Russian Court Sentences Jehovah’s Witness To 6 Years In Prison For Extremism

Clay Curtis
February 8, 2019

Danish Jehovah's Witness Dennis Christensen has become the first member of the religious group to be jailed for extremist offences in Russian Federation.

A Russian court on Wednesday found a Danish adherent of the Jehovah's Witnesses guilty of organising the activities of a banned extremist organisation.

The Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said in a statement that he was "deeply concerned" by the sentencing and called on Russian Federation to respect freedom of religion.

The U.S. -headquartered Jehovah's Witnesses have been under pressure for years in Russian Federation, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

A Russian regional court on Wednesday sentenced a Danish Jehovah's Witness to six years in prison, in the latest incident by Moscow to crack down on personal freedoms.

Christensen was arrested in Oryol in May 2017, a month after Russia's Supreme Court ruled that the religious group should be closed down and no longer allowed to operate in the country.

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"I do not agree with this judgment, it's a big mistake", Christensen told reporters after the sentencing in the city of Oryol. The Jehovah's Witness headquarters near St. Petersburg were seized by the state, prayer halls around the country were raided by the police and scores of believers were arrested. During the trial, the court barred Christensen's defense from including questions about a secret witness's identity, even though they might have been material to challenging the witness's testimony.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed under Russia's modern constitution - but exceptions exist under extremism laws. Since then, more than 100 criminal cases against the organization's members have been opened and dozens of printed booklets have been put on a list of banned extremist literature.

In turn, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov promised to look into the situation with Christensen.

Christensen plans to appeal Wednesday's verdict.

The Danish foreign minister, Anders Samuelsen, called on Moscow to respect religious freedom and criticised it for classifying Jehovah's Witnesses as a terrorist group.

"The man was sentenced to six years behind bars, because he, along with others of the same religious beliefs, read the Bible and spread their religious views", Bogdanov said.

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