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Jehovah's Witness sentenced to 6 years in Russian prison for 'religious extremism'

Journal.ie logo Journal.ie 07/02/2019 Zuzia Whelan
FILE PHOTO: Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah's Witness accused of extremism, leaves after a court session in handcuffs in the town of Oryol, Russia January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Osborn/File Photo © Catalyst Images FILE PHOTO: Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah's Witness accused of extremism, leaves after a court session in handcuffs in the town of Oryol, Russia January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Osborn/File Photo

A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS has been sentenced to six years in prison in Russia for religious extremism following a campaign targeted at the community in recent years. 

Danish native Dennis Christensen was arrested in 2017 by Federal Security agents at a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol, south of Moscow. This was Russia’s first arrest of a Jehovah’s Witness for religious extremism. 

a group of people wearing military uniforms © Yuriy Temirbulatov According to a statement by a Russian wing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christensen’s lawyers will be appealing the decision. Meanwhile, he will remain in a detention facility in the Oryol region, where he has already spent 622 days.

The group, along with members of the international community, have called for his release, saying the arrest is unconstitutional. 

Dennis Christensen waves from inside a defendants' cage during a break in the reading of his verdict at a court in the town of Oryol on February 6, 2019. - A Russian court on February 6, 2019 sentenced a Danish 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. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images Dennis Christensen waves from inside a defendants' cage during a break in the reading of his verdict at a court in the town of Oryol on February 6, 2019. - A Russian court on February 6, 2019 sentenced a Danish 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. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP) (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images) Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the verdict “a disgrace”.

In a statement, the European Union External Action service — its diplomatic service — said that: 

Dennis Christensen, a Danish Jehovah's Witness accused of extremism, is escorted into a courtroom to hear his verdict in the town of Oryol on February 6, 2019. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images Dennis Christensen, a Danish Jehovah's Witness accused of extremism, is escorted into a courtroom to hear his verdict in the town of Oryol on February 6, 2019. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP) (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images) The European Union 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, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as by Russia’s international commitments and international human rights standards.

Andrea Kalan, of the US Embassy in Moscow, said on Twitter that she is “deeply concerned” by the sentence.  

Leading up

In June 2018, authorities held 18 men in pretrial detention for extremist activity, while a number of others were under house arrest, according to HRW

Members of the media and supporters of Dennis Christensen gather outside a courthouse after the verdict announcement in his trial in the town of Oryol on February 6, 2019. - A Russian court on February 6, 2019 sentenced a Danish 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. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images Members of the media and supporters of Dennis Christensen gather outside a courthouse after the verdict announcement in his trial in the town of Oryol on February 6, 2019. - A Russian court on February 6, 2019 sentenced a Danish 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. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP) (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images) The same group said Russian authorities have carried out dozens of home raids, searches and interrogations in recent years. Since 2007, many items of Jehovah’s Witness literature have been banned as being “extremist materials”.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights found the dissolution of the Moscow branch, and the refusal to allow the group to re-register, constituted a number of violations of the Convention. 

FILE PHOTO: Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah's Witness accused of extremism, leaves after a court session in handcuffs in the town of Oryol, Russia January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Osborn/File Photo © Catalyst Images FILE PHOTO: Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah's Witness accused of extremism, leaves after a court session in handcuffs in the town of Oryol, Russia January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Osborn/File Photo In 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court banned the organisation outright. 

“The Jehovah’s Witness faith is not an extremist organization, and authorities should stop this religious persecution of its worshipers now,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 

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