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

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A regional court in western Russia on Wednesday sentenced a Danish Jehovah’s Witness to six years in prison, in arguably the most severe crackdown on religious freedom in Russia in recent years.

The court in Oryol found Dennis Christensen guilty of extremism, making him the first Jehovah’s Witness in Russia to be sent to prison.

Christensen was detained during a police raid on a local prayer meeting he was leading in May 2017.

“I do not agree with this judgment, it’s a big mistake,” Christensen told reporters after the sentencing in the city of Oryol. His wife Irina Christensen added: “I’m really sad that such a thing is happening in Russia, very sad. The same thing could happen to any of us.”

The verdict was met with consternation around the world including from the U.S. Embassy, which expressed its concern and urged Russia to respect individual’s religious freedom.

Russia in recent years has used its vaguely worded extremism laws to go after dissenters, opposition activists and most recently religious minorities. Russia officially banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017 and declared the religious group an extremist organization.

Nearly 100 members of the group face charges in Russia, and more than 20 of them are in jail awaiting trial. Before the ban, the world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed about 170,000 adherents in Russia.

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