Published: Fri, February 08, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Tension as Russian court jails Jehovah’s Witness member

Tension as Russian court jails Jehovah’s Witness member

Danish citizen Dennis Christensen was jailed at a court in the southern Russian city of Oryol despite insisting he had "never committed any criminal acts".

In August 2017, the Russian Justice Ministry included the organization Jehovah's Witnesses and its 395 local religious branches to the list of organizations outlawed in the country.

This is following the ban of the group by Russia's Supreme Court which described the group as extremist and ordered that it be disbanded nationwide.

Al Jazeera's Rory Challands reports from Moscow.

Jehovah's Witnesses have for several years come under pressure from the Russian state.

In a report a year ago, Human Rights Watch accused the Russian authorities of carrying out a "sweeping campaign" of harassment and persecution against the movement. He and his wife Irina were preaching for years, although Christensen was not officially a member of the group, the court heard.

Reuters interviewed Christensen in his jail cell during breaks in the trial.

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It was reported that "more than 100 criminal cases have been opened against Jehovah's Witnesses, with another 24 people in prison awaiting or on trial and a similar number under house arrest".

The powerful Russian Orthodox Church has spoken out against the group, with one Church official branding it a "destructive sect". "We agree with President Putin that persecuting peaceful believers is utter nonsense, and call on Russian Federation to respect freedom of religion".

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said there had clearly been reasons for Christiansen's arrest, but that he was unaware of the details of the case.

"Dennis Christensen has been arrested and prosecuted by the authorities simply for practicing his religion as Jehovah's Witness", said Marie Struthers, Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, in a statement before the sentencing.

Christensen's lawyer says he plans to appeal.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the dissolution six years earlier of the movement's Moscow branch had violated the right to freedom of religion and association.

Yaroslav Sivulsky, a Jehovah's Witness spokesman, said the group was disappointed by what it regarded as an unjust verdict.

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