Jehovah's Witness in Russian Federation sentenced to six years amid crackdown

Jehovah’s Witness member jailed for extremism lailasnews

Jehovah’s Witness member jailed for extremism

A Danish citizen living in Russian Federation has been sentenced to six years in prison for practising as a Jehovah's Witness.

A Russian court on Wednesday found a Jehovah's Witness guilty of extremism and jailed him for six years, a spokesman for the Christian denomination said.

Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen called on Moscow to respect religious freedom and criticized it for classifying Jehovah's Witnesses on a par with terrorist groups.

Dennis Christensen moved to Russian Federation in 1999, settling in Murmansk, where he met his future wife, a recent convert to the Jehovah's Witnesses.

In 2017, Russia's Supreme Court declared the Jehovah's Witnesses an "extremist organization", and ordered all of its 395 regional branches to be disbanded. Investigators had accused Mr Christensen, whom riot police seized in a raid on a prayer meeting in 2017, of holding fund-raisers and attracting new followers with religious pamphlets.

The verdict could lead to jail terms for dozens more Jehovah's Witnesses with another 90 cases waiting to come to trial across Russian Federation.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed under Russia's modern constitution - but exceptions exist under extremism laws.

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The court in the city of Oryol on Wednesday found Christiansen guilty after a long trial, his lawyer, his wife and a representative for the Jehovah's Witnesses told Reuters.

The religious group got a glimmer of hope in December when President Vladimir Putin publicly pledged to look into the reported persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, calling extremism charges against the religion's adherents "nonsense".

With about 170,000 followers in Russian Federation and 8 million worldwide, Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian denomination known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, and rejection of military service and blood transfusions.

"In essence we have returned to Soviet times", said Sivulsky, whose own father Pavel was jailed for seven years in 1959 for printing bible literature.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had no comment on the verdict. He has been sentenced to 6 years in prison.

"We deeply regret the conviction of Dennis Christensen - an innocent man who did not commit any real crime", Sivulskiy said in a statement. "It is sad that reading the bible, preaching, and living a moral way of life is again a criminal offense in Russia", Sivulskiy said in a public statement on Wednesday.

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