Viktor Zimovskiy with his wife and Anatoliy and Irina Gezik

Unjust Verdicts

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 Zimovskiy

Stavropol 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).

Case of Zimovskiy and others in Georgievsk

Case history
At the end of 2019, homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses were searched in Georgievsk. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation accused Viktor Zimovskiy as well as Anatoly and Irina Gezika, a married couple, of organizing and participating in the activity of an extremist organization. The investigator considered reading the Bible and praying together to be a crime. Viktor Zimovskiy is a father of three minor children and was classed as disabled after his heart surgery. Despite this, the court placed him in a detention center for two months. The criminal case was considered in court from February to October 2022. Viktor Zimovskiy was sentenced to six years and two months in a penal colony, Anatoly Gezik was sentenced to four years and two months of forced labor, and Irina Gezik was given a suspended sentence of four years and two months. The appellate court replaced the terms of imprisonment and of forced labor with suspended sentences of the same duration.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Stavropol Territory
Locality:
Georgievsk
Suspected of:
according to the investigation, he "convened and conducted meetings of the organization 'Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia' ... During the meetings, he discussed with its participants religious intolerance towards representatives of other faiths.
Court case number:
11902070005000100
Initiated:
December 30, 2019
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Stavropol Territory
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (2), 282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-158/2022
Court of First Instance:
Георгиевский городской суд Ставропольского края
Judge of the Court of First Instance:
Нина Анашкина
Background