Case of Kulakovs and Others in Nevelsk

Case history

In January 2019, at least 11 searches were carried out at the homes of local Jehovah’s Witnesses in three Sakhalin settlements. The criminal case  against the couple Sergey and Tatyana Kulakov, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Yevgeniy Yelin and Alexandr Kozlitin for their faith, was investigated by the FSB in the Sakhalin Region. In January 2021, the trial began in court, and a year later a verdict was issued: Sergey Kulakov and Yevgeniy Yelin were given a 6.5 year suspended sentence, and Tatyana Kulakova, Vyacheslav Ivanov and Alexandr Kozlitin were given a 2 year suspended sentence. The appellate and cassation courts upheld the verdict.

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    December 24, 2018

    The Sakhalin Oblast Investigative Directorate of the FSB is initiating a criminal case for faith under Article 282.2 (1). According to investigators, in the fall of 2017, Sergey Kulakov "led a religious group consisting of residents of Nevelsk professing the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses, provided material and other support for the group's activities, convened appropriate meetings, religion, ensuring the performance of religious rites and ceremonies, teaching religion and religious education."

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    January 17, 2019

    Judge of the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Court Elena Masterkova, in response to a request from the FSB, signs orders for searches in the homes of local citizens.

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    January 20, 2019

    The FSB is conducting a series of searches in at least 11 homes of local residents in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Nevelsk and the village of Nogliki (Sakhalin Oblast). Employees behave aggressively, interrogate believers and their minor children.

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    January 23, 2019 Search
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    April 5, 2019

    Senior Lieutenant of Justice, investigator of the FSB of Russia for the Sakhalin Region D. S. Melnikov initiates a criminal case under Part 2 of Article 282.2 against Alexander Kozlitin.

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    October 14, 2019

    Investigator of the Sakhalin Oblast Directorate of the FSB of Russia, Senior Lieutenant D. S. Melnikov, initiates and accepts for proceedings a criminal case against Vyacheslav Ivanov on the basis of a report from an operational officer, according to which the believer "is an active participant in a religious association [...] Jehovah's Witnesses" and "involved [new individuals in the religious organization Jehovah's Witnesses"]. The criminal case is assigned No. 11907640001000031.

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    December 2019 — April 2020

    Over the next few months, the cases of Yevgeny Yelin, Alexander Kozlitin, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Sergey Kulakov and Tatyana Kulakova were combined into one proceeding.

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    December 10, 2019

    Senior Lieutenant of Justice, investigator of the FSB of Russia for the Sakhalin Region D. S. Melnikov initiates a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282.2 against Yevgeny Yelin.

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    January 10, 2020

    A. A. Metelsky, Senior Assistant to the Prosecutor of the Sakhalin Region for Supervision of the Implementation of Laws on Federal Security, Interethnic Relations and Countering Extremism and Terrorism, refuses to satisfy Vyacheslav Ivanov's complaint about the illegal actions of the investigating authorities in the initiation and investigation of criminal cases No. 11901640016000206 and 11907640001000031, recognizing the investigator's decision as lawful and reasonable. A. Metelsky finds no reason to connect the two criminal cases.

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    March 20, 2020

    Senior Lieutenant of Justice D. S. Melnikov, investigator of the FSB Investigative Directorate, initiates a criminal case under Article 282.2 (2) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation against Tatyana Kulakova. The criminal case was assigned the number 12007640001000006.

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    April 2, 2020

    Investigator D. S. Melnikov makes a decision to bring Yevgeny Yelin to him as an accused. He is charged with Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    June 2020

    The cases of Yevgeny Yelin, Aleksandr Kozlitin, Sergey Kulakov and Tatyana Kulakova are merged into one proceeding.

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    July 14, 2020

    D. S. Melnikov issues a decision to bring Vyacheslav Ivanov as a defendant under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. According to the investigation, Ivanov, "realizing a criminal intent aimed at continuing to participate in the activities of a local religious organization recognized as extremist [...] assisted Sergey Kulakov by carrying out his instructions [...] and, on his or Yelin's instructions, kept the religious literature of Jehovah's Witnesses in both paper and electronic form for mass distribution [...] At the direction of Kulakov or Yelin, together with the Kulakovs and Kozlitin, they carried out psychological processing of the residents of the city of Nevelsk in order to involve them in the activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization."

    Ivanov is chosen a measure of restraint in the form of a written undertaking not to leave and proper behavior. It is noteworthy that another department (the Ministry of Internal Affairs) initiated exactly the same criminal case against him, under the same part of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

    Aleksandr Kozlitin is also charged under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code. He is chosen a measure of restraint in the form of a written undertaking not to leave.

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    July 15, 2020

    Sergey Kulakov is charged with committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (organizing the activities of a banned organization). Tatyana Kulakova was charged under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (involvement in the activities of a banned organization). The spouses are under recognizance not to leave. Sergey and Tatiana file a motion to include the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and to dismiss the criminal case.

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    July 31, 2020
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    September 8, 2020

    Investigator Melnikov begins to acquaint Yevgeny Yelin, Sergey and Tatyana Kulakov, Vyacheslav Ivanov and Alexander Kozlitin with the materials of the criminal case.

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    October 8, 2020

    Investigator Melnikov re-orders to prosecute Yevgeny Yelin and Sergey Kulakov under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organization of activities of a banned organization), Tatyana Kulakova, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Aleksandr Kolzitin under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (involvement in the activities of a banned organization).

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    January 21, 2021

    The Nevelsk City Court, presided over by Judge Nikita Kucherov, begins to consider the case of Yevgeny Yelin, Sergey Kulakov, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Alexander Kozlitin and Tatyana Kulakova.

    Due to the failure of one of the defendants to appear due to his illness, a break is announced until February 8.

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    August 5, 2021

    At the court hearing, the defense reads out documents confirming that Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia have the right to practice their religion. The court also examines the characteristics of the defendants from their place of work.

    Yevgeny Yelin is described as an honest, decent, benevolent and non-confrontational person who discusses work issues with dignity and respect.

    With regard to Alexander Kozlitin, employers note: "A disciplined, responsible employee who conscientiously copes with his duties ... Always ready for a peaceful solution [of problems], conflict-free."

    Positive characteristics are given to Alexander Kulakov and his wife Tatiana. They are marked by gratitude for the upbringing of children, and Alexander is in good standing with the employer.

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    August 10, 2021

    Defendants Yevgeny Elin and Sergey Kulakov testify.

    Eugene says: "One of Jehovah's Witnesses' publications says: 'Avoid words that might hurt someone's feelings. Don't make derogatory remarks about people of another religion or what they genuinely believe." Don't allow yourself to speak derogatory! As one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I am learning not to hurt even my feelings. Moreover, I cannot and do not know how to incite discord.

    Sergey draws attention to the following: "None of the actions imputed to me falls under the definition of 'extremism' ... And actions aimed at a deep and thoughtful study of religious texts are a common religious practice of Jehovah's Witnesses. The Bible is a book from God and requires serious attention."

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    August 26, 2021

    The defendants Vyacheslav Ivanov, Tatyana Kulakova and Alexander Kozlitin testify.

    Vyacheslav Ivanov declares: "All that the investigation is trying to prove is my belonging to Jehovah's Witnesses, that is, my religion. However, the Constitution of the Russian Federation, Article 28, gives me and my friends the right to practice any religion, as well as to live and act in harmony with it.

    Tatyana Kulakova says: "My religious views are in no way compatible with extremism. I have no sense of superiority over adherents of other religions, over people of other nationalities. I have worked with Muslims, my neighbors are Orthodox, we have very good relations, I have no prejudice or hostility towards them. I respect the state in which I live: I pay taxes on time, I comply with the laws."

    Alexander Kozlitin notes: "The fact that I discuss biblical thoughts with my friends is a part of my life, independent of the existence of an organization or legal entity ... My attempt to express my religious beliefs, which no court has banned, is a crime from the point of view of the prosecution."

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    October 28, 2021 Prosecutor requested punishment

    The court session, at which the debate of the parties was to take place, was postponed due to the state of health of the defendants Kulakovs. The day before, Tatyana was discharged from the hospital, where she was in connection with COVID-19.

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    November 29, 2021 Prosecutor requested punishment

    The debate was postponed again, but this time due to the deteriorating state of health of Sergei Kulakov. He is so weak that he cannot read out the motion to postpone the hearing on his own, so a lawyer does it instead.

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    January 21, 2022

    The court shall proceed to the pleadings of the parties. The prosecutor requests a suspended sentence for all five defendants: Yevgeny Yelin - 6.5 years with a probationary period of 5 years; Sergey Kulakov — 6 years with a probationary period of 4.5 years; Vyacheslav Ivanov — 5 years with a probationary period of 4 years; Alexander Kozlitin — 4 years with a probationary period of 3 years; Tatyana Kulakova — 3.5 years with a probationary period of 3 years and 3 months.

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    January 28, 2022 Final statement

    Five of the defendants deliver their final statements.

    The court retires to the deliberation room for sentencing.

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    January 31, 2022 First Instance Sentence

    The court finds all 5 believers guilty of the activities of an extremist organization. Sergey Kulakov and Yevgeny Yelin, who are accused of organizing activities, were sentenced to 6.5 years of suspended imprisonment. Tatyana Kulakova, Vyacheslav Ivanov and Aleksandr Kozlitin were sentenced to 2 years of suspended sentence on the milder part of the article. The verdict has not entered into force and can be appealed. Believers insist on their complete innocence.

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    May 11, 2022
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    November 8, 2022