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

Frederick Owens
February 8, 2019

Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen expressed on Wednesday concern over a Russian court sentencing Danish national Dennis Ole Christensen to six years in prison for his affiliation to the community of Jehovah's Witnesses*.

The Guardian reports that Christensen was detained by armed police in May 2017 at a prayer meeting in Oryol. During the trial, the court barred Christensen's defense from including questions about a secret witness's identity, even though they might have been material to challenging the witness's testimony.

In his last words before the deliberation began, he thanked his wife and friends for their support. He called it "absolutely silly and insane".

His wife Irina Christensen added: "I'm really sad that such a thing is happening in Russian Federation, very sad".

More than 100 criminal cases have been opened against Jehovah's Witnesses and some of their publications are on a list of banned extremist literature.

The U.S. -headquartered Jehovah's Witnesses have been under pressure for years in Russian Federation, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin. An estimated 175,000 adherents live in Russian Federation, and they say they refrain from participation in political activities, pay taxes and obey the law.

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Christensen has pleaded innocent claiming he was only exercising his freedom of religion which is enshrined in the country's constitution.

Under a gospel of "traditional values", Russian President Vladimir Putin has forged close relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, which sees Jehovah's Witnesses as a heretical sect. His lawyers believe the verdict is unreasonable and will be appealing the decision.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not comment on the information on this case earlier on Wednesday, promising to specify the information and noting that religious views alone could not prompt the charges.

"Deeply concerned by the sentencing of Dennis Christensen".

Yaroslav Sivulsky, a Jehovah's Witness spokesman, said the group was disappointed by what it regarded as an unjust verdict. "It is sad that reading the bible, preaching, and living a moral way of life is again a criminal offense in Russia", Sivulskiy said in a public statement on Wednesday.

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