The Appeal Upheld the Verdict of Potapov and Gobozev. They Will Pay a Fine for Practicing an Unbanned Religion

On June 18, 2024, the Judicial Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Udmurt Republic upheld the verdict against Sergey Gobozev and Mikhail Potapov. The men will have to pay 450,000 and 400,000 rubles, respectively. The court ignored the arguments that the defendants cited in their appeals. {}

Gobozev and Potapov consider the verdict of the first instance illegal. They are convinced that they are being persecuted only because they are Christian Jehovah’s Witnesses, professing their religion in ways not prohibited by law without signs of any extremism. “Finding me guilty,” said Sergei Gobozev, “the court did not determine what consequences came as a result of my actions … and did not reflect them in the verdict.”

Sergey Gobozev drew the attention of the Court of Appeal to numerous violations of procedural law, including those related to the examination and material evidence. None of the witnesses interviewed had ever heard extremist statements from him.

Mikhail Potapov stressed that he was accused of participating in peaceful worship services, which he did not even attend. He also noted in his complaint that the state and all officials are obliged to maintain neutrality and impartiality, they do not have the right to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs and determine what they can believe and what not.

In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeal did not apply the provisions of article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, according to which everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The Case of Gobozev and Potapov in Votkinsk


Pensioner and veteran of labor Sergey Gobozev and repair technician Mikhail Potapov from Votkinsk were detained in January 2021. The Investigative Committee charged them with organizing the activity of an extremist organization only because the men gathered with friends to discuss the Bible. As a result, Potapov spent 4 months in pre-trial detention and Gobozev – under house arrest. Both were then banned from certain activities. In September 2021, the case went to court. During the hearings, it became known that prosecution witnesses had been pressured and their testimonies falsified. In March 2024, the prosecutor requested 6.5 years imprisonment for the believers, but the court imposed fines on both: 450,000 rubles for Gobozev and 400,000 for Potapov. The appeal court left the ruling in force.
January 20, 2021
Investigator of the District Department of Internal Affairs of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Udmurt Republic, Major of Justice Dmitry Ponomarev initiates a criminal case against 42-year-old Mikhail Potapov and 63-year-old Sergei Gobozev. Believers are charged with organizing the activities of an extremist organization.
January 21, 2021
In the city of Votkinsk, security forces conduct searches in 7 homes, as well as in the workplaces of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After that, the believers and their family members are interrogated. Among them is an 80-year-old woman who has a stroke due to the stress she has experienced, she is taken to the hospital by ambulance.Sergey Gobozev’s apartment, where he lives with his wife and mother-in-law, is being searched in his absence. Operatives seize Sergey’s personal belongings: driver’s license, car documents, veteran’s certificate. In addition, they take electronic devices, an album with photographs and various translations of the Bible, including the Synodal edition.Operatives detain Sergey in a hospital in the city of Izhevsk, where he brings his wife to the reception. He is taken to the Investigative Committee for interrogation, a personal search is conducted and sent to a temporary detention facility.Mikhail Potapov’s home is also searched, after which he is handcuffed for interrogation at the Investigative Committee, and then left in custody.

FSB investigator Ponomarev prosecutes Gobozev and Potapov as accused of organizing extremist activities. This is how the investigation interprets conversations on biblical topics using video and audio communications.

January 22, 2021 Search
The Industrial District Court of Izhevsk chooses a measure of restraint in the form of detention for Mikhail Potapov. Sergey Gobozev was placed under house arrest for health reasons.
March 18, 2021
Measures of restraint for believers are extended until April 20: Potapov is detained and Gobozev is placed under house arrest.
April 20, 2021
Preventive measures for believers are extended until May 20.
May 12, 2021
Investigator Ponomarev prosecutes Sergey Gobozev as a defendant in 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).According to the investigation, Potapov and Gobozev used a video conferencing program on computer and mobile devices to remotely hold meetings of a banned extremist religious organization.

May 18, 2021

The Industrial District Court of Izhevsk decides to replace the measures of restraint for two believers. Both are chosen to prohibit certain actions.
August 30, 2021
It becomes known that in the course of the preliminary investigation, representatives of various religious denominations were questioned as witnesses: a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, the pastor of the Izhevsk-Yagul community of the Lutheran Church, the chairman of the local organization of Orthodox Judaism and the Jewish community of the city of Izhevsk, and the deputy head of the administration of the regional spiritual administration of Muslims of Udmurtia, who, in their collegial opinion, decided that Jehovah’s Witnesses “deny traditional and ethno-cultural values of the peoples of the Russian Federation”.
September 1, 2021
The case goes to the Votkinskiy District Court. It was appointed to Judge Tamara Makarova.
October 7, 2021 Hearing in a court of the first instance
First meeting. 9 people come to support the believers, but no one is allowed into the hall.The hearing was postponed because the defendants were not informed of the date of the trial and Gobozev was not assigned a lawyer.
November 12, 2021
Due to illness, Mikhail Potapov and his lawyer do not appear in court. The session lasts 6 minutes.
December 10, 2021
The judge satisfies the defense’s request for admission of listeners to the hearings. The judge decides to consider the motion to return the criminal case to the prosecutor after the indictment has been read out.
December 16, 2021
The petition of believers to refuse lawyers by appointment is not satisfied.The prosecutor reads out the indictment. The judge then rejects the motion to return the case to the prosecutor.
December 21, 2021
The defendants express their attitude to the prosecution. They claim that they did not commit unlawful acts and did not have the intent “to commit a crime against the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the state.” “Therefore, in the criminal case,” explains Mikhail Potapov, “there are no facts confirming this unfounded statement of the investigation … Law enforcement agencies inappropriately freely interpret the decision of the Supreme Court, which did not establish a ban on the practice of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”The defendants consider the charges “illegal, unfounded, far-fetched and politically motivated.”2 witnesses in the case are being interrogated. Both women confirm that they did not hear any extremist calls from the defendants.With the permission of the judge, the prosecutor reads out the protocols of interrogations, as he sees serious discrepancies with the testimony of witnesses in court. The women claim that they were pressured by the investigator during the interrogation; He threatened one of them with deprivation of parental rights.

January 27, 2022
Mikhail Potapov’s wife is being interrogated. She characterizes her husband as a kind, decent, caring person. She did not hear any extremist statements from him. According to her, he has no bad habits and there have been no complaints against him from his place of work; Relations with neighbors are good.During the interrogation of the next witness, it turns out that she does not know the defendants well, and her testimony in court does not coincide with what she said during the investigation.The prosecutor proposes to compare the texts of the testimony and reads out the interrogation protocol. The woman claims that many of the words written there do not belong to her, for example, that Potapov and Gobozev spoke negatively about power and religion. In addition, the witness doubts the authenticity of some of his signatures on the interrogation protocols.She also says that the investigator wrote down in advance in a notebook the text that she had to read on camera during the interrogation. If a woman added something on her own, then the recording was made repeatedly, she was threatened with deprivation of work, housing and insulted.

March 17, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
A prosecution witness, a disabled person of group III, is being interrogated. He says that in worship services, Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to obey the laws of the state; He had never heard any extremist appeals or negative statements from any of the defendants. The witness states that during repeated interrogations the investigator put pressure on him and did not record his testimony verbatim.
March 18, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
The questioning of prosecution witnesses is ongoing. Two of them state that the investigation put pressure on them during the interrogation and that they only partially understood the meaning of the protocol they signed.Another witness admits that he slandered Gobozev and Potapov, and retracts his testimony. He explains that he did this because of stress, as well as under the influence of negative information about Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Internet. He adds that he currently has no negative feelings either towards the defendants or towards Jehovah’s Witnesses in general. He acknowledges: “With Jehovah’s Witnesses, everything is done according to the law. Some literature was banned, and an announcement was immediately made for all parishioners to destroy it.”
March 24, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
Another prosecution witness, who once turned to Sergei Gobozev for legal assistance, is being interrogated. He says that until 2017 he attended the services of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he liked them. According to the witness, the defendant Gobozev spoke of the authorities in an extremely positive way; He never expressed superiority over others and did not call for the rejection of blood transfusions.Another witness says that he saw Potapov once and does not know him at all.Due to the contradictions in the words of the next witness, the prosecutor asks to read out his written testimony. After that, the witness states that he did not read the interrogation protocol and the testimony was recorded inaccurately.Another witness, who has known the defendants for many years, characterizes them as decent and sympathetic people: “Potapov is a good family man, he does not smoke or drink. He likes to travel. And Gobozev is calm, helps in legal matters. He treats his wife well.”

April 1, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
Ekaterina Churakova, a leading specialist of the Department of Harmonization of Interethnic Relations of the Ministry of National Policy of the Udmurt Republic, is interrogated; Chairman of the Church Council of the Old Believer Community of the City of Izhevsk Sergey Lepikhin; pastor of the Izhevsk-Yagul community of the Lutheran Church Alexander Grebennikov; Chairman of the local organization of Orthodox Judaism and the Jewish community of the city of Izhevsk Mikhail Golub.The defense draws attention to the fact that these witnesses are not specialists or experts and are not personally acquainted with the defendants. Consequently, their testimony reflects a personal opinion and cannot be used as the basis for a verdict, as it is inadmissible evidence.Witnesses show that they dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses. Lepikhin admits that he received information about this religion from the media, Grebennikov justifies his negative attitude by the difference in beliefs. When asked whether the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been banned in Russia, Golub replies: “Religion cannot be banned.” Witness Churakova admits that she “was not specifically involved in the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
April 8, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
The secretary of the Izhevsk diocesan administration, Deacon Ilya Medvedev, is being interrogated, who admits that he is not a religious scholar and cannot assess the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, he expresses his own negative attitude towards this confession, basing his arguments on the book of the “sectologist” Alexander Dvorkin. Medvedev confirms that he has not heard calls against the state from Jehovah’s Witnesses, and considers “non-recognition of national traditional values” to be extremism.
April 21 — July 22, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
During 7 sessions, the prosecutor reads out volumes of the case from 3 to 8, containing transcripts of audio recordings of worship services. Defendants are allowed to comment on them.Mikhail Potapov declares that the words that are attributed to him in the case file do not actually belong to him. And on one of the dates of worship, he was absent from Russia, as evidenced by the marks in his passport.
July 29 and August 5, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
At two sessions, the court listens to 3 discs with audio recordings of divine services, the total duration of which is at least 12 hours. In addition to the participants in the process, several listeners are present in court.The defense draws attention to the fact that some transcripts of the files are repeated twice in the case file. The lawyer also states that the discs listened to contain recordings of worship services of believers, and not meetings of the LRO of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He draws this conclusion on the basis of the fact that the issues discussed at the meeting differ from those described in the charter of the LRO and are exclusively religious in nature.In addition, there are no extremist statements on the audio recordings, there are no calls to overthrow the constitutional order or to disobey the authorities, but on the contrary, there are incites to love.
August 19 — September 2, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
Over the course of three meetings, transcripts from the disc are read out, and at the last meeting, audio recordings of poor quality are listened to.
November 11 and December 9, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
The judge rejects Gobozev’s request to refuse a lawyer.The court reviews video files from the case file and listens to audio recordings that are of very poor quality. It turns out that the votes noted by the investigator as belonging to Gobozev and Potapov are not actually such. In some recordings, voices are not identified at all, and conversations are conducted on everyday topics.Gobozev draws attention to the fact that the listened audio files are not a record of the meeting of a legal entity, since the rules for holding meetings of the LRO are regulated by the instructions of the Ministry of Justice and are documented in protocols. Baby crying can also be heard on the audio recordings. The defense draws attention to the fact that children cannot attend the meeting of legal entities.
December 16, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
Listening to audio recordings from the case file continues. One of them contains a prayer uttered by a third person. On the other, there is a conversation allegedly between Potapov, who works as a driver and delivers bread, but the defendant has never worked as such.
December 23, 2022 Hearing in a court of the first instance
Listening to audio recordings continues, one of which includes advice to respect authority.According to the prosecutor’s office, “unidentified persons deliberately carried out actions of an organizational nature, organized gatherings, meetings and management.” However, it is not possible to identify them in court. The case file also states that the defendants “used literature of an extremist nature,” but it is not possible to establish which one.Gobozev and Potapov draw the judge’s attention to the fact that the evidence of their illegal activities, provided by the investigation in the form of audio and video files, does not actually contain signs of an extremist crime.
20 January — 3 February 2023
The court continues to examine the audio and video files from the case file. The recordings contain conversations on everyday topics: moving to another city, car problems, health, etc. Among other things, discussions of biblical advice on raising children are listened to. Often the voices of other people are heard not of the defendants, but of other people.
April 28, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance
Listening to audio and video recordings continues.The defense file a motion to exclude from the case file video files that are out of sync – the sound does not match the image.
May 19, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance
The judge asks the prosecutor’s opinion on the motion to exclude out-of-sync video files.The prosecutor believes that the application is not subject to consideration, the files can be used as the basis for the accusation. The judge decides to attach the petition to the case file.The court also completes the listening to audio recordings of telephone conversations.
July 14, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation
A witness for the prosecution, the head of the department for interaction with public and religious organizations in the administration of Votkinsk, is being interrogated. She explains that on duty she had a chance to meet with Sergei Gobozev until 2017. After that, they did not see each other. The witness is not familiar with Mikhail Potapov.
July 21, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation
12 people come to support the believers.Sergey Gobozev’s wife, Olga, is being interrogated. The prosecutor asks to read out the protocol of the interrogation of Gobozeva because of discrepancies in her testimony. After reading the document, Olga explains that the interrogation lasted several hours, at which time she was subjected to psychological pressure and was not allowed to use Article 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. She did not give the testimony recorded in the first part of the protocol.
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    July 28, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation
    A prosecution witness from Izhevsk is being questioned via video link. He says he has an Islamic education, but admits that he is not an expert in religious studies. He is not familiar with the defendants, and he knows only a general idea of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In his opinion, Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremists because they actively preach “that God is one.”


August 18, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation
The former deputy head of the Ministry of Justice of the Udmurt Republic, Olga Korobeynikova, is being interrogated. The witness states that the circumstances of the case are unknown to her, she has only information about the registration of the local religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to her, even before registration, an examination was carried out, no violations of the law were revealed.The next witness for the prosecution is Sergei Gobozev’s stepson. He says that he had no conflicts with his stepfather.
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    September 1, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation
    Potapov and Gobozev file a motion to summon several witnesses, who, according to them, were pressured by the investigators. The judge grants the petition of the believers.
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    September 28, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance
    Cross-examination of investigator Solovyov and the witness. She says that she was pressured and refused to sign the protocol, as the content did not correspond to her words. In response to a request to amend the protocol, the investigators shouted at her, insulted her, threatened her with dismissal from work, eviction from a rented apartment, and threw a fountain pen at her. Some of the wording in the protocol was corrected, and the woman signed under pressure. She clarifies that particularly strong pressure came from investigator Ponomarev.
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    October 5, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation
    Interrogation of investigator Pereskokov and witnesses. One of them says that before the interrogation, the investigator gave her ready-made answers, which were required to be voiced on camera. Another indicates that during the interrogation, the investigator spoke to her harshly and threatened to summon her son for questioning.
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    November 2, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation
    Former investigator Ponomarev, who interrogated prosecution witnesses, is being interrogated via videoconference. The judge asks Ponomarev to explain the witness’s message about the threat of deprivation of her parental rights in case of refusal to give accusatory testimony against Gobozev and Potapov. The investigator denies this.The court proceeds to consider the evidence of the defense.
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    November 10, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation
    Interrogation of a defense witness. The woman shows the difference between ordinary believers and legal entities: “We have freedom of religion in our country, I understand it in such a way that every believer can believe what he believes, and the ban applies to legal entities.
November 23, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance Interrogation
Two witnesses who are familiar with the defendants in connection with their professional activities are being questioned in court. Both characterize believers positively.A third witness explains that the Supreme Court did not prohibit the practice of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He has known them for a long time, but he has never heard extremist statements from them.
December 1 and 15, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance
The defense proceeds to the filing of motions. Judge Tamara Makarova satisfies the defendants’ petitions to attach to the case file medical documents on the state of health of them and their close relatives, as well as the certificate of the veteran of labor Gobozev and his certificate of pensioner.
December 21, 22, 2023 Hearing in a court of the first instance
The defense file 4 motions: to attach to the case file the ECHR decision in the case of “MRO of Taganrog and Others v. Russia”, to exclude the video of the ORM, to exclude the interrogations of two prosecution witnesses, to conduct additional psychological, linguistic and religious expertise. The judge attaches 3 petitions and makes a decision on the fourth – to refuse to conduct an additional examination.
January 17 and 19, 2024 Hearing in a court of the first instance Elderly
The court hears the testimony of Sergei Gobozev and Mikhail Potapov. The defendants explain that the meeting of a local religious organization and the worship services of believers are two different things.
March 11, 2024 Prosecutor requested punishment Elderly Art. 282.2 (1) Deprivation of liberty

The prosecutor requests 6 and a half years for Mikhail Potapov and Sergey Gobozev in a general regime colony with the appointment of an additional punishment in the form of deprivation of the right to engage in activities related to participation in the work of religious organizations for a period of 5 years, with restriction of freedom for a period of 1 year.

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