Fri, Feb 08, 2019 - Page 3 News List

Jehovah’s Witness sentenced to six years in Russia

AFP, ORYOL, Russia

Dennis Christensen gestures from inside the defendant’s cage at a courtroom in Oryol, Russia, during a break in the reading of his verdict on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

A Russian court on Wednesday sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to six years in prison for “extremism,” in the first conviction of its kind since a 2017 law that outlawed the religious group.

Armed Federal Security Service officers detained Danish citizen Dennis Christensen in the southern city of Oryol in May 2017, shortly after Moscow banned what it called an extremist organization.

“We deeply regret the conviction of Dennis Christensen — an innocent man who did not commit any real crime,” said Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, who was in court.

“It is sad that reading the Bible, preaching, and living a moral way of life is again a criminal offence in Russia,” he added.

Christensen, who moved to Russia as an adult and has a Russian wife, insisted in closing remarks last week that he had “never committed any criminal acts.”

“I hope that today is the day that Russia defends freedom of religion,” he told journalists as he entered the packed courtroom on Wednesday.

A photographer outside the courtroom saw Christensen, 46, being led past a group of supporters by police following the verdict.

“The sentence is ridiculous,” supporter Svetlana said, declining to give her last name. “The only thing he was organizing was the collection of rubbish and snow-clearing.”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses would appeal the verdict within 10 days, according to a statement from the organization’s head office.

Human rights groups have condemned the trial, with Amnesty International saying it was “emblematic of the grave human rights violations” taking place in Russia.

Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Anders Samuelsen said he was “deeply concerned” by the sentencing.

“Again call on #Russia to respect freedom of religion. Danish MFA will continue to follow closely and assist Dennis Christensen should he decide to appeal,” Samuelsen wrote on Twitter.

The EU said it “expects Mr Christensen to be released immediately and unconditionally.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses, as with all other religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference,” the EU statement said.

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