Russian leader of Jehovah’s Witnesses sent to prison for ‘collective prayer’

Jehovah's Witnesses pray during a regional congress of Jehovah's Witnesses at Traktar Stadium in Minsk, Belarus, July 25, 2015. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

The leader of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in Russia has been sentenced for extremist activity. A court of the city of Orel sentenced Dennis Christensen, a subject of Denmark, to six years in prison. Given the time already spent in custody, the Dane is to be released in three and a half years.

Human rights activists demanded that the case be closed, and the Memorial civil rights society recognized the religious leader as a political prisoner.

Dennis Christensen who was the leader of the Orel Jehovah’s Witnesses office received six years in a colony. He was arrested two years ago. This was preceded by searches of their premises, including the time of prayer.

Investigators opened a criminal case about extremism. In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are now outlawed. This verdict was passed by the Supreme Court in 2017. Authorities claim that it is legal to profess this religion privately, but a collective prayer can result with legal problems. The wife of Dennis Christensen, Irina Christensen, said: “The Constitution states that we have the right to freely gather and practice our religion. In fact, this is not the case. ”

Dozens of cases have already been opened throughout Russia.

While in Moscow the authorities are looking into this, in Orel people are put into prison. At the same time, Christensen’s lawyer suggests that his case may become a template for such cases throughout the country. The Dane himself claims that the FSB officers urged him to confess, but the man refused. Other members of the Orel community of Jehovah’s Witnesses were also called in for questioning.

According to religious scholars, there are about 150,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. They were repeatedly accused of religious radicalism. The organization is banned not only in Russia. The Witnesses are outside the law, for example, in China, North Korea, Tajikistan and Iran.

Yan Maravitsky, Belsat

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