Russia jails Dane for six years in Jehovah's Witnesses purge


It has been suggested that Jehovah's Witnesses are under suspicion because they are seen as a Western influence, too independent from the Russian government, and activists are concerned that the crackdown is a test to see how Russians will react.

The verdict was met with consternation around the world including from the U.S. Embassy, which expressed its concern and urged Russian Federation to respect individual's religious freedom.

"This verdict reveals just how fragile religious freedom has become in Russia", Gillies said.

The court in the city of Oryol on Wednesday found Christiansen guilty after a long trial, his lawyer, his wife and a representative for the Jehovah's Witnesses told Reuters.

The religious organisation was declared an "extremist" group by Russia's courts in 2017 and outlawed.

A Jehovah's Witness member has been sentenced to six years in jail for extremism in Russian Federation, years after the religious group was outlawed in the country. Orthodox scholars have cast them as a risky foreign sect that erodes state institutions and traditional values, allegations they reject.

That extremist organization? The Jehovah's Witnesses.

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They believe the end of the world as we know it is imminent, an event "the obedient" will survive to inhabit the Kingdom of God they believe will follow.

The Jehovah's Witnesses say they number more than 170,000 in Russian Federation, a country of 144 million people where most are Orthodox Christians. The couple later moved to Oryol because the climate is milder and housing cheaper.

Now, almost 100 members of the group face charges in Russian Federation and more than 20 of them are in jail awaiting trial, according to the AFP.

Anton Bogdanov, Christiansen's lawyer, said he planned to appeal Wednesday's verdict, which he termed illegal and feared would set a unsafe precedent. Some of their publications are on a list of banned literature.

"Six years in jail for peacefully practicing your own religion is something that comes right out of the history book on Soviet dissent", Lokshina said.

Paul Gillies, spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses, said in an emailed statement that Christensen did not commit any crime and that he was convicted "merely for practicing his Christian faith". "It's sad that in the 21st century people are being jailed for holding what the authorities believe to be the wrong beliefs".

But Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked about the case after the verdict, was unable to say if Putin had looked into the matter and had no comment on the ruling Wednesday.