Saturday, 16 February, 2019

Russian Federation court sentences Danish Jehovah's Witness to 6 years for extremism

Jehovah's Witness Russia Dennis Christensen Jehovah’s Witness member jailed for extremism
Patty Aguilar | 08 February, 2019, 23:04

The court in Oryol on Wednesday found Dennis Christensen, who was leading the local Bible reading, guilty of extremism, making him the first Jehovah's Witness in Russian Federation to have been sent to prison.

Christensen has pleaded innocent claiming he was only exercising his freedom of religion which is enshrined in the country's constitution. Prosecutors say he "used his authority as a religious leader" and "kept the [Oryol Jehovah's Witnesses] organization operating, despite being aware of its prohibition".

The court therefore charged Christensen with "actively involved in organizational work aimed at continuing the unlawful activities of the banned Orel Jehovah's Witness organization".

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.

Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said he was "deeply concerned" by the sentencing. Christensen was detained in May 2017.

"This verdict reveals just how fragile religious freedom has become in Russia", Gillies said.

The court convicted Dennis Christensen, 47, on charges of extremism some 20 months after law enforcement officials arrested him.

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Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, said the verdict evoked the atheist Soviet period when Moscow persecuted the group.

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.

However, last December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his annual media Q&A session that branding the Jehovah's Witnesses as extremists is "utter nonsense", and promised to look into the prosecution of the group's members.

"It is sad that reading the Bible, preaching, and living a moral way of life is again a criminal offence in Russian Federation".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had no comment on the verdict.

Anton Bogdanov, Christiansen's lawyer, said he planned to appeal Wednesday's verdict, which he termed illegal and feared would set a unsafe precedent.

"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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