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Russian Federation jails Dane for six years in Jehovah's Witnesses purge

Russian Federation jails Dane for six years in Jehovah's Witnesses purge”

Dennis Christensen gestures 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.

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.

Dennis Christensen was found guilty under Article 282.2 (1) of the criminal code for "organising the activity of an extremist organization".

The Danish foreign minister, Anders Samuelsen, called on Moscow to respect religious freedom and criticised it for classifying Jehovah's Witnesses as a terrorist group. Christensen was detained in May 2017.

Human Rights Watch condemned the sentencing and verdict Wednesday.

The report said a lawsuit has been filed with Russia's Supreme Court to declare the national headquarters of the country's Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organization but that there was no date for legal action.

Christensen spent 20 months in pretrial custody.

The powerful Russian Orthodox Church has spoken out against the group, with one Church official branding it a "destructive sect".

However, last December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his annual media Q&A session that branding the Jehovah's Witnesses as extremists is "utter nonsense", and promised to look into the prosecution of the group's members.

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said there were clearly reasons for Christiansen's arrest but he was unaware of details. Anton Bogdanov, his lawyer, said they plan to appeal the verdict 10 days from Wednesday.

According to Reuters, Christensen, a 46-year-old builder who is married to a Russian woman, pleaded not guilty, citing the Russian constitution's guarantee of religious freedom.

"It's shocking that in post-Soviet Russia authorities are putting people through the ordeal of a criminal investigation and prison for nothing more than peacefully practicing their faith", said Rachel Denber, the organization's deputy Europe and Central Asia director.

Yaroslay Sivulsky, a representative of the European Association of Jehova's Witnesses, said Christensen will appeal the decision.



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