Viktor Zimovskiy with his wife and Anatoliy and Irina Gezik
Suspended Sentences Instead of a Penal Colony and Forced Labor. In The Stavropol Region, the Court of Appeal Changed the Sentence of the Gezik Couple and Viktor ZimovskiyStavropol Territory
On March 1, 2023, the Stavropol Regional Court changed Viktor Zimovskiy's 6-year and 2-month prison sentence to a suspended sentence; he was released from the detention center. Instead of 4 years and 2 months of forced labor, Anatoliy Gezik received a suspended sentence. The sentence for his wife, Irina Gezik, - 4 years and 2 months suspended - remained unchanged.
The court of first instance announced the verdict against three Jehovah's Witnesses from Georgievsk in November 2022. They were found guilty of organizing and participating in extremist activity for meeting with their fellow believers for joint worship and Bible reading. When filing an appeal against the verdict, they drew the court's attention to the absence of evidence of an actual crime in their actions. So, Viktor Zimovskiy was convicted only because he “gave talks, read religious literature, organized religious services for followers of the teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses.” “These actions,” as noted in the appeal, “are guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation as the fundamental rights and freedoms of a person that belong to him from birth.”
In 2019, the homes of the Gezik couple and Viktor Zimovskiy were searched, when, according to believers, the security forces planted flash drives of unknown content. During the search, Viktor Zimovskiy, who is disabled, fell ill. Nevertheless, he and ten other people were taken for interrogation. The investigator arrested Viktor after a second interrogation in January 2020. He spent 2 months in a detention center, and then another 1.5 months under house arrest. After the verdict was passed, Zimovskiy was again placed in the detention center, where he spent 3.5 months.
According to Viktor Zimovskiy, during the criminal prosecution, it was especially hard to be separated from his children and his pregnant wife. And the difficult conditions of detention did not contribute to his optimism. However, as Viktor says, difficulties are easier to endure, thanks to the support of friends: “I was calm... that my family had everything they needed and were surrounded by care.”
Russian courts continue to ignore the position of the European Court of Justice, which, in a judgment dated June 7, 2022, stated: “By holding [Jehovah’s Witnesses] criminally liable simply for continuing religious services, the Russian authorities imposed a disproportionate and unjustifiable burden on the exercise of their freedom of religion and association” (§ 260).