The aggressive opposition of the Russian authorities to Jehovah’s Witnesses has now spilled over into Crimea. In Russia the government has not only banned the Witnesses’ legal entities but has clearly shown its intent to wipe out their peaceful worship. Since the April 2017 ban, Russian authorities have conducted numerous raids on Witness gatherings throughout Russia, resulting in the arrest and imprisonment of scores of Witnesses. The same heavy-handed tactics are now being used against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea.
Raids in Dzhankoy in November 2018
On November 15, 2018, in Dzhankoy, Crimea, approximately 200 police and special forces officers raided eight private homes in which small groups of Witnesses were meeting together to read and discuss the Bible. At least 35 armed and masked officers forcibly entered the home of Sergey Filatov, where a group of six Witnesses were gathered. The Witnesses were terrorized by this aggressive action. The intruders pinned a 78-year-old man against the wall, forced him to the ground, handcuffed him, and beat him so badly that he was rushed to the hospital. Two other older men were so traumatized that they were rushed to the hospital with extremely high blood pressure. Tragically, a young woman whose house was also raided suffered a miscarriage.
Following the raid, Mr. Filatov was criminally charged under Article 282.2(1) of the Russian Criminal Code with organizing the activity of an “extremist organization.” On March 5, 2020, Judge Mariya Yermakova of the Dzhankoy District Court in Crimea sentenced Mr. Filatov to six years in a general regime prison colony. After the sentencing he was immediately escorted to prison. This harsh sentence is disproportionate to his “crime” of conducting a peaceful meeting for worship in his home. Mr. Filatov is a married man with four children, two of whom are minors.
On May 26, 2020, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea heard the appeal of Mr. Filatov and upheld the March 5 verdict of the lower court. The sentence of six years in a general regime prison colony went into effect immediately. Considering the time he has already spent in pretrial detention, his prison sentence will end on January 23, 2026. Mr. Filatov’s attorneys will bring this injustice before various international bodies on his behalf.
Raids in Yalta in March 2019
Artem Gerasimov was temporarily detained and interrogated on March 20, 2019, after special forces officers raided eight homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Crimean cities of Alupka and Yalta. During the searches, officers seized Bibles, computers, and electronic devices. Subsequently, Mr. Gerasimov was charged with organizing extremist activities merely for meeting with others to discuss the Bible.
On March 3, 2020, the Yalta City Court of the Republic of Crimea convicted Mr. Gerasimov. The court fined him 400,000 rubles (approximately $6,000, U.S.). He appealed the conviction. On June 4, 2020, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea denied the appeal and sentenced him to six years in prison. The appeal ruling immediately went into effect and Mr. Gerasimov was taken into custody. He will appeal this decision.
Arrests and Detentions in 2020
On October 1, 2020, nine homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses were raided in Sevastopol, Crimea. After the searches, five men and one woman were held in a temporary detention facility. A few hours after being detained, the woman was released. The searches and detentions were part of two criminal cases that were opened under Article 282.2(1) of the Criminal Code. One of the cases was opened against Evgeniy Zhukov, Vladimir Sakada, Vladimir Maladyka, and Aleksandr Kostenko. The other case was opened against Igor Schmidt.
On October 2, 2020, the Leninsky District Court of Sevastopol sentenced four of the men to two months in a pretrial detention center. The criminal cases were initiated by the FSB of the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol. The investigation is being conducted by the FSB Senior Investigator for Especially Important Cases, Yu.A. Andreyev. They remain in pretrial detention, as their sentences keep being incrementally extended.
October 1, 2020
Nine homes are raided in Sevastopol. Four male Witnesses are arrested and placed in pretrial detention.
June 4, 2020
Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea sentences Mr. Gerasimov to six years in prison.
May 26, 2020
Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea hears the appeal of Mr. Filatov and upholds the verdict of the lower court.
March 5, 2020
Mr. Filatov is sentenced to six years in a general regime prison colony.
March 3, 2020
Yalta City Court of the Republic of Crimea convicts Mr. Gerasimov and fines him 400,000 rubles (approximately $6,000, U.S.).
February 25, 2020
Criminal case against Mr. Filatov proceeds in the Dzhankoy District Court.
March 20, 2019
Special forces officers raid eight homes in Alupka and Yalta. Mr. Gerasimov is interrogated and subsequently charged with organizing extremist activities.
November 15, 2018
Eight homes raided by over 200 police and special forces officers in Dzhankoy, including Mr. Filatov’s home.