the USSR, as well as for his subsequent rehabilitation. The defendant emphasizes that at that time there was no Administrative Center. It was officially registered only on March 27, 1991, in 1999 it underwent state re-registration and operated until its liquidation in 2017. This proves that although Ivan Puida is formally accused of resuming the liquidated organization "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia", in fact, he is being tried only for who he is - a Christian, a Jehovah's Witness.

    The court shall attach documents.

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    October 11, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Expert studies with violations Interrogation

    The expert Vadim Shiller, Candidate of Historical Sciences, member of the expert council on religious expertise under the Ministry of Justice of the Kemerovo Region, appointed by the investigator, is being interrogated.

    According to the expert, Jehovah's Witnesses do not deviate from the Holy Scriptures, which for them "is the constitution, and deviation from any of its norms is a violation."

    Schiller acknowledges that "the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses is not forbidden in our country," and they have the opportunity to practice their faith. However, he states: "If believers gathered at home, read the Bible, commented on this Bible ... and if they were with people who are related to them, then the right to freedom of religion would be exercised in the right way. In this context, gathering in organized groups... they are not exercising their right to freedom of religion."

    Konstantin Petrov clarifies whether he understood correctly that it is family ties that determine whether or not the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses can or cannot be practiced. Shiller acknowledges that this is not spelled out in the regulations; the Supreme Court decision refers only to legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses.

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    October 18, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Expert studies with violations Interrogation

    The interrogation of the expert Schiller continues. The defense asks him questions. The expert explains that by confession he understands religion, therefore he agrees that, accordingly, the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Russian Federation is not prohibited.

    The defendant Oksana Solntseva states that the expert does not distinguish between the concepts of "confession" and "organization", since he states that both legal entities (the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses, 395 regional religious organizations) and all believers of this denomination are banned in Russia. The expert admits that the investigator set him "the task of proving that the Magadan congregation is part of an extremist organization."

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

    The defense submits a number of motions for research and inclusion in the case materials: the decisions of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the decisions of the ECHR regarding Jehovah's Witnesses, the book of religious scholar Sergei Ivanenko "About People Who Never Part with the Bible", his conclusion as a specialist in religious studies, which was carried out within the framework of a similar criminal case, other scientific and expert opinions, official documents of the Government of the Russian Federation on the right of citizens profess the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as the interrogation of a religious scholar from Moscow via video conferencing. The court rejects all petitions.

    The defendant, Galina Dergacheva, refutes Schiller's assertions that the children of Jehovah's Witnesses do not have holidays, and asks the court to attach family photographs of children's events, joint games and recreation to the case. According to the prosecutor, there is no doubt that Dergacheva is a good mother. At the same time, the prosecutor objects to the inclusion of the photo. The court supports the position of the prosecutor.

    The judge reads out and attaches to the case file a positive reference from neighbors to Konstantin Petrov. Information was also provided from the Magadan City Dispensary of Psychiatry and Narcology that none of the defendants was and is not registered.

    The lawyer filed a motion to exclude the seven conclusions of the experts Schiller and Ognev, since the latter was not warned of criminal liability for knowingly giving a false conclusion. The prosecutor asks for time. The court agrees and adjourns.

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    November 15, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Konstantin Petrov makes a motion for the disqualification of expert Daniil Ognev. Ivan Puida supports and adds that although Ognev wrote that he used the method of complex linguistic analysis, he did not specify which one, and also did not indicate a single scientific and methodological linguistic source, except for the dictionary. Yevgeny Zyablov, in connection with doubts about the competence of the expert Ognev, asks the court to attach scientific information in the field of linguistics regarding the features of the religious genre. The court refuses to challenge the expert and attach documents.

    Judge Tatiana Belayeva announces the completion of the judicial investigation in this case. At the next hearing, the participants in the trial will move on to the pleadings.

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    November 24, 2023 Prosecutor requested punishment

    The prosecutor asks the court for the terms of punishment: 10 years for Ivan Puida, 9 years for Konstantin Petrov, 8 years for Sergey Yerkin, 6 years for Yevgeniy Zyablov in a general regime colony. He asks the rest of the defendants to give 3 years of suspended sentence.

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    December 13, 2023 Closing arguments for the defense

    The debate of the defense begins.

    Ivan Puida's lawyer is the first to speak. He draws the court's attention to the fact that there are no statements on the audio and video recordings of the materials under study in which a person or a group of persons is negatively evaluated. The defender says: "The purpose of the participants in the meetings can be formulated as follows: to serve God, to show love for God."

    The lawyer also reminds: "The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has not liquidated any religious groups. This can be easily seen by referring to the List of Public Associations and Religious Organizations in Respect of Which the Court Made a Final Decision to Liquidate or Ban Activities on the Grounds Provided for by the Federal Law "On Countering Extremist Activity"... There are no liquidated religious groups of Jehovah's Witnesses on this List."

    The defender states: "The investigation ... mistakenly believing that the fact of liquidation of a religious organization deprives believers of the rights enshrined in Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, [even] did not look for signs of extremism in the actions of the defendants and did not impute any extremist actions to anyone. In this connection, all the defendants are subject to acquittal."

    The defendant Ivan Puida himself draws attention to the unfounded nature of the prosecutor's accusations, the absence of victims and negative consequences, the lack of evidence of motives for committing a crime, as well as accusations of religious activity while in jail and under house arrest.

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    February 9, 2024 In the courtroom Final statement Elderly Prosecution of several family members

    Ivan Puida, Sergey Yerkin, Konstantin Petrov and Evgeny Zyablov deliver their closing remarks.

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    February 12, 2024 In the courtroom Final statement

    Sergey Agadzhanov, Lyubov Asatryan, Galina Dergacheva, Inna Kardakova, Viktor Revyakin, Oksana and Mikhail Solntsev, Galina Pechko and Irina Khvostova make their final speech.

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    March 6, 2024 First Instance Sentence Art. 282.2 (1) Art. 282.2 (2) Art. 282.3 (1) Suspended sentence Elderly Prosecution of several family members

    Referee: Tatyana Belaeva. Magadan City Court of the Magadan Region (Magadan, Naberezhnaya Reki Magadanka Street, 11). Time: 10:00.