Published: Fri, February 08, 2019
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

Danish Jehovah's Witness gets 6 years for 'extremism' in Russia

Danish Jehovah's Witness gets 6 years for 'extremism' in Russia

Chief Assistant Prosecutor of the Oryol Region Tatyana Tsukanova earlier told TASS that Oryol's Zheleznodorozhny District Court found Danish citizen Dennis Christensen guilty of organizing the activity of the Oryol branch of the religious community Jehovah's Witnesses, which is recognized as extremist, and sentenced him to six years in prison. Before the verdict was announced, he shouted, calling for religious freedom to be protected in Russian Federation.

The religious organisation was declared an "extremist" group by Russia's courts in 2017 and outlawed.

"The verdict against Denis Christensen is a disgrace", said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Christensen was detained in May 2017. Christensen argued that he was exercising freedom of religion guaranteed in Russia's constitution. He and his wife Irina were preaching for years, although Christensen was not officially a member of the group, the court heard. 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.

Responding to Christensen's case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was clearly reason for his arrest but he was unaware specifics, according to Reuters.

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.

The Russian government, in partnership with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and a France-based organization called FECRIS, has targeted religious minorities like the Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus and Hare Krishna adherents with harassment, raids and arrests in an effort to drive out of the country any religion that deviates from Russian Orthodox teaching, as they are deemed foreign influences.

"We deeply regret the conviction of Dennis Christensen - an innocent man who did not commit any real crime", said Yaroslav Sivulskiy, representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses. His lawyers believe the verdict is unreasonable and will be appealing the decision. He has been sentenced to 6 years in prison.

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