Russian court sends Jehovah’s Witness to prison for 6 years

Cheryl Sanders
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.

Dennis Christensen, a Danish Jehovah's Witness, is escorted from a court room in Orel, Russia, on Wednesday.

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.

Russian Federation even went so far as to ban the Jehovah's Witness Bible and attempt to ban the Bhagavad Gita as extremist literature.

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, Russian Federation declared the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organisation.

Dennis Christensen was arrested in May 2017 after a police raid on his congregation just south of Moscow.

Christiansen had pleaded innocent, saying he was exercising freedom of religion guaranteed in Russia's constitution.

Dozens of other Jehovah's Witnesses are facing criminal charges in Russian Federation, where the group has an estimated 170,000 members. In court, a "secret witness" accused him of being a leader in the city's Jehovah's Witness chapter. Almost 100 of the church's members face charges and there are now about 20 members in prison and awaiting trial.

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

Paul Gillies, spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses, said in an emailed statement that Christensen did not commit any crime and that he was convicted "merely for practicing his Christian faith".

"Jehovah's Witnesses, as with all other religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference", the statement added.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not comment on the information on this case earlier on Wednesday, promising to specify the information and noting that religious views alone could not prompt the charges.

"It is sad that reading the Bible, preaching, and living a moral way of life is again a criminal offence in Russian Federation", he added. He has been sentenced to 6 years in prison.

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