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Russia: verdict due in trial of first Jehovah's Witness arrested under new clampdown

A sign outside the Russian administrative centre of Jehovah's Witnesses in the town of Solnechnoye © Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images

Verdict in trial of Danish national Dennis Christensen expected tomorrow

Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that all Jehovah’s Witnesses groups in Russia should be closed down

175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses at risk, with more than 50 charged with ‘extremism’

The Russian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Dennis Christensen, a Danish national and Jehovah’s Witness on trial over his religious beliefs.

Mr Christensen is accused of organising activities related to an “extremist organisation”, and if convicted could face up to ten years in prison. A ruling on his case by the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Oryol is expected on Wednesday.

Christensen was detained after a police raid on his congregation in Oryol on 25 May 2017 - a month after Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that all Jehovah’s Witnesses groups in the country should be closed down. 

Christensen, who has lived in Russia since 1999, was the first Jehovah’s Witness detained in Russia following the ban. Accused of “organising the activities of an extremist organisation”, the prosecution in the case have asked the judge to sentence Christensen to six-and-a-half years in a penal colony.

According to media reports, since Christensen’s detention more than 50 other Jehovah’s Witnesses have also been charged under “anti-extremism” legislation. Dozens of these are currently in detention or under house arrest - including another foreign citizen, Andrzej Oniszczuk from Poland, detained with four other men in Kirov in October. 

Amnesty considers Christensen and other Jehovah’s Witnesses deprived of their liberty to be prisoners of conscience, and the organisation is calling for them to be immediately and unconditionally released and all charges against them dropped. 

Amnesty is also calling on the Russian authorities to review anti-extremism legislation to ensure that it is no longer used arbitrarily to prosecute government critics. 

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said: 

“Dennis Christensen has been arrested and prosecuted by the authorities simply for practising his religion as a Jehovah’s Witness. 

“The Russian authorities must halt their persecution of an estimated 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who are simply peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion.

“The intimidation and harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses must stop.” 

Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Since 2009, Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced persecution and harassment in Russia under the country’s “counter-extremism” legislation. 

In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation in Russia should be closed, its activities stopped and its property confiscated. The court referred to earlier rulings including that of the Prosecutor General’s Office, which had ruled that local Jehovah’s Witnesses chapters had violated counter-extremism legislation.

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